Trailing 1-0 and playing a man down with 3:40 left in the first period, things looked grim for the Bulldogs in their season opener against Holy Cross. As the Crusaders attempted to capitalize on the power play, however, defenseman Bill LeClerc ’07 cleared the puck to forward Sean Backman ’10 on the opposite end of the ice. With his defender close behind him, Backman sent the puck sailing into the back of the net, notching his first goal as an Eli and turning the tide of the game.
“Any time you get a short-handed goal the momentum is going to change, so that goal really helped us get back in the game,” Backman said. “We sort of took control after that.”
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As the Elis skated onto the ice at Ingalls Rink on Friday night, they faced a Holy Cross squad that had already competed in three regular season games. Although Yale, under the leadership of new coach Keith Allain ’80, had only competed in one preseason scrimmage against McGill, the team proved up to the challenge as they bested the Crusaders, 2-1, in an evenly-played match.
In the opening period, the Crusaders broke through first, scoring at 9:20 on a power play with two Elis in the penalty box. Although the home team attempted to even the score several times in the next few minutes, numerous penalties kept Yale from getting on the board until Backman’s goal late in the period. As the period drew to a close, the Crusaders fought to regain the lead but were held to their lone goal by goaltender Alec Richards ’09.
The Elis faced an uphill battle in the second period, amassing seven penalties, including a major penalty for hitting from behind, while the Crusaders received just one. The Bulldogs were kept in the game by the superb goaltending of Richards, who blocked 25 of 26 shots for the night and held Holy Cross scoreless in the second and third periods.
In the third period, the Elis kept penalties at a minimum and focused on penetrating the Crusaders’ defense for a score. Backman nearly tallied his second goal of the night with 10:12 remaining, sending the puck just inches wide of the pipes. Less a minute later, forward Will Engasser ’08 sent the puck into the back of the net off a perfect pass from captain Matt Cohen ’07 to put the Bulldogs ahead 2-1. With the lead in hand, Richards and the Bulldog defense performed on the other end of the ice, stopping the Crusaders’ subsequent offensive charges on the way to an Eli victory.
“It was a great start, and the classes really came together,” forward Blair Yaworski ’08 said. “It [will have] a definite impact on our team that we are coming together and meshing as a team.”
The game also gave the Bulldogs a sense of what they will need to work on as the season progresses. One troublesome area proved to be the penalty box, and the squad struggled to stay out of the box this weekend because of new, stricter NCAA rules regarding penalties. Although the Elis were able to contain the Crusaders on nine of ten power plays, players said that they still need to be more careful in the future.
“We are still adjusting,” Cohen said. “We did a good job of moving the puck around and using our speed to our advantage. We need to play a little more physical at times, but we got the two wins, so we really can’t complain much.”
Still celebrating the previous night’s victory, Yale hit the road on Saturday to face No. 8 New Hampshire, a team that had won four of its last five contests against the Bulldogs. The rowdy home crowd hurled insults, cups and food at the ice when the Elis pulled out a 4-3 overtime victory over the heavily favored Wildcats.
Yale took the lead early in the game when LeClerc redirected a deflected shot by last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year Mike Karwoski ’09. The Wildcats answered back in the second minute of the second period when Hockey East Player of the Week Trevor Smith sent the puck past Richards’ glove into the net. The two teams battled back and forth throughout the rest of the period, and after a goal by Tom Dignard ’10, the Wildcats quickly responded with two goals to take a 3-2 lead at the end of the second.
“We got an early goal in the first period, and it set a tone — we knew that we could play with them,” Yaworski said. “By the third period and into overtime, we knew that we were meant to be there.”
Despite numerous power play opportunities in the third period, the Elis struggled to penetrate the Wildcats’ defense. With under four minutes left in the game, Yale managed to even up the score at 3-3, sending the game into overtime. The Elis finally broke through in overtime, when Greg Beller ’10 buried the puck in the corner of the net off a feed from classmate Chris Cahill ’10.
One of the biggest challenges for the Bulldogs was facing the favored Wildcats in front of a large UNH home crowd.
“They were at home, and they had a big crowd for them,” Backman said. “We wanted to slow things down, take a lot of whistles and take the momentum out of their crowd.”
Overcoming the challenge of being the visitor contributed to the thrill of the win, players said.
“It felt amazing, there’s no doubt about that,” Yaworski said. “We went in there not expected to win. We were probably expected to be blown out.”
After a successful weekend, the Elis are off to their first 2-0 start since the 2000-01 season — a feat players hope is a sign of more good things to come.
“It’s been a while since we have gotten off to a good start,” Cohen said. “It’s really important to set a good tone. It’s only been two games, so hopefully nobody is getting ahead of themselves. We have accomplished some good things, but we still have a long way to go.”