The song “Peaches and Cream” by the group 112 mixed with laughter and smiles in the locker room of the men’s ice hockey team after its 5-0 victory over Colgate Saturday night. Yale, picked to finish in the bottom half of the ECAC this year, had just gotten three league points out of a weekend where they were expected to get two, and it was time to celebrate.
After 125 minutes of solid hockey at home, the Bulldogs (3-4-2, 3-3-2 ECAC) proved their critics wrong with a victory against Colgate (3-10-0, 2-4-0) and a thrilling 1-1 overtime tie with Cornell (7-2-1, 4-1-1) Friday night.
This weekend the Bulldogs surprised everyone but themselves.
“We expect to win,” goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 said. “We didn’t go into the Cornell game expecting to get blown out. We think we have something good here, and we want to let everyone know about it.”
The Bulldogs moved to .500 in the ECAC and are now tied with Clarkson for third in the conference, two points behind first-place Harvard. The story for the Elis throughout the weekend was a veteran between the pipes and youth up front.
Lombard, who registered 23 saves against Cornell and 34 against Colgate, held the opposition without a goal for over 124 consecutive minutes this weekend. Lombard got 60 of those minutes against Colgate for his first shutout of the year. On offense, winger Chris Higgins ’05 registered two scores against Colgate and had the game-tying goal against Cornell.
“Lombard is seeing the puck real well,” head coach Tim Taylor said of Lombard’s performance against Colgate. “He’s in a zone-like state. He had the team on his back tonight.”
The Raiders, who average the most penalty minutes per game in the ECAC, got in trouble early against the Bulldogs. It took less than a minute for Colgate to send a man to the penalty box.
With Colgate defenseman Ben Bryce off the ice for interference, the Bulldogs struck 28 seconds into their power play. Higgins danced around three Raider defensemen before beating Colgate goaltender David Cann low to the glove side for the first goal of the game and his second of the weekend.
Not to be left out of the offensive effort, winger Nathan Murphy ’04 turned a muffed pass between Colgate defenders into the Elis’ second goal. After blowing by two Colgate defensemen, Murphy corralled the puck and came across the crease before slipping the puck past the stick side of Cann’s sprawling body. Yale scored on its first two shots of the contest and would score one more before the end of the period.
Colgate seemed disoriented early in the game as Yale’s players used their speed to beat the Raiders to the puck consistently.
“[The Bulldogs] were winning a lot of one-on-one battles early in the game, and we weren’t doing that,” said Colgate head coach Don Vaughan, who is still looking for his 100th win with Colgate after they lost both games this weekend. “We just didn’t capitalize.”
The Raiders had their first big chance to capitalize on the power play 14:54 into the first period, but Lombard managed to kick a Colgate one-timer out of the crease. Defenseman Michael Grobe ’05 collected the rebound and found winger Vin Hellemeyer ’04 who beat Cann low to the glove side. Hellemeyer’s score was Yale’s first short-handed goal of the season
Since being promoted to the first line at the start of the weekend, Hellemeyer has responded with inspired play up front.
“I’ve been working hard for two years, and to finally get a chance to go out and mean a lot to this team is amazing,” Hellemeyer said.
In a lackluster second period that featured sloppy Bulldog defense and two Bulldog penalties, the Elis ended up looking to Lombard to help them out of difficult situations. A pair of Eli penalties gave Colgate a 5-on-3 advantage at 7:58 of the second period after defenseman Joe Callahan ’05 was called for boarding. Once again, Colgate was unable to find the back of the net when they went to the power play. The Bulldog penalty-kill unit stifled the Raiders’ offense, bringing the Eli faithful to their feet at the end of Colgate’s second period extra-man advantage.
“There has been such a team commitment to penalty killing this year because it killed us so much last year,” Lombard said. “It’s night and day from last year.”
Later in the period Lombard bailed out the Bulldog defense when he gloved a high slap shot during a 3-on-1 fast break.
“Our power play and offensive output hasn’t been so good lately,” Vaughan said. “Lombard made a couple huge saves. It wasn’t so much poor execution on our part as it was great playing on Lombard’s part.”
Yale iced the game in the third period with one more score from Higgins and a tally from winger Nick Deschenes ’03. After Higgins’ score 1:25 into the third, Vaughan pulled Cann from the goal in favor of Jason LeFevre. Cann had allowed four goals on 20 shots for an anemic .800 save percentage.
While the Bulldogs flew across the ice in their game against Colgate, Cornell’s average advantage of 2 inches and 5 pounds over Yale resulted in a more clutch-and-grab style, with scrums along the boards and heavy hitting throughout the game.
With the score tied at one, a botched Cornell odd-man rush gave captain Luke Earl ’02 a breakaway chance against Cornell goaltender Matt Underhill. Earl backhanded the puck over Underhill’s pads and into the net at almost the same time the goal came off its moorings. The goal light never went off, and the referees disallowed the goal, ruling that the goal had come off its moorings before the puck went in the net.
“I thought it went straight in,” Earl said. “That’s just tough luck.”
Off the ensuing faceoff, the puck was lofted into the air as Cornell attempted to clear the zone. The puck rolled off the Morse College banner and hit the chief referee on the head, eliciting some applause from the Eli faithful.
Defenseman Ryan Trowbridge ’05 and Grobe were big physical presences against Cornell in a game where the Elis were on the receiving end of most checks.
“With the forecheck, we had to get a lot of pucks out of our zone, so we had to play scrappier than normal,” Trowbridge said.
In a battle of the top two defenses and the top two goalies in the league, Lombard came up big for the Elis, repeatedly stoning the Big Red’s wingers in the crease.
“Lombard made some unbelievable saves,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said. “When you play a team that’s that well coached with goaltending that good, you’re going to have a close game every time.”
Lombard’s biggest save of the night came with 27.8 seconds remaining in the first period and the Elis struggling to carry their 1-1 tie into the intermission. Cornell winger Sam Paolini, who is second on the team with 10 assists, fed Cornell defenseman Doug Murray from behind the net for a one timer.
Lombard made a split-second glove save as he shifted just in time to stop Murray’s shot from the slot at point blank range.
“Lombard, of course, was immense,” Taylor said.
The Bulldogs also played the majority of the game against Cornell without defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03, who left in the first period with a separated shoulder. Bauman is probable for next weekend’s game at Rensselaer.
Cornell threatened to run away with the game when they scored 25 seconds into the first period. Murray broke in alone on Lombard and wristed a shot high that Lombard saved. The rebound fell out of Lombard’s glove and right onto the stick of Cornell defenseman Mark McRae, who snapped the puck over Lombard.
Instead of folding, the Elis rebounded with solid physical play. Cornell was called for interference at 7:58 of the first period, giving Yale a man advantage. Only 42 seconds into the power play, Deschenes rocketed a shot from the point that Higgins batted down in the slot to register Yale’s only goal of the game.
“[Higgins’s goal] was a testament to the character of this team,” Taylor said. “That first goal could’ve opened Pandora’s box, but we settled down and got the edge.”
The Bulldogs, who play more December games than any of their ECAC opponents except Princeton, next travel to Rensselaer on Dec. 7 in an effort to build upon their three-point weekend.
“We wanted to get to .500 in our conference, and we managed to do that,” Lombard said. “We have to go into this next weekend thinking we need to put ourselves in the best possible position for January.”