“We’re getting close,” defenseman Matt Cohen ’07 said, a towel still wrapped around his waist after showering off the disappointment of twin 5-3 losses. “We’re getting really close to being a good team in our league. We’re just missing something. I can’t say what it is right now.”
Cohen and his teammates skated to the point of exhaustion this weekend, pouring their hearts into fruitless clashes with Brown (10-6-3, 5-5-2 ECAC) and Harvard (12-5-2, 9-4-1), but the young team is, indeed, missing something.
Against Brown the Elis (3-17-1, 2-12-0) dominated play at even strength, but lost on four power-play goals. Against Harvard they were crisp and creative and dogged for 40 minutes, but came unglued in the final 20. They are still one step away, one very noticeable step off the ECAC pace.
Against the Bears, Yale got goals from forwards Christian Jensen ’06, Jean-Francois Boucher ’08 and Brad Mills ’07 but could not stay out of the penalty box or kill the penalties it took.
“That really hurt us a lot,” Boucher said of Yale’s poor penalty killing. “We keep thinking we’re getting better on the PK, and we do, but for some reason those five-on-threes just killed us. To outshoot them and lose on special teams — that’s pretty harsh.”
Yale did outshoot Brown — by a margin of 35-23 — but Brown’s standout freshman goalie Adam D’Alba came up big for the Bears, especially in the third period.
Of course, D’Alba got a little help from his friends. Aside from a hat trick by forward Mike Meech, D’Alba was aided by guard-dog defensemen whose malice was seen each time Yale forwards ventured into his crease. Sixteen minutes into the third period with Brown clinging to a 4-3 lead, forward Nate Jackson ’06 deked through the Brown defense and got off a soft shot on D’Alba. The goalie covered the puck, but a persistent Robert Burns ’07 kept digging for it.
After the whistle had blown, Burns was body-slammed to the ice by Brown defenseman Paul Baier, who was subsequently accosted by Jackson in retaliation. Jackson lost his helmet; both players received roughing penalties.
That would be the last excitement the Ingalls crowd would be treated to, as Meech completed his hat trick a few minutes later on an empty Yale net.
Still, Boucher, who played very well while seeing increased ice time, tried to focus on some of the many positives of Yale’s night.
“We try to be physical,” said Boucher, who seemed Friday to be the poster-boy of Yale’s heavy-hitting. “Our league’s the most physical [in college hockey] so we need to play the body. We definitely dominated down low tonight.”
The Bulldogs continued to play the body when they hosted Harvard Saturday. Cohen set the tone early with a thunderous hit on Charlie Johnson at the Crimson blueline.
While Cohen started the hitting, center Jeff Hristovski ’06 started the scoring when he converted a Joe Zappala ’06 rebound. Defenseman Rob Page ’08 also assisted on the goal, one of his three assists on the night.
Not to be denied, however, Harvard would answer quickly. Very quickly. On the ensuing face-off, Dave Watters grabbed the puck and immediately broke in on goaltender Matt Modelski ’07, burying a slapshot from the left circle. The goal came six seconds after Hristovski’s.
Yale would regain the lead later in the first, scoring again on the power play. After Page made a great play to keep the puck in the Harvard zone, the freshman sent it down low to Hristovski, who found Zappala in the slot where he one-timed it past Crimson goalie Dov Grumet-Morris.
But again Harvard responded in haste. Less than a minute after Zappala’s goal, Yale would be shorthanded. On the ensuing power play Andrew Lederman swooped along the right boards in Yale’s zone and found Jon Pelle with a cross-ice pass. The star freshman one-timed it inside the left post before Modelski could get over.
Six minutes into the second period, Yale took a penalty for having too many men on the ice, and on the power play, defenseman Noah Welch floated a wristshot on goal. With the entire city of Cambridge screening Modelski, the puck was in the net before the goalie could lift an arm.
Yale continued to take penalties, but did a slightly better job of killing them in the Harvard game. After Page was whistled for high-sticking in the middle of the second, Cohen single-handedly killed the last portion of the penalty. The sophomore made a swift steal along the boards by the student section then cleared the puck the length of the ice as the final seconds ticked off.
It must have pleased Yale head coach Tim Taylor, who was irate Friday night after Cohen and several other defensemen failed clearing attempts, twice resulting in Brown goals.
The strong penalty-killing sparked Yale, which would get the equalizer while on a two-man advantage. Midway through the power play, Harvard coach Ted Donato called a time-out, which worked in Yale’s favor. The Bulldogs, who have struggled all year to find scoring from anyone besides Mills, Hristovski and Jensen, were able to rest their big three — along with fellow power-play men Page and Zappala — and it would pay off.
Quarterbacking the power play from the center of the blueline, Page partially fanned on a slapshot attempt — which would prove to be a blessing in disguise. The changeup fooled the Crimson defense and went to Hristovski, who was denied by Grumet-Morris before Jensen buried the rebound.
After the goal, Yale would control the remainder of the period, at one point firing seven consecutive shots on goal.
“We felt great after the second period,” Cohen said. “Coach said, ‘It doesn’t get any better than this: 3-3 going into the third period against Harvard.'”
The third period, however, was all Harvard. The Crimson got power-play goals from Tom Cavanaugh and Dylan Reese, who scored his after Yale committed its second too-many-men-on-the-ice penalty.
“I’m sick to my stomach over the penalty-killing issues,” Taylor said. “It sure is a very clear Achilles heel for this hockey team. That obviously was the tale of this weekend. In 120 minutes of hockey this weekend, we gave up one five-on-five goal.”
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