Last year, forward Christopher Higgins ’05 refused an invitation to play for the under-18 national ice hockey team. Instead, he opted to finish out his high school career just as it began, at Avon Old Farms.
One year later, Higgins got a close look at what might have been, as he led the Bulldogs with two goals in their 7-3 preseason victory over the under-18 national team Saturday evening at Ingalls Rink. Outside of Higgins’s pair of scores, five other Bulldogs contributed to the offensive effort.
The Bulldogs, who scored four goals in the final period, had trouble finding the back of the net early in the game. Although the Sons of Eli outshot their national team counterparts 12-6, the teams exited the first frame in a scoreless deadlock.
But the Bulldogs’ early scoring troubles did not concern forward Spencer Rodgers ’02.
“We were ready for them to be as good as they were,” said Rodgers, who scored for the Bulldogs in the third period. “We weren’t expecting to blow them out right away.”
Defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03 got the Bulldogs on the board first with a slap shot from the blueline that sailed over Team USA goalie Tim Roth’s right shoulder.
Turnovers were Team USA’s undoing. With over 18 minutes remaining in the game and the score tied at three apiece, the Bulldogs intercepted a Team USA pass in the Yale zone. Forward Denis Nam ’03 took advantage of the miscue, scoring a breakaway goal that proved to be the game winner just 48 seconds after Team USA forward Stephen Werner tied the game at three 1:53 into the third period.
Another Team USA turnover over two minutes later led to Higgins’s second goal of the night, as he lifted a pass from captain Luke Earl ’02 past Roth 5:03 into the third.
With over 18 minutes left in the game, Nam was unsure whether his goal would be the deciding tally.
“I didn’t think [my goal] was going to be the game winner,” Nam said. “There was plenty of time left, and they were playing really tough.”
Team USA used its size at even strength to control the Bulldogs in the crease. But when killing penalties, the under-18 squad retreated to a passive penalty-killing strategy, which opened up the ice for the Bulldogs’ power-play lines.
The Bulldogs scored on two of six power-play opportunities, which was significantly better than their two for 11 effort against St. Francis Xavier University.
“Our power play matched well against their penalty-killing unit,” Rodgers said. “Against St. Francis, it was harder for us to move the puck around. Against Team USA, we were able to dictate what happened on the power play.”
The Bulldogs’ power-play control gave Higgins his first goal of the night. Rodgers notched the Bulldogs’ second power-play goal of the evening with 1:54 remaining in the third period.
Overall, the Bulldogs feel they have improved since last week’s blowout victory over an injury-ridden and tired St. Francis Xavier squad.
“The power play looked 20 times better,” Nam said.
Goalie Dan Lombard ’02, who was pulled in the third period against St. Francis Xavier after allowing three goals, also fared well. Lombard had over 14 saves on the evening.
The Bulldogs will open their regular season on the road against ECAC rival St. Lawrence Nov. 9.
After Yale finished its preseason against Team USA — a group that is inexperienced at the collegiate level — St. Lawrence should present more challenging competition.
“It’s going to be a different game,” defenseman Joe Callahan ’05 said. “If we’re playing well, we should make it competitive. We have to take our play up a notch, but if we’re playing well we can beat anybody.”