In what has been a roller coaster season for the men’s ice hockey team, the Bulldogs experienced a damaging descent this weekend with home losses to Clarkson and St. Lawrence, 7-5 and 4-3, respectively.
With the losses, the Bulldogs (6-13-2, 5-7-2 ECAC) fall from fifth into a three-way tie for seventh in the ECAC. The Bulldogs dropped their ninth straight one-goal game, while the Saints (8-16-0, 6-8-0 ECAC) improved their record in one-goal contests to 5-11. The Knights (11-10-5, 7-3-4 ECAC) got their first win on the road this season.
Center Chris Higgins ’05 led the Bulldogs’ offensive effort with one goal and three assists, while wingers Vin Hellemeyer ’04 and Ryan Steeves ’04 each had three points for the Elis over the weekend.
After their first ECAC action in three weeks, the Bulldogs (6-13-2, 5-7-2 ECAC) find themselves two points short of home ice for the first round of the playoffs. With eight games remaining, Yale is one of six teams separated by four points or less in the ECAC. Another weekend of consecutive losses could jeopardize the Bulldogs’ chances of making the playoffs altogether.
“That was the challenge, to get up for this weekend,” head coach Tim Taylor said. “We’ve really dug ourselves a hole now, and we need to battle our way back into the playoff picture.”
The Knights and Saints are not new to bringing the Bulldogs back to earth. The last time the Bulldogs lost consecutive weekend contests in the ECAC was Feb. 2-3 of last year when they were on the road against Clarkson and St. Lawrence.
On Friday, after a wild second period featuring two questionable calls that gave the Bulldogs a goal and disallowed a Clarkson tally, the Bulldogs were leading the Knights 5-3 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the game.
With just over four minutes remaining in the game, Clarkson unleashed an incredible scoring barrage. In a span of three minutes and 19 seconds, the Knights scored four goals to win the game.
“We just erupted in the third period,” said Clarkson head coach Mark Morris. “I give our guys a lot of credit for playing with a lot of heart.”
The run started when Clarkson center Tristan Lush skated in from the point unchecked and blasted a shot that beat Bulldog goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 over his glove side shoulder.
As the clock continued to wind down, the Bulldogs tightened up.
“I don’t know what happened,” Taylor said. “The roof caved in. I don’t have an answer, but we were back on our heels [in the third] and maybe clock-watching a bit. It just seemed like a blur.”
The next Knight score came 1:07 later off the stick of Clarkson defender Chris Bahen, who skated in from the point, collected a pass and then blasted a shot low past Lombard’s stick side.
After a second period in which the Bulldogs got all the calls and all the bounces to go their way, Knight winger Matt Poapst picked up a bouncing puck 1:16 after Bahen’s goal and fired home a slapshot from 10 feet out on Lombard’s stick side. It was Poapst’s first goal in ECAC play.
Taylor called a timeout with his team trailing and less than three minutes remaining in the game, but it was too little too late. Clarkson defender Kerry Ellis-Toddington added an empty insurance goal with less than a minute to go in the period.
“Once they started to come in waves, the roof started to cave in and I blame myself for that,” Lombard said.
On Saturday night, the Bulldogs were looking to pick up the pieces when captain Luke Earl ’02 gave the Elis their first lead against St. Lawrence 14 seconds into the second period.
The play began when St. Lawrence winger Robin Carruthers followed the puck too far into the Eli zone and lost his stick in the process. While Carruthers was caught up ice, Steeves corralled the puck and raced into the Saint zone, where he set up behind the net on goaltender Mike McKenna’s stick side.
Steeves fed Earl who rifled a shot from McKenna’s glove side. The puck caromed off a Saint defender’s skate before finding the back of the net through McKenna’s legs.
The lead was short-lived, however, as the Saints struck back just over four minutes later when defenseman Michael Grobe ’05 was shielded off the puck. While the Bulldogs scrambled to fill the space left in the zone, Saints winger Andy Marchetti fed linemate Ziga Petac, who cycled the puck in front of Lombard and fired 10 feet out on Lombard’s stick side. Petac’s wrister found the sliver of space between Lombard and the stick-side post to tie the game at three apiece.
Another deflection would give St. Lawrence the game 15 minutes later when defenseman Allie Skelley’s shot from the point bounced off center Rich Peverly’s skate to beat Lombard low to the glove side.
“I can’t look much farther than myself,” Lombard said. “I know I need to work a lot harder.”
Despite having three power play opportunities in the third period, two of which resulted in a 15-second two-man advantage, the Elis, who were without power play winger Nick Deschenes and defenseman Brian Freeman Sunday, only managed three shots all period.
Deschenes, who is second on the team with nine assists, was injured in practice Wednesday evening when a skate of another player cut his thigh in practice. The cut required 60 stitches, and will force Deschenes to miss the rest of the regular season.
On such short notice, the Bulldogs had a difficult time adjusting their special teams.
“Our special teams were the problem,” Earl said. “That’s got us in trouble a couple times this year.”
Following this weekend’s losses, the Bulldogs are left to ponder how they can steal some points this weekend on the road against Colgate (9-13-1, 7-6-1 ECAC) Feb. 8 and No. 11 Cornell (15-5-1, 11-2-1 ECAC) Feb. 9.
“It was one of the most disappointing weekends of the year,” center Spencer Rodgers ’02 said. “If we step back and realize where we’re going and what we’ve got, that’s the only way we’re going to come out of this weekend with anything.”
After two such disappointing losses, the Elis will go back to basics in preparation for the upcoming weekend on the road.
“You don’t know whether to take your foot off the pedal or to push harder,” Lombard said. “I think we just have to keep it simple.”