By Alex Goldberger

Staff reporter

The men’s hockey team has grown very accustomed to the agony of defeat this season. But not until this weekend had the Bulldogs endured a truly heartbreaking loss.

Yale (4-23-2, 3-18-1 ECAC) traveled to Union (12-20-2, 8-13-1) and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (14-20-2, 6-15-1) this weekend, and dropped each contest 3-2 despite holding leads in both.

“We played two of our better games this weekend,” goalie Matt Modelski ’07, who played against Rensselaer, said. “I really thought against RPI our team had it together the entire game. And against Union one bad period did us in. It definitely showed we can play with anyone but, again, it’s two bad losses.”

Against Union Friday night it was not Modelski, but Peter Cohen ’05 who manned the pipes for Yale. Cohen was stellar in two-plus periods against Dartmouth Feb. 19, and was rewarded with the start Friday against the Dutchmen. The senior netminder stopped 27 of the 30 shots he faced, but the Bulldogs could not withstand a second-period onslaught in which Union outshot them 15-1.

Defenseman Matt Craig ’06 notched his second goal of the season to open the scoring in the first period, but the Elis ceded twin power-play goals to Jonathan Poirier during their second-frame collapse.

The highpoint of the night for the Elis came in the third period when captain Nick Shalek ’05 tallied the first goal of his career. Known as one of the hardest-working players on the team, Shalek’s persistence paid off Friday during a shorthanded scoring chance. After taking a headman pass from defenseman Shawn Mole ’07, Shalek raced in on goalie Kris Mayotte. Though his initial shot sailed over the net, the rebound bounced back in front and the captain was able to bury it from there.

Union’s Joel Beal scored the winner on a two-on-one rush seven minutes later.

The disappointment for Yale would continue the next night.

After the Bulldogs garnered a 2-1 lead on goals by centers Jeff Hristovski ’06 and Nate Jackson ’06, RPI, with the man-advantage, knotted the score midway through the third.

Overtime was even more disheartening. Late in bonus time Yale had a golden opportunity to salvage one win from the weekend. Heading down on a two-on-one, winger Joe Zappala ’06 took a shot that was stopped by Engineer goalie Andrew Martin. The rebound bounced directly to Hristovski, who was streaking down the left wing, but the puck jumped over his stick like a bad hop on a baseball infield.

Jackson attributed the bounce to the rough ice around the RPI slot, which had not been resurfaced since the second intermission.

“You’re not going to get a very true surface after 25 minutes of skating on it,” he said.

Ice or not, the bounce proved deadly for the Elis. Seconds later, with just 16 ticks remaining in the game, Kevin Croxton of Rensselaer dealt the fatal blow.

“It’s been the same story all year,” Jackson said. “We keep thinking we’re getting better, keep saying we’re getting better, but we can’t win.”

With the regular season finally over, Yale will travel to Hanover, N.H. next weekend for a best-of-three first-round series against Dartmouth. Every team makes the playoffs in the ECAC, with the top four of the 12 seeds receiving byes. As the 12th seed, Yale faces fifth-seeded Dartmouth.

Before they worry about the Big Green, however, the Bulldogs must figure out who their starting goalie will be.

Modelski has held the starting job for much of the year, but the position has been a revolving door for Yale in the last two weeks. The veteran Cohen played well Friday night, but so did the acrobatic Modelski in his stint Saturday. Josh Gartner ’06 also figures into the mix. Gartner began the 2004-05 campaign as Yale’s starter, but a concussion and inconsistent play have marred his junior season.

“We could put any of our three goalies against Dartmouth and it wouldn’t change much,” Jackson said. “Any goalie facing 50-plus shots per game, you can’t expect them to stop 48 of them. The goaltending’s not been as big an issue for us as the players in front of them.”