After a dominating victory against one of the top teams in the nation, the men’s hockey team didn’t think they could possibly outdo themselves. But they did.
Yale (13-5-1, 8-3-1 ECAC) won a pair of thrilling conference road games this weekend, defeating No. 3 Cornell (14-2-3, 9-1-2), 4-3, on Friday and erasing a 4-0 third-period deficit to beat Colgate (6-13-5, 1-7-3), 5-4, in an overtime thriller on Saturday.
Center Kevin Limbert ’12 scored the game-winner a minute into overtime to give the Elis the most improbable of victories against Colgate.
Head coach Keith Allain’s bold decision to pull netminder Alec Richards ’09 midway through the final period in favor of an extra skater helped spark a three-goal outburst in less than five minutes to get the Elis right back in the game — with an overwhelming edge in momentum.
Despite outshooting their opponents 26-11 in the first two periods, the Bulldogs inexplicably found themselves trailing 2-0. Left winger Denny Kearney ’11 had a goal disallowed in the second frame for having bounced off his skate, but the Raiders made the best of their limited scoring opportunities by capitalizing on two mistakes by the visitors.
Center Nick Prockow picked a Yale defensemen’s pocket before finishing a breakaway with a five-hole shot past Yale netminder Ryan Rondeau ’11, and fellow center David McIntyre picked up a puck in his defensive zone on a short-handed situation and went the length of the ice for his 13th goal of the season at 12:24.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors early in the third frame, as Colgate scored two more goals on as many shots.
Despite their overwhelming advantage in shots on goal, Bulldog players found themselves getting blown out in a game they were supposed to have breezed through.
“When we went down 4-0, everyone on the bench was thinking, this one got away from us,” Kearney said. “We were thinking, ‘We’re not playing that bad, we’re just getting unlucky breaks and not scoring.’ ”
Allain decided to pull Rondeau in favor of Richards, but it was his decision to then take Richards back out of the net that provided a much-needed spark for the struggling Bulldogs.
With about 11 minutes left in the game, Allain boldly pulled Richards to give his team an extra skater on the ice. Besides helping Dignard score the equivalent of a power play goal at 7:23, Allain’s decision sent a message to his team — the game was not over.
“He was just trying to get our attention by switching things up, letting us know that he wasn’t giving up,” captain right winger Matt Nelson ’09 said of Allain. “It’s easy to say things on the bench but by pulling the goalie and making the effort to show that he hadn’t given up, that really showed our team a lot.”
Dignard’s goal put some life back in the Bulldogs, but it was right winger Broc Little’s ’11 power play goal at 10:45 that made the comeback seem possible, if not inevitable.
“From that point on, our whole team knew it was our night,” Nelson said.
It took only 63 seconds for the visitors to get their third consecutive goal, as Dignard took a long pass from Kearney and went five-hole on Colgate freshman netminder Alex Evin for Yale’s sixth short-handed goal of the season.
The Elis had to wait all the way until about the 18-minute mark to tie the game up, but by that time, the victory was practically guaranteed.
After having outshot the Raiders 19-5 in the third frame, Limbert scored on the first shot of overtime to complete the astonishing comeback.
“I thought the team showed a tremendous amount of character,” Allain said. “We had to battle through adversity both nights. Last night’s game was really incredible —you don’t see that everyday. It was truly amazing.”
Yet prior to Saturday’s game, it seemed as if the Bulldogs had already seen enough excitement for an entire weekend.
In front of a sold-out crowd at Lynah Rink, in Ithaca, N.Y., the Bulldogs outshot the Big Red 36-20 and notched four goals on the nation’s top scoring defense — over 2.5 goals over their goals per game average.
The Bulldogs scored the lone goal of the first period on a power play goal from left winger Jeff Anderson ’11, but it was during the second period that the Elis took control of the game.
Although both teams went back and forth with a pair of goals each, the Bulldogs outshot Cornell 18-6 in the frame and could consider themselves unfortunate to not have gotten more from their dominating play.
After the teams traded goals, center Brian O’Neill ’12 looked to have increased his team’s lead midway through the period, but was penalized for charging the goalie. Cornell scored on the ensuing power play but despite the potential momentum changer, Yale kept up the pressure and was rewarded when center Brendan Mason ’11 reestablished the team’s lead on a 4-on-4 situation at 13:38.
The Bulldogs were once again able to capitalize on their speed when they doubled their lead on their third 4-on-4 goal of the game midway through the third frame. O’Neill and center Mark Arcobello ’10 caught Cornell with an odd-man rush, and although O’Neill’s initial shot was saved by Cornell netminder Ben Scrivens, Arcobello was there for the rebound.
Yale benefited all game from a matchup advantage against the more physical, defensive-minded Big Red, particularly on situations in which there were fewer skaters on the ice.
“We’re a fast team and we play a fast game,” Allain said. “So obviously there’s more room to skate when you’re playing 4-on-4.”
Cornell managed to get a goal back with 20 seconds left in the game, but it was too little too late, as the Big Red were handed their first loss at Lynah Rink since March 8, 2008.
“I’m most proud about the back-and-forth, roller coaster of momentum and emotion that we dealt with,” Nelson said. “Where most teams would get frustrated, we kept staying focused and were able to regain the lead and hold on … It showed that we have the perseverance and mental toughness to win these close battles.”
Yale now sits in second place in the ECAC standings, trailing only Cornell.
Coming off such an emotionally charged weekend, Kearney said that in order to accomplish their goals of winning the regular season title and the ECAC tournament, on in the season, they will need to show up to every game with the same mentality of playing a No. 3 team on the road.
For now, at least, there is no possibility of a letdown. The Bulldogs are back at Ingalls Rink next weekend for a tough pair of 7 p.m. games against ECAC top-five squads Princeton and Quinnipiac.