In a weekend of mixed emotions, the men’s hockey team was crowned co-Ivy League champions but finished 10th in the larger ECAC conference after the ties were broken.
On the brink of the post-season, the Bulldogs (11-15-3, 8-13-1 ECACHL) recorded their third split in February against Union (14-17-3, 7-14-1) and Rensselaer (10-16-8, 6-11-5) this weekend, falling just short of guaranteeing home ice in the first round of the playoffs. As a result, the 10th-seeded Elis will face off against seventh-seeded Harvard (12-15-2, 10-10-2) on the road next weekend.
But even as the Elis were losing to Union in Schenectady on Friday night, a Dartmouth win guaranteed Yale a share of the 2006-’07 Ivy League title. The Big Green’s 5-1 trouncing of Cornell in Hanover stopped the Big Red — the only team that threatened to overtake the Bulldogs in Ivy standings — from stealing the title, and so Yale and Dartmouth will share the honor with 6-3-1 Ivy records.
“It feels great,” goalie Matt Modelski ’07 said. “We’ve struggled for four years, and to get a ring is pretty special. All of the guys are really proud of ourselves.”
At the same time, the Elis gave up their chance for home ice during the first round of the playoffs by dropping a 3-0 game to the last-ranked Dutchmen. Despite outshooting Union 29-23, the Bulldogs could not get the puck past Union goaltender Justin Mrazek. On the other end of the ice, the Dutchmen found the back of the net once per period to come away with the win. Forward Olivier Bouchard, who recorded two in the Dutchmen’s 3-2 overtime victory at Ingalls, notched the final goal of the game with 5:38 remaining, sending a low shot on the ice that slid beneath netminder Alec Richards ’09. Although the Elis found several quality chances as the period drew to a close, they could not garner the momentum to make a comeback.
“We played a decent game,” forward Mike Karwoski ’09 said. “We missed a few opportunities where we could have put the puck in the net, and our defense was strong, but they got lucky on a few turnovers.”
But on Saturday night, the Bulldogs showed a different side, with an energized offense that scored four goals in the first two periods and excellent special teams play. Continuing to tweak their power play and penalty kill units after last weekend, the Elis were a season-high 3-for-9 with the man-advantage, while they were 8-for-8 on the penalty kill.
“The team played really well,” Modelski said. “Our defensive zone play was probably the best it’s been, and that’s a good sign going into playoffs. Special teams were really good too.”
The Elis broke through in just the third minute of the game, with Rensselaer forward Kevin Broad in the penalty box for tripping. Forward Sean Backman ’10 fired a slapshot from the left side off a feed from defenseman Bill LeClerc ’07 to put the Elis ahead 1-0. The goal was Backman’s 18th of the season, placing him just one goal short of Yale’s all-time rookie goal record, currently held by NHL player Chris Higgins.
The Engineers momentarily tied the score for the first and last time at the end of the first period, when senior forward Tommy Green capitalized on a Bulldog turnover, scoring his first goal of the season. But less than a minute later the Elis went on the power play and this time it was LeClerc who notched the goal with the assists going to Mark Arcobello ’10 and Backman.
The second period belonged solely to the Bulldogs, who scored two goals 18 minutes apart to take a 4-1 lead heading into the final intermission. Early in the second stanza, defenseman Rob Page ’08 found the back of the net for the Elis’ third straight power play goal, and Patrick Brosnihan ’09 tallied what would turn out to be the gamewinner just four seconds before the whistle blew.
But the Engineers mounted a comeback in the third, scoring two big goals to come within striking distance of the Elis as the period wore on. Modelski, between the pipes for his third start in the last seven games, made several key saves to help the Bulldogs hang on to their lead and come away with the win. He stopped 24 shots in the final regular-season outing of his career.
“It was a great team effort on Saturday night, we really battled to get that win,” captain Matt Cohen ’07 said. “All the seniors in were in the lineup for the last game. I was really proud of the way that we played. I think a lot of the guys really came together and gutted it out.”
The Elis amassed a total of 17 points this season, placing them in a three-way tie for eighth place with Colgate and RPI. Since all three teams split contests against one another, Yale landed in 10th place after the tiebreaker because it had the worst record against the top four teams in the conference. But the seeding may be a blessing in disguise for the Elis. Harvard was one of two teams that Yale swept this season, with decisive 5-2 and 5-1 victories away and at home, respectively.
“We’re really excited about that because so far this year we have beaten them twice,” Karwoski said. “But we know its playoffs, so anything could happen.”