A spot in the postseason might not have been at stake, but Saturday night at Ingalls Rink, the men’s ice hockey team fought for a piece of the most important position of the regular season: first place in the ECAC.
Instead of rallying for a third period victory as they did at the end of last season, the Bulldogs (7-4-0, 7-3-0, 14 points) fell flat against Harvard (9-3-0, 9-2-0, 18 points), losing 6-3 after defeating Brown (5-5-1, 5-5-1, 11 points) 4-3 the night before.
The weekend, which could have given Yale at least a share of first place, did not hurt the Elis’ second-place standing, although it widened the gap between Yale and the first-place Cantabs.
Center Chris Higgins ’05 showed why he was given a spot for the second year in a row on the U.S. Junior National team, racking up his first collegiate hat trick against Brown. Center Ryan Steeves ’04 extended his scoring streak with an assist against Brown and a goal against Harvard. Steeves is the only Bulldog player to have scored a point in every game this season.
Saturday’s contest against Harvard was closer than the 6-3 score indicated. New Haven native Brett Nowak connected on an empty net goal in the final minute to extend Harvard’s lead.
“I thought it was two good teams playing each other,” Harvard coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “I like their team. They play a very up-tempo style.”
The timing of Harvard’s first two goals, which came at the beginning and the end of the first period, was inopportune for the Elis, who struggled early to find their rhythm. After right wing Evan Wax ’03 earned an early penalty for tripping, Harvard’s Dominic Moore took advantage of a crowd in front of the Eli crease to put the puck past Yale goalie Pete Cohen ’05 at 1:30 into the game. With just over 30 seconds remaining to the first intermission, center Tim Cavanagh added another goal from right in front of Yale’s net to give the Crimson a 2-0 lead.
But all was not lost as Yale rallied to tie the game. Less than a minute into the second frame, Steeves took advantage of a largely open net after Harvard goalie Dov Grumet-Morris was caught on one side, and wristed the puck under the crossbar to narrow the deficit.
Six minutes later, Higgins won a faceoff in the Harvard zone, sending the puck to right wing Vin Hellemeyer ’04, whose slap shot surprised Grumet-Morris and tied the score.
“The timing of the first two goals was tough, but we came back and tied it up, so that wasn’t the game,” said head coach Tim Taylor, who remains one victory shy of 300 career wins.
But several defensive mishaps and the inability of the Elis to clear the puck from their zone resulted in Harvard’s third and fourth scores, both by Brendan Bernakevitch.
“We’ve got to work on our defensive zone, on getting the puck out as soon as possible,” Higgins said. “We had a few breakdowns.”
A defensive giveaway led to Bernakevitch’s first backhand goal, and several minutes later the forward took advantage of a battle in front of the net.
Dennis Packard’s insurance goal midway through the period, making the score 5-3, was a tough one to swallow. The Elis never recovered.
“One of our strong points has been scoring goals, then countering when they score,” said Cohen, who stopped 25 Harvard shots. “We did that tonight, but Harvard did it better.”
Friday night against Brown, with the Bulldogs struggling to score, Higgins took matters into his own hands, scoring three of Yale’s goals in a 4-3 win.
It was Higgins’ first Yale hat trick and the third hat trick the Elis have scored this season after recording none last year. Wax and Jensen also have tallied three-goal games.
“He got some timely goals,” Taylor said of Higgins. “It was a great individual effort.”
The Elis will remain busy over the holiday break. They travel to the Dodge Holiday Classic in Minnesota from Dec. 27-28 to take on No. 10 Minnesota. The Elis may also face No. 3 Boston College at the tournament. On Jan. 2, Yale will face off against No. 2 University of New Hampshire at Ingalls Rink.