By Winston Hsiao
For the second straight weekend, the Bulldogs challenged and scared two top-notch teams only to succumb in the end. Yale flashed a swagger and potential that was absent for most of last season, but as the close-but-no-cigars begin to pile up, the moral victories are leaving the Bulldogs wanting much more.
The men’s hockey team (0-4-0, 0-4-0 ECACHL) started the weekend with an offensive explosion, but excellent special teams play by No. 16 St. Lawrence (7-2-0, 3-1) allowed the heavy favorites to escape New Haven with a narrow 7-5 win. The Bulldogs seemed to rebound the next night, playing great hockey against Clarkson (6-3-1, 2-1-1) during the bookend periods. But a rough second frame ultimately doomed the Bulldogs, and they fell to the Golden Knights, 4-2.
“I think that although we did have a chance to win both nights, we still need to work on putting together 60 minutes as a team,” goalie Josh Gartner ’06 said. “We really haven’t done that yet, but we are a lot closer to where we want to be than we were at this point last season.”
After displaying defensive toughness in the first two games of its season, Yale’s offense took center stage against St. Lawrence. Despite scoring just two goals in each of their previous contests and skating against a Saints defense that has limited its opponents to two goals per game, the Bulldogs reached their season average in the first period alone.
Although they only took three shots in the first frame, the Elis made the most of their limited chances. After falling behind 1-0 early, blueliner Bill LeClerc ’07 immediately evened the score by dumping the puck into St. Lawrence territory. The puck sailed high in the air and took a fortuitous bounce past Saints goalie Justin Pesony. Just two minutes later, forward Nate Jackson ’06 gave Yale its first lead of the game and of the entire season. Jackson handled a perfect pass from forward Zach Mayer ’06 at the blueline, juked a defenseman and sent a high shot past Pesony for his third goal in as many games.
But the lead did not last long. St. Lawrence capitalized on costly Bulldog penalties to seize control of the contest. The Saints’ stellar special teams converted on three straight power plays to take a 4-2 lead, a lead the Saints would not relinquish the rest of the game. After forward David Inman ’09 scored his first collegiate goal to make it 4-3, St. Lawrence netted two straight scores to push the lead back to 6-3.
But the Eli offense would simply not quit. Captain Christian Jensen ’06 and forward Jean-Francois Boucher ’08 both struck late in the middle frame to cut the lead to one. The re-invigorated Bulldog squad skated off the ice at the end of the period to the thunderous approval of the Ingalls crowd.
But Yale’s upset bid whimpered in the third frame. St. Lawrence dominated possession and easily stamped out the few Bulldog scoring chances. After hanging with one of the top teams in the ECACHL for two periods, the inability to capitalize on their offensive momentum left a sour taste in the Bulldogs’ mouths.
Jensen said the Bulldogs made too many self-defeating mistakes to pull off the upset.
“We failed to block out on face-offs … and failed to back check with the intention of eliminating a player,” he said. “And we continue to get way too many penalties. We are killing ourselves with penalties.”
But the Elis quickly put the St. Lawrence loss behind them and came out with even more energy against Clarkson.
The Elis jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first period when forward Will Engasser ’08 rifled a shot past Clarkson goalie Kyle McNulty. But the Golden Knights responded in the second period, dominating the puck and shutting out the Bulldogs. Clarkson quickly tacked on another score in the beginning of the third frame to push the lead to two. Rather than fall apart, the Elis showed resilience and put together perhaps their most complete period of hockey this season.
“We started getting the puck to the net more and stopped trying to make the pretty plays,” Jensen said. “We get caught up sometimes trying to make the perfect play when an ugly one will get the job done more effectively.”
Yale was relentless in its offensive attack, firing 15 shots at McNulty. The Bulldogs’ efforts finally paid off 14 minutes into the frame with a Joe Zappala ’06 wrister. Alec Richards ’09, making his first start in goal for Yale, kept the game close with 33 saves, showing composure and focus for an untested rookie.
Turner said Richards showed no signs of jitters.
“He played like it wasn’t his first start,” Turner said. “Whenever he made a big save, it gave us confidence, I think because we knew he was backing us up, so we wanted to go out there and do the same.”
But ultimately it was McNulty who took over the game by preserving the slim lead. An empty netter by Clarkson’s Shawn Welter with 36 seconds left in the game officially extinguished the Elis’ latest and best chance to pick up their first win of the season.
In both games the Bulldogs had moments of great promise, but it was their inability to put together complete performances that ultimately resulted in two more tough defeats.
Richards said the Bulldogs are trying not to let frustration get in the way of improvement.
“We are disappointed with the record,” Richards said. “Nobody likes to lose, but we also realize that we have plenty of time to turn our season around. It helps to know that we’ve been close to picking up wins in most of the games, and with a few minor adjustments we hope to be on the other side of those close games.”