Little did the any of the 3,486 fans at Ingalls Rink Saturday night know that the story of the men’s ice hockey team’s opener against No. 6 North Dakota would be one best told in penalty minutes rather than goals.
With six minutes remaining in the second period and the Elis (0-1) trailing 2-1, an on-ice brawl involving eight players in the second period derailed Yale’s momentum as the Elis allowed five third-period goals in a 7-3 loss to the Fighting Sioux (6-0). The altercation in the second period contributed to 158 total penalty minutes in the contest, overshadowing what had been a great Bulldog performance against a national powerhouse. Although the Fighting Sioux outshot the Elis 37-29, the Elis managed more shots than any of North Dakota’s opponents this season.
Forwards Chris Higgins ’05, Nick Deschenes ’03, and Evan Wax ’03, as well as defender Stacey Bauman ’03, received five-minute major penalties for fighting and subsequent game disqualifications.
“It was tough that that’s the way it worked out,” said captain Denis Nam ’03, who scored Yale’s second goal on a power play. “[The fight] basically took our top four players off the ice.”
Although forward Christian Jensen ’06 ended his shift shortly before the brawl began, Higgins, Deschenes and Bauman were caught in the middle of the fracas and were ejected, leaving the Bulldogs without two of their first-line players and one of their top defensemen. The Fighting Sioux lost most of their checking line players.
“They were affected more,” North Dakota coach Dean Blais said. “We’ve played six games, and we’re used to shuffling around, plus their game conditioning was not as good as ours since they hadn’t played as much.”
The ejections came at an unfortunate time for the Bulldogs, who were down only 2-1 at that point. In fact, Yale had opened the scoring in the first period.
At 4:39, defenseman Matthew Craig ’06 took a shot from the point that was deflected out to defenseman Greg Boucher ’03. Boucher’s shot hit the top left corner of the net, but replays determined that the puck had been tipped by forward Christian Jensen ’06 and he was given credit for the goal.
“I haven’t watched the video,” Jensen said. “I was being hit when it happened, but the refs said they watched the videotape and it hit my stick before it went in. [The goal] was a result of hard work from everyone on the ice.”
Less than three minutes later, the Sioux responded when center David Lundbohm snuck the puck just between the left post and the skate of goaltender Pete Cohen ’05.
Yale dominated much of the second period, with a huge flurry of shots in North Dakota’s zone involving defenseman Bryan Freeman ’03 and forwards Vin Hellemeyer ’04, Ryan Steeves ’04 and Wax. The Elis recorded 11 shots on goal in that stanza and 29 overall.
“I was impressed by Yale’s team speed and the effectiveness of their penalty kill and power play,” Blais said. “They generated more shots than any team we’ve played.”
Late in the second period, which was marked by eight penalties between the two teams, a botched attempt by the Bulldogs to clear the puck resulted in a tip-in goal from forward James Massen that gave the Sioux a lead they did not relinquish.
Just 30 seconds later, what started out as a routine play ended up changing the entire course of the game.
“Basically what happened is Higgins was angling a kid [North Dakota’s Matt Jones] around the boards, a play that happens about a hundred times a game,” said Jensen, who played on the first line with Higgins and Deschenes but had come off the ice about 10 seconds before the play. “The kid slipped and Higgins finished the check, which is perfectly normal.”
At that point, several North Dakota players, angry because Jones’ head became wedged between Higgins and the board, jumped in to protect their teammate. Yale players responded by defending Higgins.
What resulted was a series of fights that were finally broken up by the officials until Sioux goalie Josh Siembida went down in the middle of the ice, triggering another round of disputes.
Jensen said that had he still been on the ice when the incident occurred, he would have defended his teammates as well.
“Anyone would have,” he said.
With helmets, sticks and gloves littering the ice, the officials announced the eight game disqualifications, which included four Elis. The penalties carry with them an automatic suspension from the following game, which will prevent the suspended Elis from competing Friday at Cornell.
“We have to defend our players,” Nam said. “If guys are going to throw at our guys we’re going to fight back. We’re not going to turn the other cheek all the time.”
With a depleted lineup in the third period that was without the suspended Bulldogs and forward Mike Klema ’04, who pulled his hamstring just prior to the incident, Yale gave up three quick goals to the Sioux that effectively sealed North Dakota’s victory.
Defender Andy Schneider’s goal at 3:54 and scores from forward Jason Notermann and Lundbohm came within 1:12 of each other as Yale’s passing and breakouts began to falter.
“It’s a hard game to evaluate,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “There was a pretty rough stretch there. Situations came up that were not typical.”
Down 5-1, the Bulldogs narrowed the gap at 6:33 with a power play goal from Nam, who backhanded a shot that eluded Siembida.
But the Bulldogs could not sustain the momentum. After Cohen had made a series of saves about 10 minutes into the third period, an open Notermann controlled the puck behind the net and skated around the goal with no one on him, hitting the back of the net inside the right post for a 6-2 lead.
Yale’s clearing problems continued at 13:28 when Quinn Fylling stole a poor breakout pass and scored North Dakota’s seventh and final goal.
Cohen finished with 30 saves, while Siembida stopped 26 shots.
With 5:34 remaining, Steeves was pulled down as he skated alone toward the goal. Steeves was awarded a penalty shot, which he connected on with a low shot in the center of the net.
Taylor said he was pleased with his team’s level of effort throughout the tough third period.
“I just go through telling them that I was proud of their intensity through the last 15 minutes,” he said.
Jensen said that while playing Cornell with such a depleted roster will be tough, it will give players a chance to gain experience that will prove valuable later in the season.
“It will be good for the team in the long run, but very, very, very hard this weekend,” he said.