The roller-coaster ride that was the 2000-01 Yale men’s hockey season came to a screeching halt last weekend, as the Bulldogs dropped back-to-back games to Harvard at the Crimson’s infamous Bright Center in the first round of the ECAC playoffs.
The pair of losses — 5-4 last Friday and 7-4 last Saturday — came in bizarre fashion and marked an ignominious end to a season that began auspiciously with road wins over two of the nation’s top four teams.
The Crimson sweep also marked the third straight season that the Elis have been swept out of the playoffs.
The Bulldogs’ season was characterized by wild and bizarre games, but Saturday’s season finale topped all the rest.
The teams came out fast and furious in front of a frenetic crowd, but Luke Earl ’02 silenced the Crimson contingent quickly with a goal just 16 seconds in — stretching his goal-scoring streak to seven games.
Earl’s goal marked the second straight night in which Yale jumped on the board first, but unfortunately for Eli fans, Harvard repeated its fiery comeback for a second time as well.
The Cantabs registered three unanswered goals, the last of which came off the stick of Brett Nowak midway through what was already a crazy second period. The stanza included seven penalties, five of which resulted in Yale power plays.
With the Bulldogs trailing 3-1, forward Lee Jelenic ’01 moved the puck into the Harvard zone and skated toward the Crimson net. Jelenic lost the puck and was part of a thicket of bodies that cascaded into Harvard goaltender Oliver Jonas. Yale forward Vin Hellemeyer ’04 banged the puck into the net to draw Yale within one.
What came next was truly stunning, even to a veteran hockey fan.
In a truly bizarre move, Jelenic appeared to be skating to the bench after the goal, but suddenly reversed his course and skated straight toward Jonas. Jelenic skated around the Harvard net twice, exchanging unpleasantries with the ECAC Goalie of the Year, before he was finally driven into the boards by Crimson defenseman Aaron Kim.
Jelenic received a 10-minute misconduct penalty, but Kim went off for a two-minute minor, sending Yale on the power play.
Harvard failed to keep its composure, picking up two more minor penalties in the next minute, giving the Elis a two-man advantage.
The Elis’ power play capitalized on their chance with Nick Deschenes ’03 one-timing a Ben Stafford ’01 shot by Jonas to knot the game at three.
Stafford put the puck past Jonas to give Yale a 4-3 lead early in the third period, but once again, Harvard stormed back.
Nowak tied the game at 7:59, and Steve Moore scored the game winner not long after to complete Harvard’s first third period comeback win of the season. The Crimson banged a couple more by Eli goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 just for good measure, winning 7-4.
“We couldn’t have picked a better time for our first come-from-behind victory,” Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni told U.S. College Hockey Online. “We tied the game, got the momentum change and then jumped out all over him. Our kids really played with focus tonight.”
For Yale head coach Tim Taylor, the up-and-down nature of his team’s final game was all too emblematic of a frustrating season.
“The high point of the game for us was when Stafford scored,” Taylor said. “But once Harvard scored, we couldn’t fight the wave.”
The Bulldog loss the previous night was of a similar breed, as Jeff Hamilton ’01 gave Yale the early lead, only to fall victim to another Crimson comeback.
Harvard forward Tim Pettit, the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year, beat Lombard less than three minutes later.
The junior netminder was making his first start after missing two games because of a punctured lung caused by an injury during practice.
“I’d have to believe that Lombard was close to 100 percent entering the game or I’m not doing my job,” Taylor said. “There were some goals in the game that he’d like to have back, I’m sure, and some were not his fault.”
Steve Moore gave Harvard the lead on a power play near the end of the first period, but Deschenes tied it for Yale just a minute into another wild second period.
Harvard scored three times in the period — the game-winner coming on Kenny Turano’s goal at 13:36 — while Yale could muster only two more goals in the stanza.
The third period was a goalie showcase, as neither side could light the lamp and the Crimson’s 5-4 lead stood up.
“Both teams were ready for some tough, gritty, playoff hockey,” Taylor said. “But it turned out to be quite a different scenario. Our team battled back in this game, but we just fell one goal short.”
Indeed, just barely falling short characterized the Yale season in many ways, as the Bulldogs showed great promise throughout but were never able to parlay their momentum and talent into enough points to gain a good playoff position.
The losses to the Crimson ran Yale’s record to an abysmal 1-19-3 at the Bright Center since the facility opened in 1979.
Harvard entered Lake Placid with a chance to win its fifth ECAC crown since Taylor captained his alma mater to the title in 1962-63, but the Crimson fell to Cornell Friday night and finished third.
St. Lawrence went on to beat the Big Red to claim their second straight ECAC ring and a berth in the NCAA tournament.
The Saints will be the ECAC’s only representative in hockey’s version of the “Big Dance,” as conference favorite Clarkson was upset by Vermont in the first round of the ECAC tournament.
The playoff losses marked the end of a career for seven Yale seniors, all of whom go out knowing they were part of three Ivy League championships and Yale’s only ECAC crown ever, which the Bulldogs won in 1997-98.