If the game is on the line, opposing defenses should do everything possible to keep the puck away from Eli winger Joe Zappala ’06, the nation’s leader in game-winning goals.

While playing St. Lawrence (6-13-4, 2-6-1) on Saturday night at Ingalls Rink, the Medford, Mass. native ripped a slap shot from the top of the left face off circle that beat goalie Kevin Ackley five-hole with 28 seconds left in overtime. The 4-3 thriller was Yale’s (8-10, 7-5 ECAC) fifth consecutive conference victory, third overall, and came on the heels of a 6-3 win against Clarkson (9-8-4, 4-4-1) Friday night in which Zappala also scored the game winner.

“We have a habit of making it interesting, which I would rather not have, but that’s the way it is,” Christian Jensen ’06 said. “Luckily now we are finding ways to win instead of finding ways to lose at the end of games.”

The OT winner was Zappala’s sixth game winner of the year and his 12th overall, tying him for second in the ECAC.

“I was thinking of making the pass, but the defenseman backed off so I just decided to take a shot and hope for a rebound and luckily it went in,” Zappala said.

The game’s final score came at the end of a long shift for the Elis’ top line of Jeff Hristovski ’06, Ryan Steeves ’04 and Zappala. The trio of forwards had generated numerous scoring opportunities, but the scrappy Saints defense repeatedly threw their bodies in front of Bulldog shots.

“They were blocking a lot of shots, clutching and grabbing, it’s frustrating to play against a style of play like that,” Zappala said. “The more we just kept working, we got chances.”

While the first line sealed the victory in overtime, the second line of captain Vin Hellemeyer ’04, Chris Mills ’07 and Jensen forced the extra frame, scoring Yale’s first three goals.

Yale got on the board early, when Mills fed Hellemeyer coming around the net. Ackley made the initial save, but Hellemeyer collected the rebound and rippled the twine.

“I’m very happy to see the Hellemeyer, Mills, Jensen line evolve this weekend into a very productive line,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “To have two lines that can be offensive threats allows us to do some things in terms of controlling the bench, certainly at home.”

Despite the early lead, St. Lawrence led 2-1 heading into third after second period goals from Adam Hogg and Rich Peverley.

“We were pretty confident that we could pull it together [entering the third],” Hellemeyer said.

The Eli captain had reason to be confident, as the Bulldogs came from behind twice to tie the game, with Hellemeyer forcing overtime with his second goal of the game at 10:46 and his fourth of the season. He picked up a loose puck in front of the net and backhanded it past Ackley, who finished with thirty saves on the night. Josh Gartner ’06 made 31 stops for Yale.

On Friday night against Clarkson, while Zappala scored the game winner, Gartner stole the show, stonewalling the Golden Knights with a career high 45 saves, including 21 in the third period.

“[Gartner] was ridiculous, I don’t know how he saved some of those things, but he kept us in it,” Jensen, who scored the game’s first goal, said. “He definitely should have been scored on for some of those and he kept them out, I don’t know how.”

The Eli netminder saved his best for last, however, leaving the Clarkson bench and much of Ingalls Rink in shock.

Yale led 4-3 with roughly 90 seconds left when Golden Knight forward Brodie Rutherglen found himself wide open in front of the net and one timed a cross ice pass that was labeled for the lower left corner of the net. But Gartner slid across the crease, coming out of nowhere to make a left pad save.

“I did my best to get something in front of it,” Gartner said.

Gartner’s save energized the Bulldogs. On the ensuing rush up ice, Zappala crossed the Clarkson blue line and danced around two Golden Knights and laid a beautiful backhand pass on Steeves’ forehand as he was cutting to the net. Steeves ripped a shot past Clarkson netminder Dustin Traylen to give Yale some insurance.

“[The first Clarkson defender] I saw out of the corner of my eye,” Zappala said. “He basically was just running at me and I tried to side step him, and the second guy went right for the puck and I just kind of stepped around him and Steeves gave me the call and I threw it out front and he did the rest.”

The Elis had a balanced scoring attack, getting two goals from each of the top two lines including center Mills’ first career score. Joe Callahan ’05 added an empty netter in the game’s final minute.

Momentum began to shift in Clarkson’s favor in the third during an approximate ten minute stretch that featured three Eli penalties, which allowed the Golden Knights to get within one with a power play tally from Mike Sullivan.

With five consecutive conference victories, the Elis are second in the conference though they have played more ECAC games than most teams. Nonetheless, the Bulldogs are on a major roll and are playing with more confidence than in the early part of the season.

“The success we’ve had in the last month is making them believe in themselves,” Taylor said. “We’re really looking forward to the challenges ahead. Bring ’em on is what they’re thinking.”

The Bulldogs return to action Saturday night, when they host intrastate rival University of Connecticut (5-9-4) at Ingalls Rink.

News and Notes:

Former Bulldog standouts and linemates Nick Deschenes ’03 and Chris Higgins ’06 reunited January 7 at the Wachovia Spectrum in Philadelphia, but this time they were playing against each other. The AHL match up, featuring Deschenes’ Philadelphia Phantoms and Higgins’ Hamilton Bulldogs, ended in a 3-2 victory for the Phantoms. After Higgins tied the game in the third, Deschenes scored the game winner with 10:45 left in the game. The Bulldogs got solid contributions from forwards Zach Mayer ’06 and Nate Murphy ’04, both of whom missed games over break with shoulder injuries. The University of Vermont announced January 8 that it will be leaving the ECAC in men’s and women’s ice hockey and will join Hockey East for the 2005-2006 season. “I am disappointed because of the great memories I have playing big ECAC games up there at UVM, its sad to see them leave like this,” Taylor said. “It is a big opportunity for the ECAC to look at some realignment possibilities to look at additions or possible subtractions. I don’t know what is going to happen.” Division III school Presidents will vote today at the NCAA convention on Proposal 65, which would prohibit Division III schools from offering athletic scholarships in sports in which they play in Division I. The proposition would affect the hockey programs of ECAC fixtures St. Lawrence, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (11-8-2, 6-3-1), and Clarkson.

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