While the men’s basketball team is on a path for its first NCAA tournament berth in years, the men’s ice hockey team has set itself on a crash course for the ECAC basement with a pair of 3-2 losses to No. 8 Cornell and Colgate last weekend.
After their 11th one-goal loss of this season, the Bulldogs (6-15-2, 5-9-2 ECAC) now find themselves in 11th place in the ECAC, one spot out of the playoffs with six games remaining in the regular season. One of the few bright spots for the Elis this weekend was winger Mike Klema ’04, who had one goal against Cornell (17-5-1, 13-2-1) Saturday and a pair against Colgate (11-13-2, 8-6-2) Friday.
“We give it our best effort, and for some reason it’s just not coming out on our side,” goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 said. “It’s been too many losses to say we’re not getting the breaks. We all wish we could stand up to that full-force just once and get that winning feeling.”
In suffering their second consecutive weekend sweep, and their first four-game ECAC losing streak since December 2000, the script was the same as last week for the Bulldogs, with different teams in the starring role of heartbreaker.
The contest against Cornell was shaping up to be a repeat of the 1-1 tie with the Big Red Nov. 30 when, with less than 30 seconds to go in the third period, Big Red defenseman Doug Murray got control of the puck in his own end.
Murray worked through a tight-checking Bulldog defense in the neutral zone and dished to linemate Sam Paolini. Paolini corralled the puck and fought through the prodding sticks of multiple Eli defenders before reaching the slot, where he fired a wrister that hit Lombard before trickling into the net.
“It was surreal. I was in complete shock,” winger Dennis Nam ’03 said. “We thought there was a missed call when [center Chris] Higgins ’05 was skating into the zone and they turn it into our zone. It didn’t sink in until the game was over. It seems like that’s the way the whole season has been going, and maybe the bounces will eventually go our way.”
Earlier in the game, despite being physically overmatched, it seemed the Elis had finally found a glimmer of hope in what has been a difficult stretch for their special teams.
After Cornell had opened the scoring in the game with a goal 6:16 into the second period, the Bulldogs fought back with their first power-play goal in their last eight extra-man opportunities.
Just over two minutes into the final frame, defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 collected a Big Red turnover at the blue line and fed a cross-ice pass through the slot to center Ryan Steeves ’04, who was streaking toward the opposite side of Big Red goaltender David LeNeveu. Steeves one-timed Dwyer’s pass to knot the game at one.
In a closely contested third period, the Big Red struck back just two minutes later to take the lead again. Yale would not be left behind so easily, however, as the Bulldogs turned poor Cornell defense into Eli offense less than five minutes later.
After another defensive turnover deep in the Big Red zone, winger Spencer Rodgers ’02 gathered the puck and fed Klema for his third goal of the weekend to knot the game at two. But again, it was the final 10 minutes that stood between the Elis and crucial points in the ECAC standing. Just like their 7-5 disaster against Clarkson (11-11-6, 7-4-5) and 4-3 loss to St. Lawrence (9-17-0, 7-9-0) Feb. 1 and 2, respectively, the Elis failed to stand their ground.
“Sometime we play tentative, trying not to lose, but this weekend it was different,” Nam said. “There are always little things we can work on, but it just feels like we have to play a perfect game to win right now.”
Against Colgate, the Bulldogs had a little more time to scramble their retaliatory forces.
With the Eli offense smothering the Raiders in their own zone with 10 minutes remaining in the period, it seemed the Bulldogs were due for a reversal in their fortunes.
In this case, it was Colgate that was playing catch-up all night and finally pulled in front when Raider defenseman Tucker Veenis collected the puck and fed streaking winger Adam Mitchell through the legs of an Eli defenseman. Mitchell then fed center Brad D’Arco, who wristed a shot through Lombard’s pads with under seven minutes remaining in the game.
“Every time we have been getting down we believe ‘this is the time we are going to turn it around,’ Nam said. “It just didn’t work out this time.”
Despite having leads of 1-0 and 2-1, the Bulldogs were unable to put an extra goal between themselves and the persistent Raiders. The Elis received a golden opportunity to break the 1-1 deadlock midway through the second period when winger Bob Vandersluis was called for hitting from behind.
Despite having a five-minute man-advantage, the Bulldogs were unable to muster any significant scoring chances on a power play that has struggled to generate offense throughout the season.
“Friday night was another example of how special teams have been costing us in the game,” winger Evan Wax ’03 said.
With their so-far-nightmarish stretch run reduced to six games, the Bulldogs are in search of a cure to their third period woes. In their last four games, the Bulldogs have been outscored 11-5 in the final frame.
“We had some really good chance, and we weren’t able to capitalize on them,” Wax said. “More guys have to step up and put the burden on their shoulders.”
Absent from the scoring sheets from both games was Higgins. Heading into the weekend, Higgins led the Bulldogs in points but was a non-factor in the weekends’ contests.
The Bulldogs will return to Ingalls Rink next weekend to face Union (11-9-3, 6-7-3) Feb. 15 and Rensselaer (12-10-4, 6-7-3) Feb. 16. Both teams are just three points ahead of the 11th place Bulldogs and are just three points away from fourth place in the conference.
With 12 points on the line in the next three weeks, the Bulldogs will need to find a way to right a season that is in serious danger of ending before the playoffs even begin.
“Lesser teams would fold right now,” Lombard said. “We’re not going to. We need points desperately, and we need to play like a team that’s desperate.”
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