Though the performance the men’s hockey team put up this weekend was by no means disastrous, Yale’s inability to close the door on an inferior team may be a cause for concern.
The Bulldogs (5-10-2, 4-6-1 ECACHL) started strong but could not put away a scrappy Brown team (3-10-4, 2-6-2) that forced a 3-3 tie on Saturday in New Haven. The stalemate snapped Yale’s four-game ECAC winning streak.
“We played a good game, but had some mental lapses that we paid for,” forward Joe Zappala ’06 said. “Parity in this league is the most it’s been in my career here, and we need to take care of games like that from now on and not let points slip away down the stretch.”
Things looked good for Yale in the beginning. After falling behind early in each of their last five games, the Bulldogs got on the board first this time off the stick of forward David Meckler ’09 just 90 seconds into the game. Meckler, who scored his third goal of the season, handled a pass from forward Blair Yaworski ’08, skated through the blueline and sent a wrister past Brown goalie Adam D’Alba.
Just four minutes later, the Bears executed on their first power-play chance when Sean Dersch banged a goal past Richards to tie the game. After Zach Mayer ’06 set up Zappala for a one-timer three minutes into the second frame, the visitors responded promptly yet again. Eric Salais broke away from the defense and deked left, causing Richards to overcommit to the right and leaving the net open for the easy score.
Yale grabbed its final lead of the game late in the second period when Zappala and defender Bill LeClerc ’07 executed on a two-on-one opportunity. Zappala held onto the puck, forcing D’Alba to commit and leaving LeClerc open for the quick score.
But, again, it was Yale’s inability to help out Richards that let Brown tie the game for the third time. Strong passing and weak defense help enabled Dersch to be open enough to blast a shot past the rookie netminder just a minute into the third period.
Defenseman Brennan Turner ’09 said letting Brown back into the game left a bitter taste in the Bulldogs’ mouths.
“We gave up some weak goals, which were the results from defensive lapses,” he said. “It’s tough to take the tie, knowing we could’ve had two points if we did some of the little things better.”
Though Yale never trailed in the contest, the Elis simply could not close the door on the Bears. As predicted by many Bulldogs before the game, special teams play was a critical factor in the contest. While Brown was by no means stellar on special teams, executing once on eight power-play chances, the Bulldogs failed to capitalize on any of their five opportunities.
Zappala said the Elis’ struggles on power-plays are a result of over-thinking and putting too much pressure on themselves to capitalize on the man-advantages.
“Sometimes we just have to slow it down and just play, think less,” he said. “When we start to devise plays to make it work, it’s like forcing it. We just need relax and play. We know we can produce; [it’s] just a matter of capitalizing.”
A reason for the Bulldogs’ recent success has been their ability to control the puck and outshoot opponents by a healthy margin. But on Saturday, Yale found itself staving off more shots than it was putting up. Brown outshot the Bulldogs, 36-26, and controlled possession, especially in the extra frame.
Yaworski said the Elis’ inability to advance the puck prevented them from establishing their offense.
“I think we need to spend some more time trying to get the puck in the zone,” he said. “I felt like we struggled to enter the zone and gain control in the offensive zone.”
Perhaps most telling of Saturday’s game was Yale’s performance in overtime. Though the Elis had chances to win the game in the extra frame, the Bears’ ability to control the puck left the Yale fans feeling somewhat fortunate that the Bulldogs even earned a tie.
Saturday’s difficulties in the extra period are only the latest in a string of unfulfilling overtime performances. The Bulldogs have yet to win a game in overtime and are 0-2-2 in contests that reach sudden death.
Yaworski said the team’s struggles in overtime are a product of inexperience and fear of making mistakes.
“I believe we struggle in overtime because we become too nervous,” Yaworski said. “It seems like we want the win so bad that we tense up, and in essence panic, making wrong judgments and mistakes. I think that we are slowly rebuilding our confidence from the poor start we had to our season, and with time we will become a very confident and strong team.”