TROY, N.Y. — It may not have been pretty, but the men’s hockey team kept things rolling this weekend in New York and, in doing so, further distanced itself from the pack in the ECAC conference standings.
The No. 10 Bulldogs (19-5-1, ECAC 14-3-1) defeated Union 4-2 despite being significantly outshot Friday night at Messa Rink in Schenectady, N.Y., then followed things up the night after in a 4-1 win over Rensselaer here at the Houston Fieldhouse.
Forwards Denny Kearney ’11 and Patrick Brosnihan ’09 each scored two goals over the weekend for the Bulldogs, who were looking to compensate for the absence of their leading scorer, right winger Sean Backman ’10, who suffered an injury in the Elis’ Feb. 7 victory against No. 19 Dartmouth.
Goaltender Alec Richards ’09, now the unquestioned starter in net for the Elis, looked impressive in both games. He saved 49 of the 52 shots he faced over the weekend and has now given up exactly one goal while posting a .950 save percentage since reclaiming the starting role six games ago.
YALE 4, UNION 2
On Friday, Yale did not get off to an impressive start against the Dutchmen (15-13-2, 8-9-1), who handed the Bulldogs one of their three conference losses back on Dec. 6. But while the Elis were outshot 36-15 by Union and did not play their best hockey to any extent, they made the best of their chances and pulled off a scrappy victory.
“This was a great win for us,” Richards said. “I don’t think we were at our best … [but] we found a way to put some pucks in the net.”
As the away squad struggled to string passes together and retain possession of the puck, the Dutchmen came out strong out of the gate and outshot Yale — which typically outshoots opponents by 11.6 — by a 10-5 margin during the first period. But despite some quality chances for Union, it was the Bulldogs who scored first, a recurring theme throughout the contest.
With four minutes left in the frame, Brosnihan opened the scoring for the Bulldogs with a long-distance, top-shelf wrister from the top of the right circle. Based on the home crowd’s reaction — as well as Brosnihan’s teammates’ nonchalant reactions — one might not have even realized that someone had scored. It was a telling sign of what turned out to be a sloppy, dull game.
Yale doubled its lead midway through the second frame, when right winger Broc Little ’11 used a spin move to free himself on the right-side boards and find defenseman Mike Matczak ’11 for a one-timer in front of the net.
From then on, the Bulldogs did little to help their case, notching three straight penalties, which included a John Simpson power-play goal at 12:52. The Elis had seemed poised to score a shorthanded goal, but the Dutchmen raced up the ice with Simpson cutting in from the left side, beating a Bulldog defender and going five-hole on Richards with a backhand effort with seconds remaining on the power play. But the Elis successfully killed off three more penalties in the third period and even added their seventh shorthanded goal of the season thanks to their aggressive forecheck.
While most teams would have been content to sit back and wait out the penalty, Little and Kearney forced Union into a turnover in their defensive zone, with Little picking up the puck in the corner and finding Kearney in front of the net for an open wrister at 6:09. Overall, in a span of over 30 minutes stretching from the end of the first period to midway through the third period, the Bulldogs had to kill off seven straight penalties, conceding Simpson’s power-play goal but also adding Kearney’s shorthanded score.
“Maybe in a game when you’re not playing your best … guys can rally around that,” head coach Keith Allain said of his team’s successful string of penalty kills.
The home team made things interesting with a Jason Walters slapper that snuck past Richards’ right pad at 12:41, but Yale sealed the deal with a tricky spin move from center Mark Arcobello ’10 with less than two minutes remaining in the game.
The Milford, Conn., native caught an attempted clearance with his glove at the high slot, spun around to face the goal and wristed a shot that was re-directed by left winger Brian O’Neill ’12 for the goal.
For Union head coach Nate Leaman, there was no consolation in his team’s second strong performance against the No. 10 Elis this year.
“It’s not about moral victories, this is the time to win,” he said. “It’s the score that counts.”
YALE 4, Rensselaer 1
Coming off their last less-than-convincing performance, the Bulldogs came out strong out of the gate on Saturday at RPI’s annual free T-shirt event, called the “Big Red Freakout!”
The Elis looked sharp in their passing and showed more intensity as they used their speed to skate around the ice, quickly amassing a 7-1 advantage in shots midway through the first period.
“I was really excited with the way our guys started coming out of last night’s game,” Allain said. “We were expecting RPI to come out strong with the crowd and alumni weekend, so we knew we had to match their intensity right from the get-go.”
After bombarding RPI netminder Mathias Lange with shots midway through the period, Arcobello scored the seemingly inevitable goal for the away squad at 13:24. With his back facing the goal near the left side of the ice, Arcobello spun around and, in what appeared to be one motion, wristed a shot into the top shelf.
As the Bulldogs ended the period with a 12-3 advantage in shots, a local reporter incredulously wondered how in the world Union had held Yale to only 15 shots in three periods of hockey. It was a good question.
The away squad kept things rolling after the break, with center Charles Brockett ’12 finding Brosnihan in front of the net for a one-timer less than three minutes into the period.
A pair of penalties halted Yale’s momentum and kept the puck in its defensive zone for much of the period, though, and the home team got one back with just over a minute left, thanks to a great look from defenseman Bryan Brutlag.
The Minnesota native found freshman forward Alex Angers-Goulet for a one-timer with a no-look backhand from behind the net for Angers-Goulet’s sixth goal of the year. But Yale fired back: Kearney responded for the Bulldogs with a heads up goal early on the third period when he picked up a puck that had been initially stopped by Lange and wristed it into the roof of the net while the goaltender was lying on his side.
Although the Engineers (7-21-2, 6-11-1) had some quality opportunities to make things interesting — including a surefire goal being disallowed when the net was displaced from its moorings — left winger Jeff Anderson ’11 clinched a win for his team with an empty netter from the redline with 19 seconds left on the clock.
“Last night was a funny game,” Allain said on Saturday. “Tonight’s game, we were more able to play our style a little more. … I think what you saw tonight is what we try to do on most nights.”
THE ROAD AHEAD
The Bulldogs have now swept four straight ECAC weekends and are unbeaten in their last nine contests. Moreover, the Elis are also an astounding 10-1 on the road this season. With No. 6 Cornell losing both of their weekend games and with No. 9 Princeton falling to 3-1 to St. Lawrence on Saturday, the Bulldogs are now five points clear of the Tigers, who leapfrogged Cornell over the weekend into second place in the conference standings.
“The wins weren’t the prettiest of the year,” Brosnihan said, reflecting on the weekend. “But they were a testament to how gritty our team can be and just bear down and get things done.”
Yale will look to continue its impressive road mark this weekend when it faces Quinnipiac and Princeton in a pair of 7 p.m. contests.