Last night was the first night of the rest of the men’s hockey season. The dreary 2004 portion of Yale’s campaign featured three goaltenders, 11 losses and a whole lot of empty seats at Ingalls Rink. Last night there was excitement, a sellout and only one goaltender, No. 1 Matt Modelski ’07.

Like the rest of the Bulldogs, Modelski and fellow goalies Josh Gartner ’06 and Peter Cohen ’05 struggled mightily in the first half of the season, which hit a low-point in the five-goal second period Modelski endured at Cornell Dec. 3. But since then the sophomore netminder has been tremendous, compiling a 2.29 goals against average in that span with a .939 save percentage, which would be good for third in the ECAC had he kept it up all season.

And in last night’s 1-0 loss to No. 2 Boston College, Modelski may have played his greatest game as an Eli. He stopped 49 shots by the Eagles and would have needed to stop 50 had defenseman Shawn Mole ’07 not made a spectacular backcheck to foil Ned Havern’s breakaway chance. Still, after the game Mole gave all the credit to his goaltender.

“Modelski really kept us in there tonight — no question about it,” Mole said. “He definitely saved our bacon on a number of occasions.”

A noticeably faster Boston College team swarmed the Bulldog net, forcing Modelski to make saves from all angles and distances. Obligingly, the Yale goalie welcomed every shot and stopped each smugly, like a camp counselor accepting arm wrestling challenges from his feeble campers. Even when shorthanded, Modelski played strong, a fact not unnoticed by Mole.

“On the penalty kill, your best player’s gotta be your goaltender, and he definitely was tonight,” Mole said.

Head coach Tim Taylor is familiar with Modelski’s highs as well as his lows, so he knew last night that his goalie had turned in a spectacular performance.

“I thought tonight might have been his best effort,” Taylor said. “He played under control, not sliding around all over the place.”

Modelski was more reluctant to talk about his career-high 49-save performance. He was quick to credit his defense as well as the spirited home crowd.

“It was a great atmosphere,” he said. “The fans were great. We definitely feed off that.”

Yale’s first sellout crowd of the season, led by screaming, shirtless pledges from the Alpha Delta Phi fraternity, supported the Elis through 60 dramatic minutes. When Boston College’s superstar forward Patrick Eaves fell on top of Modelski after he froze the puck and defenseman Bill LeClerc ’07 decked him, Eaves was vilified and LeClerc deified.

“Way to go, Bill,” the fans yelled, while jeering Eaves.

Later in the game, it was winger Joe Zappala ’06 receiving cheers. After creatively weaving on a rush with linemates Christian Jensen ’06 and Brad Mills ’07 and nearly scoring on a snapshot from the right wing, Zappala went to work in the defensive zone. Sending 6-foot-7-inch, 235-pound center Brian Boyle to his back with an explosive bench press motion, Zappala nearly sparked a brawl at the end of the second period, inciting the fans further still.

Still, the largest cheers of the night routinely belonged to Modelski, who, after one and a half seasons at Yale, seems to have finally arrived.