Yale’s wild postseason ride came to an unceremonious end Saturday in Hanover, as Dartmouth (18-11-2) beat the men’s hockey team (10-20-3), 3-1, to complete its sweep of the best-of-three series.
Just a week earlier, the Bulldogs were making history in Schenectady, with back-to-back overtime wins against Union, including an NCAA-record 141-minute contest that began at 7 p.m. March 4 and ended at 1:08 the following morning.
But the high of Yale’s first playoff series win in eight years — and the marathon battle that drew the attention of ESPN and Sports Illustrated — wore off just two minutes into Game One against the Big Green. Starting a trend that would plague his team all weekend, Michael Karwoski ’09 lost a defensive-zone faceoff to Dartmouth star Mike Ouellette, who drew the puck back to Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy shot promptly, and Tanner Glass tipped it past Alec Richards ’09 for a 1-0 lead.
Richards was not nearly as sharp as in the two games against Union, when he made a combined 97 saves. He did himself in three minutes later for Dartmouth’s second goal when he misplayed a high, plexiglass-bound wristshot from the point.
“I just made a mistake,” Richards said. “I thought we needed a change. Usually you don’t touch those because things like that happen. I caught it, it rolled down, my glove didn’t close all the way, and it just rolled in.”
Listlessness, bad bounces and faceoff futility were the last things Yale needed a week after playing parts of 15 periods while ECAC No. 1 seed Dartmouth was enjoying a bye. Compounding matters for Yale was the absence of winger Jean-Francois Boucher ’08, who was scrubbed from the trip after violating an unspecified team rule. The hard-checking Boucher, Yale’s leading goal scorer, has often been the Bulldogs’ shot of Red Bull in moments of indolence. With Matt Thomey ’08 filling his place alongside Brad Mills ’07 and Jeff Hristovski ’06, Yale’s top line was ineffective.
The final two of Dartmouth’s five goals came on the power play, as great passing twice exploited passive penalty killing for backdoor goals. David Meckler ’09, who scored in the first game against Union and also ended game two in the fifth overtime, tallied Yale’s lone goal on a rebound of a Zach Mayer ’06 shot.
Yale’s strategy had been to pepper Dartmouth goalie Mike Devine with shots in the hopes of banging in a rebound. But while Devine held up his end by leaving second chances on many of Yale’s 36 shots, the Big Green defense fortified its goalie’s crease.
“Dartmouth did a good job of screening and blocking out, but we’ve got to pay the price,” Meckler said. “We’ve got to reach down and find what we need to get through them and get those rebounds. We’ve got to win those battles. That’s the game.”
On Saturday, Yale head coach Tim Taylor decided to fight fire with fire. In addition to moving Mayer into Thomey’s place on the forward line, Taylor shrewdly dressed 6-foot-2-inch, 240-pound Will Engasser ’08 and 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound Patrick Brosnihan ’09, as well as a seventh defenseman, 6-foot-3-inch, 220-pound Brennan Turner ’09 — all healthy scratches the night before –in an attempt to outmuscle the Big Green.
“I wanted Turner’s physical size and toughness and attitude in the lineup,” Taylor said. “Dartmouth has big, strong forwards. It’s hard to deal with. They can get in and grind along the wall and win a lot of battles. I thought we’d need that seventh guy.”
The move initially proved fruitful for the Elis. With Friday’s blowout behind them, they jumped out to their first lead of the series midway through the opening period, when Mills slapped a rolling puck over the right shoulder of an unsuspecting Devine.
But penalties — most deserved, but some questionable — did Yale in. The Elis committed six minors in the first period alone. They managed to kill off the first 5:01 they spent shorthanded, including a 1:33 stint down two men, but Ouellette eventually beat the penalty-kill unit on another backdoor play.
Ryan Bellows, unmanned in front of the Yale net, gave Dartmouth the lead four minutes later when he stopped a wristshot by Lovejoy and lifted a shot over Richards, who had gone down to handle Lovejoy’s attempt.
The Bulldogs had several chances to tie in an 11-shot second period, including a partial breakaway by Karwoski, but Devine was outstanding in goal.
Early in the third, Sean Offers sealed the game for Dartmouth with another point shot off another faceoff win. It was the lone weak moment in a 44-save performance by Richards, but Taylor’s visible disgust after the goal had a lot more to do with the faceoff loss – the third such goal of the weekend, he would later point out.
Yale registered only six shots in a failed third-period comeback attempt, often struggling to break Dartmouth’s neutral-zone trap.
Still, the Elis refused to quit — even after Offers’ goal, even after fans taunted them with the obligatory chant of “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
“I was extremely proud of our guys,” Taylor said. “We knew we were facing elimination, our backs to the wall, and even down to the last 30 seconds of that contest we were battling tooth and nail. I couldn’t be more proud of the group of kids in that locker room.”