After losing 5-2 to Nebraska-Omaha (6-13-3) and 2-1 to Niagara (11-9-2) in the 2003 Wells Fargo Denver Cup, the men’s hockey team (8-10, 7-5 ECAC) captured its first non-conference victory, shocking seventh ranked University of New Hampshire 3-2.
“It really was a great win — kids worked hard and battled and Josh was terrific in the net,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “Our intensity level from start to finish was terrific. I was hoping that we could use that as a spring board for the kind of hockey I want us to play.”
In the back-and-forth game, the Bulldogs never trailed, getting on the scoreboard first, just 4:20 into the first period. Christian Jensen ’06 dropped the puck to captain Vin Hellemeyer ’04 who wristed a shot from the high slot over the left shoulder of UNH goalie Michael Ayres.
Hellemeyer, who had 31 points last season, has struggled to match that output this year, but his second goal of the season proved crucial in such a close game.
“I thought Vin benefited by getting the monkeys off his back,” Taylor said. “We have got to get him cranking. He was playing center, but I like him better on the wing. I would like to see him getting a point or two a game. I think he is playing much better now; he has a bounce in his step both on the ice and off.”
New Hampshire (12-7-3) struck next at 10:08 in the first, when Danial Winnick fed former Bulldog Ed Caron who snuck a wraparound by Yale net minder Josh Gartner ’06 to tie the game at one.
After Eli defensemen Joe Callahan ’05 was called for roughing at 8:55 in the second period, the Bulldogs went on the penalty kill. While trying to clear its zone and get its power play rolling, UNH turned the puck over to Ryan Steeves ’04 who went in on a breakaway to score his third shorthanded goal of the season at 9:31 of the second.
UNH was able to crack to Bulldog penalty kill on their next power play when defensemen Robbie Barker scored his first goal of the year to tie the game yet again.
As the seconds ticked away in the second, Joe Zappala ’06, Yale’s leading scorer, took the puck in the high slot and skated in and around the net looking for a scoring opportunity. He dished the puck to Nate Jackson ’06 who fired in a high shot to put the Bulldogs ahead 3-2.
Jackson’s goal would prove to be the game winner as Gartner held off the UNH attack in the third period, with nine sales.
“That was a huge win for us and gave us some confidence,” Gartner said. “We know now that we can play with anyone in the country basically, and I think it is going to give us confidence against the competitive teams the second half of the season.”
After a rough start to the season, the Bulldogs defense have settled down and kept opponents offenses at bay.
“We are really just kind of gelling, we have a lot of young guys on our defensive core, everyone is learning their new responsibilities, the work ethic in our defensive zone has been much better over the last month or so,” Gartner said.
Taylor has seen the improvement on defense and in the goal but knows there is still more work to be done.
“Goaltending was a huge part of the difference,” Taylor said. “Going back to the RPI/Union trip, and even out in the tournament I thought we did a pretty good job defensively in terms of the way the team played. I can’t tell you we are over the hill here in terms of developing a defensive posture on the ice that will allow us to win consistently so we got to keep working.”
The offense has also seen much improvement as the scoring has spread out over different lines and different players. Both Jackson and Hellemeyer have been mired in scoring slumps.
“It has been really weird to watch because they have been scoring in practice,” Jensen said. “Now it is finally translating into game goals and as long as that keeps happening we will keep winning games.”
Against Niagara in the consolation game, the Bulldogs showed some of their best offensive pressure of the year; unfortunately they came up against a hot goaltender Jeff Van Nynatten, who turned away every shot but one – a goal by Steeves.
In the other net, Matt Modelski ’07 had an equally impressive outing with 34 saves, giving up only two. In the end Van Nynatten won the goalie battle and Niagara took the game 2-1.
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