With a voice hoarse from three emotionally draining playoff hockey games and shoulders slumping after the outcome of the third and decisive contest, Evan Wax ’03 had nothing but praise for the Brown Bears.
Brown upset Yale in the three-game series held March 14 to 16 at Ingalls Rink.
“I give them all the credit,” he said. “They played hard. I would have put our offense up against any team in the country, but they shut us down.”
In a surprising end to the men’s hockey team’s season, the usually potent Bulldog offense was shut out by the Bears, who scored two goals and added two empty netters to earn a 4-0 victory and a two games to one win in the best-of-three ECAC quarterfinal series.
The game capped what had been a defensive-minded duel between two of the league’s top netminders: Brown’s Yann Danis and Yale’s Josh Gartner ’06. As they had all weekend, both goalies turned in impressive performances, finishing with 35 and 26 saves, respectively.
“We focused on defense, and our strength is obviously defense,” Danis said. “Yale’s strength is offense, and they played that way, trying to get as many shots as possible and rush the net.”
But in the sudden-death overtime in game one, it was a defensive lapse that hurt the Bulldogs. Botched attempts to clear by defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03 and center Ryan Steeves ’04 allowed Brown’s Les Haggett to gain control of the puck and thread a precise pass to Brett Robinson, who hesitated long enough to force the puck past Gartner down low.
The next night, it was captain Denis Nam ’03 who broke the seniors’ seven-game postseason losing streak to give the Elis a come-from-behind 2-1 victory over Brown to force a third and deciding game.
In game three, the Bears prevented the Elis from setting up quality chances, pushing the Yale skaters to the perimeters and clogging the slot.
“We’d averaged four goals all season,” said center Chris Higgins ’05. “Probably the last thing everyone expected was to get shut out.”
A scoreless first period in which both goalies made key stops to preserve the early shutout gave way to a frustrating second stanza for the Elis.
Despite outshooting the Bears 18-8 in the second period, the Bulldogs were unable to get the puck past Danis. And Brown successfully capitalized on two Eli mistakes.
The first occurred 2:15 into the frame, when a routine defenseman-to-defenseman pass between Joe Callahan ’05 and Jeff Dwyer ’04 ricocheted off the boards and to the stick of Robinson, who batted it past Gartner for the 1-0 lead.
Then, at 13:48 after a loose puck slid behind the net, Gartner skated back to sling the puck around the boards. But the puck hit off the back of the net and was recovered by Jason Wilson, who was able to bury the wraparound before Gartner could get back into position.
“I thought our best period was the period we lost 2-0,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “Those are hard goals to give up.”
The stingy Brown defense kept the Elis off the board for the remainder of the period, and in the third stanza things went from bad to worse. For the first seven minutes, the Bulldogs were unable to muster even one shot on Danis, as the skaters seemed out of sync and were unable to set up well inside Brown’s zone.
With little to lose, the Elis elected to pull Gartner with 3:24 remaining for the extra skater. But the Bears’ Pascal Denis fired the puck from near the red line into Yale’s empty net with 2:31 to play. Robinson, with his second goal of the game, cushioned the deficit with a second empty-netter with 49 seconds to play that resulted in the final 4-0 score.
“It’s euphoric, obviously,” said a beaming Brown head coach Roger Grillo after his team’s victory. “We have a group of guys who’ve gone through some tough years, so this is great right now.”
In the other locker room, Taylor looked as deflated as Wax did.
“It’s a tough way for a pretty damn good offensive team to end the season,” he said. “But this team has a lot to be proud of in terms of what they accomplished this year.”