Yale had to lose at some point.

Just two days after falling at the hands of Colorado College, the Air Force Academy (4–6–0) shocked the college hockey world with a come-from-behind 4–3 upset over the No. 3 men’s hockey team (5–1–0, 2–0–0 ECAC) Sunday night. Although the games do not affect Yale’s place in the ECAC, the weekend was an opportunity for the team to defend its ranking against a pair of well-respected Western programs.

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“We got comfortable,” left winger Brian O’Neill ’12 said. “Every time you get comfortable against a good hockey team, they come back to haunt you. … Maybe that’s our fault for getting too complacent.”

The Bulldogs’ loss came a night after they dealt Colorado College (5-6-1) a convincing 5–1 defeat Saturday in what left winger Denny Kearney ’11 called Yale’s “most complete game” this season.

“Everyone played well, we had good balanced scoring, good goaltending, good defense,” Kearney said. “I think we got contributions from almost every line, which is always nice.”

Indeed, the Elis got goals from five different players and points from 12. Forward Andrew Miller ’13 netted the game-winner and added an assist, while forwards Charles Brockett ’12 and Brendan Mason ’11 tallied two points apiece.

Although Yale controlled the puck all night and outshot Colorado College 40-25, the story of the game was goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11, who turned aside 24 shots and looked confident all night en route to his fourth victory in four consecutive games as Yale’s starting netminder.

Yale, the nation’s top-ranked offense, was not able to match its average of six goals per game, and went 0-3 on the power play, but the squad’s five even-strength goals were more than enough. The Bulldogs dominated the first period, outshooting the home team 15-4, and headed into the first intermission with a 2–0 lead. Those two goals came from Brockett and Miller. The Elis never looked back.

The Tigers weren’t able to get on the board until after Chad Ziegler ’12 had widened the Eli lead to three goals. Their one tally, however, did have a connection to Yale. Brothers Jayden and Rylan Schwartz, whose sister Mandi is a member of the Yale women’s hockey team and has battled leukemia since December 2008, assisted the goal by Stephen Schultz.

Then center Kevin Limbert ’12 and right winger Chris Cahill ’11 put the game out of the Tigers’ reach with a goal apiece, and Colorado College never threatened to even things up.

“I think we were good in all aspects of the game,” O’Neill said. “I think Ryan played really well. We’ve been getting really good goaltending all year and we expect that out of our goalies.”

But Rondeau’s streak of four consecutive starts came to an abrupt end Sunday night, as Allain put goalie Jeff Malcolm ’13 between the pipes.

Malcolm stopped the first 14 shots he saw over two periods, but he was outplayed by Air Force goalie Jason Torf, who stopped 34 of the 37 shots he saw. Malcolm and the Bulldogs collapsed in the final frame, and allowed Air Force to avenge an upset by Yale in Ingalls Rink two years ago.

The Bulldogs didn’t waste time Sunday night in trying to give Malcolm a cushion. They got two quick shots off on Air Force netminder Jason Torf in the opening 20 seconds of play. But then the Falcons seized control and refused to allow a Yale shot for the next four minutes.

Yale rebounded with chances from Brockett and Broc Little ’11, and captain Jimmy Martin ’11 opened the scoring in the sixth minute. The defenseman received the puck at the near point straight off a faceoff and skated into the high slot, where he rifled a slap shot past Torf.

Air Force and Yale peppered each other’s nets with shots throughout the middle of the period, but neither side managed to string together a long possession.

But when the Buldogs could take control in the opposing end, they made it count. O’Neill extended the Eli edge to 2–0 on a perfectly executed play with slightly more than a minute remaining in the first period. The left winger got the puck on the left edge of the crease after a series of crisp passes by Cahill and Miller, then smacked a shot off Torf’s skate and into the net. When the buzzer signaled intermission, Yale skated off the ice with 12 shots to Air Force’s seven.

The Blue would extend that shooting advantage in the second period, but the frame was all Air Force.

Martin was whistled for tripping just 25 seconds into the frame, and then defenseman Kevin Peel ’12 was called for hooking 67 seconds later. The Falcons got off a handful of shots during the five on three, but couldn’t do any damage.

Air Force let another huge opportunity pass by when Malcolm came completely out of the net. Falcon forwards missed twice and couldn’t capitalize on the bouncing puck.

Minutes later the Bulldogs had their own attempt on a five on three, but Torf pulled out four consecutive saves to keep his team in the game.

Yale’s offense came alive immediately after the opening draw in the third period. Just 24 seconds in, Kearney knocked the puck home with an assist from Little. But the Bulldogs would never threaten again. From then on the game was all Falcons. Yale could not stay out of the penalty box or muster any energy on offense, and Air Force made them pay.

“Even I think when we took the lead we weren’t really playing our best game,” Kearney said. “I think eventually in the third period it kind of caught up to us all at once.”

The home team’s comeback started 5:55 into the period. Just eight seconds after Jimmy Martin was sent off for holding, Scott Mathis blasted a blistering slap shot under Malcolm, who could not get down in time.

Although Yale killed off their next penalty — Mathis’ goal was the Falcons’ only success on 12 power plays — the Falcons found other ways to score. Paul Weisbarger narrowed the Eli lead to a goal shorthanded, when his centering pass from the back corner banked off Malcolm’s skate and across the goal line 9:51 into the period.

Yale was unable to take control of the game back, and Air Force continued to dominate the period. They took advantage of the Bulldogs’ inability to put together a sustained drive and jumped on turnovers in the neutral zone and tied the game three minutes later.

The equalizer came at even strength, when the Falcons stormed in and took the puck to the net with some tape to tape passing. Malcolm turned aside the first shot from John Kruse, but there were no blue jerseys around to clear the puck. Kruse took advantage and pushed the puck past the prone Yale goalie.

The Falcons’ momentum suggested it was only a matter of time until they seized the lead. The capacity crowd of 2,842 at Cadet Ice Arena had to wait less than four minutes. Fabian came around the back of the net and snuck a backhand pass to Stephen Carew, who rifled a wrist shot over Malcolm’s leg pad.

Yale never made a true threat to send the game into overtime. They looked poised to put a possession together when they pulled Malcolm in the final minute, but Little was sent off for interference with 33 seconds left. The Bulldog managed one last gasp effort, but no amount of tumbles around the net could put the puck past the goal line, and the final whistle sounded on the team’s first loss of the season.

“We know how it feels now to lose and it sucks,” Little said. “Especially this kind of loss where you’re up 3–0 in the third. If we’re going to be a championship team, we can’t let that happen again.”