WORCESTER, MASS. — Entering Saturday evening’s game, the men’s hockey team was all but lost.
After all, how could a team that had lost one of its best players to injury hope to challenge No. 5 North Dakota, the hottest team in the country?
Despite not having played for two weeks, the three-seeded Bulldogs were quick from the start, taking the lead in the sixth minute and holding a 3–0 lead in the third period, en route to a 3–2 upset over the two-seeded Fighting Sioux in the NCAA Northeast Regional semifinals.
The No. 8 Elis will stay in Worcester to take on Boston College on Sunday at 5:30 p.m., with a trip to the Frozen Four in Detroit at stake.
The victory marked the first time since 1952 that the Yale hockey team has won a playoff game.
In last year’s NCAA Tournament, Yale was quickly ousted in a 4–1 loss to three-seeded Vermont. But this time around the Bulldogs said they were looser.
“We kind of knew that we were playing with house money,” defenseman Ryan Donald ’10 said. “Not too many people were expecting too much out of us.”
Head coach Keith Allain ’80 added: “I feel like we played tight [last year against Vermont], and I could sense it coming in. I was determined to make sure that if we weren’t going to be successful, that wasn’t going to be the reason.”
All season long Allain has switched among four goaltenders, with Billy Blase ’10 and Nick Maricic ’13 earning the majority of the starts. On Saturday, though, Allain surprised everyone when he decided to start Ryan Rondeau ’11. Rondeau had only played in four games this season and had not appeared in a game since giving up five goals to Brown on Nov. 21.
“It’s really no different than anything we’ve been doing all year long,” Allain said. “I told the team after we got knocked out in our conference tournament, that the goaltender who deserved to play after these two weeks of practice was going to play. It was open season competition, and Ryan won the competition.”
Left winger Denny Kearney ’11 gave the Elis the early 1–0 lead when he deflected a slap shot from defenseman Tom Dignard ’10 at 5:48.
Then, midway through the second period, Kearney scored his second of the night on a 3-on-1 breakaway that saw the junior rush toward the North Dakota goaltender Brad Eidsness and slide the puck around Eidsness’s right pad.
The Fighting Sioux had a great chance to pull it to within one when they were awarded a penalty shot, but Darcy Zajac’s shot rang off the left post and bounced out.
With about two minutes left in the second period, Mark Arcobello ’10 scored on an odd-man-rush that stemmed from Donald diving to block a UND shot with his body.
Although the Fighting Sioux headed into the locker room at the end of the second period down by three, they were by no means dead.
Less than three minutes into the final frame, right winger Brett Hextall gave North Dakota its first goal with a high wrister from the left face-off dot.
Yale fans got nervous when right winger Matt Frattin made it 3–2 on a breakaway.
Sensing the momentum swing, Allain immediately called a timeout to try and prevent collapse.
“We knew that [the Fighting Sioux] weren’t going to go away,” Allain said. “We reminded our guys that if they wanted to be champions, they were going to have to go through some rough times. This was our test, and we passed it pretty well.”
From then on, North Dakota pressured the Elis relentlessly, out-shooting them 18–5 during the third period. But a crucial Yale penalty kill with less than five minutes left in the game kept the Fighting Sioux from tying the game.
Although they were out-shot 37–23 by UND, the Bulldogs are now just one step away from their first appearance in the Frozen Four.
Sunday’s game against BC begins at the DCU Center at 5:30 p.m.
Check back then for a live-blog of the game.