As the rain fell outside Ingalls Rink, the men’s ice hockey team rallied behind the play of their seniors to earn a spot in the playoffs and wash away a regular season replete with disappointing losses.
With a 5-3 win over Brown (14-13-2, 10-10-2 ECAC) Saturday night and a 4-3 come-from-behind victory against Harvard (11-14-4, 10-9-3 ECAC) Friday night, the Bulldogs (10-17-2, 9-11-2 ECAC) ended their regular season with a four-game winning streak, good enough for the tenth and final playoff spot in the ECAC. The Bulldogs tied St. Lawrence for ninth place but have a worse record against the top five ECAC squads. Union was leading Yale by one point in the standings but lost to Cornell 3-1 Saturday night to give the Elis the final playoff spot.
“It just feels unbelievable,” said defenseman Robert Mutter ’02, who scored the game winning goal against Brown, the first tally of his Yale career. “The adrenaline is just amazing.”
Against Brown, the Elis drew on the offensive efforts of their defensemen. Bulldog blueliners Jeff Dwyer ’04, Stacey Bauman ’03, Mike Grobe ’03 and Mutter all scored against the Bears.
Trailing 3-1, the Bears got two quick tallies six minutes into the final frame to knot the score.
With eight minutes remaining in the game, winger Ryan Steeves ’04 cycled behind the net and, with a Brown defender clinging to his back, failed in his wraparound attempt from Brown goaltender Yann Danis’s stick side.
The puck rebounded off Danis’s pads, finding Mutter’s blade as he skated into the offensive zone. With the Bears collapsed around the goal, there was no one to block Mutter’s shot as he rifled the puck over Danis’s glove.
“I kept telling the guys I was saving it for a big moment,” said Mutter of his first goal in a Yale jersey.
At the other end of the ice, Lombard — who made 16 saves Saturday night — had one big moment after another.
With under a minute to go in the game and Danis off for an extra winger, the Bears won a faceoff on Lombard’s glove side. Bear winger Brent Robinson, who leads the squad with 21 points, charged toward the net and wristed a shot that glanced off Lombard’s glove and hit the crossbar.
“Lombard was a rock,” said head coach Tim Taylor of his goalie’s performance over the weekend.
With time winding down against Harvard Friday night, the Elis trailed 3-2 and seemed destined for their 12th one-goal loss of the season. Then Chris Higgins ’05 struck.
The play began when Cantab goaltender Dov Grumet-Morris tried to clear the puck and the Bulldogs pinched in to send a shot on net. Morris deflected the dump behind the goal, where captain Luke Earl ’02 corralled the puck. Earl then deked before sliding a pass from behind the net to Higgins, who beat Morris across the crease with a backhand to the glove side 17:31 into the final frame.
It was Higgins’s first goal in seven games, bringing the Eli faithful to their feet for the remainder of the contest.
“The third period has been our worst period all year,” Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “I thought we had the game in hand, but we sat on the lead instead of trying to put in that final blow.”
Less than two minutes later, the Bulldogs made the Crimson pay for their tentative play.
Winger Vin Hellemeyer ’04 trapped a high clearing shot at the blueline and left it for Earl, who skated in glove side and drew two Harvard defensemen. With no Crimson jerseys in the slot, Earl left the puck for a streaking Higgins. Higgins then put the Bulldogs ahead for good when he wristed the puck over Morris’s glove with just over a minute remaining in the game.
“The first goal was relief more than anything,” Higgins said. “The second one was pure emotion.”
The win against Harvard was also the first one-goal win for Yale since its 2-1 victory over St. Lawrence on Nov. 10.
With the regular season finished, the Bulldogs will spend the upcoming week cultivating their playoff beards and their power play skills for a trip to No. 9 Cornell, their first round opponents and the top team in the ECAC.
“There isn’t a hotter team in the ECAC than us right now,” Rodgers said. “I don’t care who we play right now. I just can’t wait. Cornell better watch out.”