While Yalies went home for a break from classwork last week, the men’s hockey team’s statisticians had their hands full covering the Elis’ offensive exploits.
No sooner had forward Nick Deschenes ’03 notched a goal in the third period against Princeton Saturday night than Chris Higgins ’05 added a score 16 seconds later.
Such has been the story for the Bulldogs (6-3-0, 6-2-0 ECAC, 12 pts.) this season — high-octane offense and frequent goal scoring.
In four ECAC games over Thanksgiving break, the Elis exploded for 22 goals on the way to sweeping Princeton (1-9-0, 1-7-0, 2 pts.) 7-1 on the road and 6-1 at home. Last weekend, Yale defeated the University of Vermont (5-7-2, 2-4-0, 4 pts.) 5-4 in a thrilling come-from-behind contest a day after being on the losing end of that same score against Dartmouth (6-4-0, 4-2-0, 8 pts.).
Winger Evan Wax ’03 was named ECAC Player of the Week for his four-goal performance against Vermont Saturday. Wax had the game-tying and game-winning goals against the Catamounts after the Elis spotted Vermont four goals in the first and second periods.
“It was a great night for him individually, and his whole line played well,” said head coach Tim Taylor, who is two wins away from 300 career victories. “Good things happen to people who work hard and do things right.”
Wax is currently tied with linemate Ryan Steeves ’04 atop Yale’s scoring list with 15 points and leads the Bulldogs in goals with 8.
The emergence of the second line has been crucial to the Elis’ offensive success this season because opponents have to deal with more than one scoring line.
“I think that the balance has been a huge part of our success this year,” Wax said. “If teams try to focus all their energy on stopping Higgins’ line, other lines have been producing to help the team win.”
Yale’s home-and-away series with travel partner Princeton produced two very similar games. In both contests, the Bulldogs found themselves with slim leads entering the third period before blowing open the scores late in the game.
Tuesday night at Baker Rink, Steeves scored a breakaway goal and batted a puck out of mid-air past rookie goaltender Eric LeRoux to give Yale a 2-0 lead, which Princeton cut in half late in the second period. But before the Tigers could capitalize on their momentum and even the score, center Chris Higgins ’05 notched a quick low-angle power play goal to begin Yale’s offensive onslaught.
The next two Eli shots resulted in goals for -Wax and captain Denis Nam ’03, giving the Bulldogs a 5-1 lead and leading Princeton coach Len Quesnelle to pull LeRoux.
But Tiger goalie Nate Nomeland was no better, as Higgins added another goal off a pretty pass from winger Vin Hellemeyer ’04 and rookie Joe Zappala ’06 knocked Nomeland’s water bottle off the net with a top-shelf backhand goal.
“They just got worn down,” Taylor said.
The Tigers opened Saturday’s contest with the same aggressive forecheck that had caused problems for the Elis in the second period Tuesday. Still, the Bulldogs had a number of good chances early and an outstanding performance from Princeton goalie Trevor Clay was the only thing keeping the Bulldogs off the scoreboard.
Early in the second period, Yale successfully killed off a Princeton two-man advantage that lasted a full two minutes.
“That was pretty big,” said Hellemeyer, who broke the scoreless tie several minutes later when he one-timed Deschenes’ pass from behind the net. “If they get a goal there they’re right back in the game.”
After Wax made the score 2-0 when he poked the puck into the net during a scrum in the crease, goalie Pete Cohen ’05 preserved the two-goal lead with a beautiful save on a Princeton breakaway. Cohen, lying on his stomach, missed the puck with his stick but then kicked it away at the last possible moment.
“It’s a lot of fun to play in these games,” said Cohen, who is quickly establishing himself as a reliable and consistent starting goaltender for Yale. “[Pete Dobrowlski] is playing well too, and in practice we’re both pushing each other. As long as we’re winning it doesn’t matter who’s in net.”
Once again, Yale wasted no time in scoring once the third period began. By the time 26 seconds had elapsed in the final frame, goals by Deschenes and Higgins had given Yale a sizable 4-0 lead.
“That line finally broke free,” Taylor said of his top skaters.
Hellemeyer added a power play goal three minutes later when he surprised Clay with a well-placed wrist shot from the right circle, and winger Mike Klema ’04 gave the Elis their sixth and final goal when he faked out Clay on the left side before lifting the puck into the open net.
The Tigers took advantage of a power play to spoil Cohen’s shutout bid with just under three minutes left on the clock.
“I wanted us to get him the goose egg,” Taylor said. “He played well enough to get one.”
Cohen has amassed a .900 save percentage and a 2.54 goals-against average thus far this season.
Meanwhile, a solid game from Clay, who had 34 saves, was for naught as Princeton failed to capitalize on its chances, especially a two-minute 5-on-3.
“Our goalie was actually one of the few guys in our lineup who competed from start to finish,” Quesnelle said.
Last weekend, four goals on the road by the Bulldogs wasn’t enough to overcome Dartmouth. The Big Green gave the Elis a taste of their own medicine, matching each Eli goal with their own quick response.
“Throughout the year we’ve been able to answer back when the other team scored against us,” Taylor said. “Dartmouth did that to us. Four goals should be enough to win on the road, and I thought we played a good competitive game.”
Winger Nate Murphy ’04 came back from an injury to score a goal against the Green, and rookie Christian Jensen ’06, Steeves, and Zappala also added scores.
The next day, Wax gave Yale an early 1-0 with his first of four goals against the Catamounts. But Vermont responded with three power play scores and a shorthanded goal, and five minutes into the second period the Bulldogs found themselves trailing 4-1.
That was when Wax took over. The senior, who plays at his best when stationed in front of the net, beat Vermont goalie Shawn Conschafter 16 minutes into the middle period to narrow Vermont’s lead.
Steeves added a goal early in the third period, and three minutes later Wax earned a hat trick and tied the game at 4.
But he wouldn’t stop there. With just under seven minutes to play in the game, Wax notched the game-winner, a power play goal off assists from Higgins and Hellemeyer.
“It felt great, because my goals were able to help the team win,” Wax said. “I know that my performance was just a result of the amazing work that my linemates have been doing all year.”
In the third period this year, the Elis have scored 26 goals, which is more than all the other periods combined. They are outscoring opponents in the third period by an 11-goal margin.
“We might be starting a new trend,” Hellemeyer said. “Hopefully we won’t be as close going into the third period in all the games as we were against Princeton.”
Amidst all the offense, Taylor still stresses the importance of defense for his players. Against Princeton, Yale made improvements, holding the Tigers to two goals over two games.
“It would be hard to say [the high scoring] will continue, but it certainly is nice and we will enjoy it while we can,” Taylor said.