With the playoffs in sight, the men’s hockey team earned two valuable points to hoist itself out of last place in a pivotal ECACHL weekend.
The Elis (10-14-3, 7-12-1 ECACHL) demonstrated the same hunger that they had earlier in the season as they picked up the tempo and found their way into ninth place, just a few points away from securing home ice for the first round of the ECACHL playoffs. On Friday night, the Bulldogs destroyed Harvard (10-15-2, 8-10-2 ), 5-1, but fell to Dartmouth (14-10-3, 10-7-3) in a 3-2 heartbreaker on Sunday afternoon at Ingalls Rink. Even though the loss to the Big Green prevented the Elis from clinching the Ivy League title this weekend, the squad still has a shot at the championship if No. 18 Cornell loses to either Harvard or Dartmouth next weekend.
“These were two good teams,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “I’m really proud of the way we played.”
The squad skated past Harvard by a four-goal margin on Friday, more than doubling the number of goals that Yale had against St. Lawrence and Clarkson the previous weekend. Although the Bulldogs got off to a slow start in the first period, allowing the Cantabs to take an early 1-0 lead, the tide changed quickly in the second as the Elis fired off a series of goals and never looked back.
Forward Chris Cahill ’10 ignited Yale’s offensive surge at 9:42, producing a power play goal on the rebound from a shot by Brad Mills ’07. In the nine minutes that followed, three more Elis — Mark Arcobello ’10, Will Engasser ’08 and Jean-Francois Boucher ’08 — put the puck past Crimson goalie Kyle Richter. When the two teams cleared the ice at the end of the frame, the Bulldogs held a commanding 4-1 lead.
In an attempt to contain the explosive Eli forwards, Harvard coach Ted Donato replaced freshman netminder Richter with a veteran at the beginning of the third. Although senior Justin Tobe stopped all eight Eli attempts, he was pulled from the ice toward the end of the period to give the Crimson a 6 to 5 advantage on offense, offering Cahill an opportunity to notch an empty net goal. As time expired, the sold-out crowd at Ingalls celebrated the 5-1 victory, which completed Yale’s first sweep of Harvard since the 1997-’98 season.
On Sunday afternoon, the Elis suited up against Dartmouth, a squad that had lost just once in its last five contests. The Bulldogs again got off to a sluggish start in what may have been Yale’s last home game of the season, allowing the Big Green two goals in the first four minutes, including one shorthanded tally. Although the Elis outshot the Big Green 16-11 in the period, they could not get the puck past junior goalie Mike Devine, who has started all but one contest this season and has not yet been pulled midgame.
But the Bulldogs picked up the pace in a dominant second period. Cahill got his third goal of the weekend at 6:19, knocking in a rebound to make it 2-1. Twelve minutes later, forward Sean Backman ’10 scored on a penalty shot after having been dragged down by a Dartmouth defenseman on a breakaway. With the Yale crowd on its feet, Backman skated confidently across the ice and flipped a perfect backhander past Devine to even things up.
The two squads skated neck-and-neck throughout the third period in a battle of the goaltenders, as both Devine and Alec Richards ’09 came up with several spectacular stops. The Big Green finally broke the draw at 14:38 when forward Rob Pritchard, who had two goals on the night, found the puck on the boards after a poor Eli clear and snuck a long shot past Richards. The Bulldogs tried desperately to get back in the game, but all of their shots were blocked by Devine, who finished with a season-high 51 saves on the night.
“Their goalie made some huge saves,” Arcobello said. “We got a lot of shots, a lot of quality ones, too, but he played well. We also got a few unlucky bounces in front of the net.”
Meanwhile, Richards, who played a total of just 40 minutes the previous weekend against St. Lawrence and Clarkson, came up with 55 saves this weekend and did not give up a single power-play goal. In fact, the Eli special teams fared well on the whole, containing both Harvard and Dartmouth on all 10 of their man advantages. The Bulldogs also converted two power play opportunities of their own after going scoreless on 15 last weekend.
Cahill also turned in a breakout performance with three goals and an assist. A member of the all-freshman forward line with Arcobello and Backman, Cahill has recently stepped into a scoring role, tallying nine points in the last six games.
“He had a great weekend,” Allain said. “He’s been playing well for us all year long. He has the skating ability and the hockey sense to play with [Arcobello and Backman]. Those three are a nice combination.”
Despite splitting the contests, Allain and his players said they were pleased with the results of the weekend and the Elis’ positive attitude, which will be crucial going into next weekend’s contests against Rensselaer and Union in the squad’s final regular-season campaign.
“We showed a lot of willingness to shoot the puck, and we had several chances where we easily could have scored three or four more goals,” forward Greg Beller ’10 said. “We just didn’t get a lot of bounces. We played very well in both games, so we have nothing to hang our heads about.”