By this time last year, the men’s ice hockey team had rocketed to No. 15 in the nation after opening its season with wins over then-No.1 Boston College and then-No. 3 New Hampshire.
Although the Bulldogs did not have the same fuel for their competitive fires in this past weekend’s road trip, they demonstrated that even after losing All-American Jeff Hamilton ’01 and captain Ben Stafford ’01, they will not be the doormats of their ECAC foes.
Over the weekend, the Elis suffered a close 2-1 loss to Clarkson Saturday night but managed a 2-1 victory over St. Lawrence Friday night.
In both contests, it was goalie Dan Lombard ’02 who kept the Sons of Eli in the game, saving 23 of 25 shots against Clarkson and 37 of 38 shots against St. Lawrence. Forward Chris Higgins ’05, who registered a goal against St. Lawrence and an assist against Clarkson, also continued to impress his Bulldog teammates as he was the only Eli to register a point in both games.
“Overall, it was a decent start for us,” captain Luke Earl ’02 said. “We wanted four points, but we’ll take two.”
Without a proven point-scorer this early in the season, Higgins has taken the lead in claiming the role of offensive workhorse.
“I think [Higgins] has done a real good job in adjusting,” said Nick Deschenes ’03, one of Higgins’s linemates. “It’s encouraging to see someone who hasn’t played at this level come in and perform so well. It motivates everyone on the team to do better.”
Against Clarkson, the Bulldogs were looking at a repeat of their scoreless first period against St. Lawrence when, with 24 seconds left in the period, Knights center Tristan Lush beat Lombard short side with a high slap shot from the right corner.
The second period was scoreless as the Bulldogs dominated the Knights with eight shots but were unable to send one into the back of the net. On the defensive end, the Sons of Eli killed off two power plays in the first half of the second period before tempers started to flare at the end of the frame. Forward Spencer Rodgers ’02 incurred a double minor for instigating and roughing with Knights forward Jay Latulippe.
After over 30 minutes without another goal, the Knights built on their lead when winger Chris Blight knocked in a rebound from defenseman Chris Scuderi’s slap shot with 2:48 remaining in the third period. The Bulldogs were not to be dismissed though, as defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 responded for the Elis less than two minutes later.
As Knights defenseman Chris Bahen watched from the penalty box, the Bulldogs worked the puck around from Higgins to defenseman Joe Callahan ’05, who found Dwyer at the blue line. Dwyer rocketed a slap shot from the point that found the back of the net and snapped a scoreless streak of 223:11 for the Bulldogs at Cheel Arena.
With visions of last year’s 5-4 overtime victory against then-No. 11 Clarkson dancing in their heads, the Elis pulled Lombard in the final minute. But with the puck in the Knights’ zone for the final 15 seconds, the Bulldogs were unable to find the equalizer despite a frantic offensive surge.
“We thought we could go into Clarkson and win,” Earl said. “It was pretty disappointing to come up on the short end. That second goal was a back breaker.”
Against St. Lawrence, Ryan Steeves ’04 found the back of the net 2:16 into the third period to give the Bulldogs what proved to be the game-winning goal. The Elis took Lombard’s shutout bid into the final minute of the game, when Saints winger Charlie Daniels scored his fifth goal of the season by tipping in defenseman Ray DiLauro’s shot from the point with 14 seconds remaining in the game.
The Elis drew first blood against the Saints 4:06 into the second period off the power play. A pass from Deschenes beat Saints goaltender Mike McKenna across the crease and found a charging Higgins, who wristed the puck into the unguarded side of the net for the Elis’ first goal of the season.
The first period was not as kind to the Bulldogs, as it featured a goaltending clinic at both ends of the ice. Lombard made 14 saves in the first period, saving the Elis from three Saints’ power plays, but McKenna was just as sharp, stoning winger Mike Klema ’04 on a breakaway early in the first period.
“We were pretty jittery,” Earl said. “We are a young team, and we were just trying to get our feet wet.”
The Bulldogs’ home opener will be anything but a warm welcome, as Tuesday night they take on Boston University. The Terriers are ranked No. 5 and fresh off their Friday night overtime win against No. 10 Maine. But then again, playing top-15 teams is old hat for the Bulldogs, who opened last season with a pair of wins against two of the top five teams in the country.
“We’re definitely going for the win Tuesday night,” Deschenes said. “We’ve won these kinds of games before, so it helps us in realizing this team is beatable.”