History was against the six seniors on the men’s hockey team, who had gone winless in their seven career playoff games with the Bulldogs.
But fittingly, it was the team’s senior captain, Denis Nam ’03, who broke the streak and gave the Elis a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Brown in the second game of the best-of-three ECAC Quarterfinals series Saturday night.
The Eli win forces a decisive third game, which will be played Sunday night at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink. Tickets go on sale at 3 p.m.
“I just talked to Evan [Wax] ’03 and said so this is what it feels like — I’d sort of forgotten that I hadn’t had [a playoff win],” said Nam, who batted down a rebound of Jeff Hristovski’s ’06 shot for the game-winner. “We got the monkey off our back, and now we’ve got game three.”
Head coach Tim Taylor said he was very happy that his senior class had grabbed their first playoff victory.
“I couldn’t be happier for that class,” he said. “Hopefully we win the series and get them to a new level. They’ve all got a lot of ownership in this team.”
Tomorrow’s winner-takes-all third game will decide which of the two teams gets to make the trip to the Pepsi Arena in Albany, NY, this year’s site for the ECAC semifinals and championships.
“It was a huge win for us,” said goaltender Josh Gartner ’06, whose play in net held Brown scoreless after their initial goal six minutes into the game. “I think it was a lot better to win the second game because you’ve got the momentum going into the third.”
Early in the game, it appeared that the game was going to go Brown’s way. As they did last night, the Elis allowed the Bears to get up early in the game. A good pass by center Pascal Denis hit winger Shane Mudryk high and in between the circles, and Mudryk’s low shot beat Gartner glove side to give Brown the 1-0 advantage 6:18 into the game.
“The guy had a great shot, and you have to give him credit for a goal like that,” said Gartner, who finished with 24 saves.
Brown outshot the Elis 11-8 in the first period, but the Bulldogs turned the game in their favor after that.
After an unsuccessful 5-on-3 power play lasting 1:14, the Elis finally converted an extra man goal with gritty work in front of the net by center Ryan Steeves ’04. A setup from center Chris Higgins ’05 and defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 gave Steeves the puck, and his low-angle shot caromed off a defenseman’s skate and past Brown goaltender Yann Danis to even the score with over ten minutes remaining in the second period.
Even more so than the night before, the game was a defensive-minded battle between two teams with strong goalies. Taylor compared playing Brown to playing Cornell, the nation’s toughest defensive team, and Brown head coach Roger Grillo said that he expected tomorrow’s game to be more of the same.
“I would think it would be,” Grillo said. “Both goalies played well, I thought. It’s a game of bounces, and tonight they capitalized and we didn’t.”
Danis stopped 34 of Yale’s 36 shots.
After a tight, back-and-forth end to the second and start to the third period, it was Nam who emerged as the game’s hero. While the winger had gone scoreless of late despite an often inspiring effort, he finally was able to get the big goal.
Hristovski’s effort at the blueline resulted in a hard wrister by the center, and when Danis knocked the puck into the air, a streaking Nam batted it into the goal.
“Jeff shot it and it bounced up in the air, I sort of hit at it and I’m not really sure how it went in,” Nam said.
The Bears chose to pull Danis in the final minute of the game for the extra skater, but the Elis ensured that the strategy would not pay off and did a good job clearing the puck from their defensive zone at the game’s end.
“We must be keeping the fans on the edge of their seats,” Taylor said. “IT’s tough on the guts of the coaches.”
The Bulldogs outshot Brown 28-16 over the final two periods, turning the game around.
Tomorrow’s contest will test the endurance of both teams, who will be forced to play their third consecutive game after two hard-fought games. But it will likely be another well-played college hockey game in which Danis and Gartner will play huge roles.
“They’re a tough team, real chippy,” Nam said. “But we’ve got to keep battling.”