After three years of making the playoffs, it seems that the seniors on the men’s ice hockey team are not ready to let their fourth shot at postseason play slip away.
With a 4-2 upset of Dartmouth Saturday night on the heels of a 4-2 victory over Vermont Friday night, the Bulldogs (8-17-2, 7-11-2 ECAC) completed their first weekend sweep of the season. Yale is now tied with St. Lawrence for the 10th and final playoff spot in the ECAC with two games remaining.
The veterans led the Eli charge at both ends of the ice. Wingers Spencer Rodgers ’02 and Luke Earl ’02 each notched two goals over the weekend while the acrobatics of goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 kept the Bulldogs on top in both games.
“It was awesome,” said winger Chris Higgins ’05. “We knew we had to win those games or we were pretty much done. Seeing some results in a close game was amazing.”
After losing winger Nick Deschenes ’03 for the rest of the regular season, Yale had struggled to find a rhythm on offense and on special teams, suffering through a six-game losing streak. Friday and Saturday night, the Catamounts (3-23-2, 3-15-1) and Big Green (12-10-5, 9-6-5) witnessed the return of the Eli power play, as the Bulldogs converted four of their 12 man-advantage opportunities to snap their six-game slide.
“We’ve been trying all year to change from a team that passes the puck around looking for the perfect goal to just getting more shots on net,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “It was a huge lift. Hockey all of a sudden became fun again.”
Although the Bulldogs can now relish their newfound playoff hopes, there was a time against the Big Green Saturday night when another late-game lapse seemed imminent.
With 13 minutes remaining in the third period, the Bulldogs had done it again, allowing the Big Green to come back to tie the score at 2-2 just 15 minutes after Yale went ahead 2-0.
But instead of falling into the vicious cycle of late let-downs that had plagued them earlier in the season, the Elis increased their pressure on Big Green netminder Nick Boucher.
The Bulldogs’ persistence paid off less than two minutes later on the power play when Higgins wristed a shot that Boucher was unable to control. After whacking at the puck from just outside the slot, Earl managed to fire the puck home to put Yale ahead for good, 3-2, ending Dartmouth’s eight-game unbeaten streak.
“It was a key moment in the year,” Taylor said. “We all could have collectively said ‘here we go again,’ but Luke stepped up.”
At the other end of the ice, with under two minutes remaining in the game and Boucher pulled for an extra Dartmouth skater, Lombard stifled a Big Green offensive flurry.
“He’s been our backbone,” Higgins said of Lombard. “We would not have gotten anywhere without him.”
Dartmouth outshot Yale 15-7 in the third period and 40-25 overall.
The Bulldogs’ best weekend of the season got off to a rocky start when, just over five minutes into their game against the Catamounts Friday night, they found themselves down 1-0.
Dwyer answered for the Elis five minutes later when he collected a pass from Rodgers and skated straight in on Vermont goaltender Shawn Conschafter and wristed a shot that beat Conschafter high to the glove side.
“When they scored that first goal, it wasn’t like ‘here we go again,’ ” Dwyer said. “As a team we came together.”
After entering the locker room at the end of the first period with the game tied at 1-1, Rodgers ignited the Bulldogs’ special teams with a pair of power-play goals in the second period.
Just over eight minutes into middle frame, Rodgers beat Boucher high to the glove side from the right side of the crease. Having entered Friday’s game with just one goal on the season, he added his second of the night and third of the season less than two minutes later.
With two games remaining, the Bulldogs will have to have another near-flawless weekend when they face Harvard (11-12-4, 10-7-3 ECAC) and Brown (14-11-2, 10-8-2 ECAC) at home Mar. 1 and 2, respectively.
The Cantabs are in a three-way tie with Clarkson (13-13-6, 9-6-5 ECAC) for second in the ECAC, and they are fresh off a roller coaster weekend where they followed a 4-1 loss to St. Lawrence with a dominating 5-0 win over Union. If the Bulldogs are to avoid losing their precarious foothold in the playoff race, they will also have to cool off a Brown squad that is on a six-game winning streak, the team’s best run in over two seasons.
With their first weekend sweep of the season under their belts, the Elis have their own momentum heading into the weekend’s contests.
“Being up against Dartmouth, being tied and then winning shows we can beat anybody,” Dwyer said. “I think we’re going to sweep this weekend.”