To say the men’s hockey team’s Thanksgiving slate was a roller coaster of results and emotions would be a drastic understatement.
“We obviously had some strong, well-played games,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “We had our strong moments and had our moments that showed we are not where we want to be. Inconsistency and getting our young players to play with confidence is going to be our challenge in the early going.”
The Bulldogs (1-7-0, 0-6 ECACHL) began the rigorous five-game week with an impressive performance against then-No. 19 Harvard, matching the heavily favored Crimson squad every step of the way in regulation. But like their football counterparts the next day, the Elis succumbed in overtime, 4-3.
Harvard jumped out to an early lead in the first period, but the Bulldogs did not buckle on hostile ice. Forward Jeff Hristovski ’06 terrorized the Harvard defense with two goals and one assist as the Elis tied the game three times to send the contest into overtime. But just two minutes into the extra frame, Harvard’s Ryan Maki put Yale’s upset bid to rest with a shot past Bulldog goaltender Alec Richards ’09.
The effects of Friday’s overtime loss seemed to linger the next night, with Yale proving unable to compete with an overpowering Dartmouth squad. After taking a 2-1 lead into the second frame, the Bulldogs lost steam and were dominated, 9-4. But just days later, the Elis showed they could be a dominant and consistent team, outfighting Mercyhurst, 6-3, in New Haven.
After spending most of the season on the defensive retreat, it was the Bulldogs who controlled possession throughout the game. The Elis, who over the past four games were outshot by 64, rebounded from an early 2-1 deficit in the first frame to seize control in the second period. As has often been the case, forward Nate Jackson ’06 provided the offensive spark, notching two goals on the night.
Jackson’s first goal of the night, in the second period, was particularly impressive and illustrated the fast-paced end-to-end style of play that both teams displayed throughout the game. Off a nifty save by Matt Modelski ’08, Jackson picked up the ricocheted puck and crossed the blueline with just one defender and the goalie to beat. Jackson stopped, froze the defender and rifled a blazing shot past goalie Jordan Wakefield.
After giving up the equalizing goal early in the third period, the Bulldogs took a 4-3 lead on Jackson’s second goal of the night nine minutes into the final frame. Yale’s defense tightened up, and a combination of good penalty killing and even better plays by Modelski allowed the Bulldogs to hold the Lakers to three scores. A pair of Eli rookies, Matt Nelson ’09 and David Meckler ’09, scored their first collegiate goals, rounding out Yale’s offensive output.
Despite a lackluster first-period performance, the Elis shined in the last two frames and showed what they can accomplish when they play consistent hockey. The Bulldogs simply outplayed Mercyhurst, a team that came into the game second in the nation in scoring, when it mattered the most.
“We played a pretty solid brand of hockey those last two periods, which is a great recipe for a win,” forward Joe Zappala ’06 said. “The biggest thing is working on our consistency and continuing the pace for the whole 60 minutes. If we can do that, then we should be successful.”
Perhaps more importantly, the win reminds the young Bulldogs, who played five nationally ranked teams in their first six games, that their early record may be more an indication of a tough schedule than of their performance as a team.
But Zappala said that though the competition has been stout, a difficult schedule does not excuse poor efforts.
“Sometimes these ranked teams have started playing before us, so they have an advantage to begin with,” he said. “But you can’t think about it that way. You just have to rise to the occasion. We can’t really have excuses.”
If Tuesday’s win against Mercyhurst is symbolic of their potential, than the weekend sweep by Minnesota-Duluth is an even stronger reminder that the Bulldogs still have their work cut out for them the rest of the season. Duluth simply outclassed Yale, beating the Bulldogs 9-1 and 5-1 on back-to-back nights.
Richards’ return to his native Minnesota was not a triumphant one. He was pulled in the second period of Friday’s game after giving up his sixth goal of the evening. Richards rebounded the next night and did his best to stall the dominant Duluth offense with 36 saves. But the Bulldogs did little to help their goaltender, mustering only 18 shots to Duluth’s 41.
Despite the rough start in Minnesota, Richards has shown promise in his few starts in the net for the Bulldogs. Richards said adjusting to the college game has been a challenging learning process.
“It’s been a bit of a rough transition so far,” he said. “The players are so much faster and can shoot the puck much harder. But I think it’s getting better and hopefully I’ll get to the top of my game soon.”
Taylor said he was disappointed that his team could not carry momentum from the Mercyhurst win into Minnesota.
“We were hoping to build upon that success, but our intensity was not there,” he said. “We can deal with losing to a better team, but what we can’t accept in any way is anything that is less than our best effort. It’s hard to win Division I hockey games when you don’t give it your all.”
Yale resumes league play this Friday on the road at Brown before hosting Harvard Sunday afternoon at Ingalls Rink. Taylor said the challenge this week will be to rebound mentally from the disastrous weekend.
“Our confidence has been weakened,” he said. “We’ve had a poor start, so job one is to regain that confidence. This season we are just going to have to take little steps … and work on putting 60 minutes of intense, focused hockey together.”