With vastly improved defensive play, the men’s ice hockey team earned a road split over the weekend, defeating nationally ranked No. 15 Colgate 3-1 and losing a 2-1 nailbiter to Cornell.

Coming off of home losses to Harvard (10-13-2, 8-9-1 ECAC) and No. 11 Brown (14-6-5, 12-4-2), the Bulldogs (12-13-0, 10-8-0) responded with stingy defense, allowing three fewer goals per game than their prior season average. Winger Joe Zappala ’06 notched his nation leading ninth game-winning goal of the season Friday night against the Raiders (16-9-5, 11-5-2). On Saturday at Lynah Rink, the Big Red (12-7-6, 10-5-3) peppered Josh Gartner ’06 all night, eventually scoring the game-winner with under four minutes to play.

With the score knotted at one at Starr Rink in Hamilton, NY, blueliner Joe Callahan ’05 flipped the puck over the defense and caught a streaking Zappala.

“I just tried to go to the area he tried to chip [it to],” Zappala said. “I picked up the puck and went in [on] the breakaway.”

The Eli winger beat Colgate goalie Steve Silverthorn with a backhander. The tally put Zappala within one goal of the national record of ten shared by five players, including St. Louis Blues star Doug Weight.

“Joey’s really been in the right place all year long,” said Callahan. “He’s amazed us all.”

The Elis fell behind early, when Colgate’s Dave Thomas took advantage on the power-play at 11:34 of the first with defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 in the box for tripping. Gartner got a piece of the shot, but could not keep it from crossing the goal line.

While the Raiders got the best of Yale on that man advantage, the Elis penalty-kill unit got its revenge. When shorthanded, Christian Jensen ’06, on a Callahan feed, scored his seventh goal of the year at 4:29 of the second period.

Jensen skated into the Colgate zone, got a defenseman to bite on a shot-fake, and beat Silverthorn low.

The Bulldogs headed into the final intermission out-shot 23-8 and ended the game with 15 shots to Colgate’s 32. But defense and Gartner’s strong play in net — he made 31 saves in the game — combined with Zappala’s continued clutch play allowed the Elis to get the conference victory.

“We have managed to smooth out some strategic problems we were having earlier in the year [on defense], but I think more than that it’s been an attitude change,” Jensen said. “We have been more committed to [defense] and we have been working harder and I think that accounts for the improved defense.”

Jeff Hristovski ’06 added his own shorthanded goal. Center Ryan Steeves ’04 slid a pass across the crease on a two-on-one and Hristovski banged it home.

It was the first time since Dec. 6 that Yale had held an opponent to one goal.

“It was probably our best 60 minute game,” Callahan said.

But the Big Red was able to halt the Elis’ momentum and stop Yale from getting its third road sweep of the season.

The Elis were playing catch-up from the get-go, with Big Red forward Ryan Vesce scoring his ninth of the season at 5:34 of the first. Cornell dominated Yale for the first twenty minutes, out-shooting the Bulldogs 9-2.

In the second period, Yale improved its play drastically, matching the much bigger Cornell team physically and equaling the Big Red’s shot total of six.

“Cornell, since I’ve been here, [has] always been a dominant team size-wise,” Callahan said. “It’s no different this year. We did a good job of containing them Saturday night.”

Callahan notched his third assist of the weekend — tying him for sixth in the conference in scoring among defenseman with 13 points — on Jensen’s second goal of the road trip at 5:13 of the second frame.

But in the third, Cornell and its ECAC second best scoring defense locked down the Elis, holding them to six shots and repeatedly keeping them in their own end.

“Teams lately have really been pressuring us hard in our defensive zone, trying to pin us down,” Jensen said. “On the one hand it makes it difficult to break out, but on the other hand it results in us having some more odd man rush opportunities.”

Cornell’s game-winner came at 16:21 of the third period. Dwyer turned the puck over in the corner. On the ensuing play, Gartner stopped a shot from the point, but Cornell forward Mike Carefoot collected the puck behind the goal line and banked it off of Gartner and into the net.

The Elis could not pull even in the closing minutes, but despite the defeat, the game was a huge improvement over the 6-2 home loss suffered to the Big Red Nov. 7.

“We’ve come so far since that first whole stretch of the season,” Callahan said. “We’ve been getting better and better every single game.”

The Bulldogs are in sixth place in the ECAC, trailing Rensselaer (17-11-2, 11-6-1) and Cornell by three points for the last playoff bye in the ECAC. Yale heads north this weekend to face Vermont (6-19-4, 4-13-1) and Dartmouth (10-7-8, 8-4-6) in crucial conference tilts.

News and Notes: RPI upset Brown Saturday night in Providence, RI, shutting out the conference-leading Bears 4-0. The Catamounts suffered a tremendous scare last week in practice, when backup goalie Matt Hanson suffered a neck injury in practice. Hanson fractured his fourth cervical vertebrae, had surgery, and fortunately seems to have avoided permanent paralysis, USCHO.com reports.

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