It was the Bulldogs’ biggest test of the season. They might not have aced it, but a win — especially on Friday night — was a win.
Yale’s 4–2 triumph over No. 15/16 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute came on a night when the top three teams in the nation all played nationally ranked opponents. The No. 2 Elis (9-1, 5-0 ECAC) were the only squad to skate away with a win, 4-2. Center Andrew Miller ’13 prevented RPI (8-4-3, 3-3) from overcoming an early two-goal deficit with a power play marker midway through the third that the Engineers could not muster a response to.
Meanwhile, in Minnesota, No. 1 Minnesota-Duluth lost an overtime thriller 5–4 to No. 10 Denver Friday. No. 2/3 Boston University stumbled badly against cross-town foe No. 8 Boston College, who scored three goals in each period en route to a definitive 9–5 trouncing of the Terriers. That is the same number of goals the Eagles scored when they knocked Yale out of the NCAA tournament with a 9–7 quarterfinal victory.
As the nation’s powerhouses — including No. 4 Nebraska-Omaha — fell around them, Yale found just enough holes in the RPI defense to come away with the win. But not before the Engineers forced them to play a different kind of hockey than they have all season.
Yale’s high-flying attack, which went into the game with the highest average goals per game in the nation, failed to get many shots off against RPI’s suffocating, fifth-ranked defense. The Bulldogs sent only six pucks on net in the first period.
But one-third of those were goals.
Yale came out of the gates firing on all cylinders. Just 34 seconds into the game, visiting defenseman Jeff Foss was caught getting lazy as Yale threatened with a long possession in the Engineer zone, and was sent off for tripping.
The Elis made RPI pay for the infraction. Defenseman Mike Matczak ’11 received a pass at the point, faked a shot, then found forward Denny Kearney ’11 open at the right hashmarks. RPI goalie Allen York over-committed to stop Yale’s dangerous left wing, who immediately fed Broc Little ’11 all alone at the far post. York could only watch as the feisty forward behind him easily slipped the puck over the goal line right before the penalty expired. It was Little’s team-leading ninth tally of the season.
The Yale offense kept flying up the ice with their trademark speed, but couldn’t manage many real threats. RPI’s heavy-hitting defense clogged up shooting lanes and stopped the Bulldogs before they could generate many chances on goal.
But the same was the case at the other end of the ice. Yale stood strong in front of netminder Ryan Rondeau ’11, who was making his fourth consecutive start and eighth in Yale’s past nine games. His only day off in that span was the Elis’ one loss of the season.
Rondeau saw only six shots in the first period, and stopped them all easily. The Elis increased their advantage midway through the first frame when Miller won a faceoff, and sent the puck back to left defenseman Colin Dueck ’13 at the blue line. Dueck’s slap shot rebounded off a defender and fell directly in front of left winger Chris Cahill ’11. Cahill knocked the puck past a sprawling York to give Yale a 2–0 lead in the 14th minute.
When the Elis continued to contain the RPI offense at the start of the second period, it looked as if they would not need a wider lead than they had already built.
Still, they threatened to light the lamp for a third time when, with Yale in the RPI zone and on the powerplay, York dropped his stick. But the Bulldogs’ best effort on the handicapped goalie clanged off the post, and the penalty ended without many further threats.
RPI killed three penalties during the second period and refused to allow Yale to set up in their zone. The Eli defense also sparkled, and allowed only four pucks to reach Rondeau in the period. The goalie faced only 17 in the game.
It looked like the Elis would close out the second period with their 2–0 advantage. But seconds after the announcer’s one-minute warning echoed through Ingalls Rink, RPI finally struck.
The Engineers won a faceoff in Yale’s defensive zone and slid the puck back to left defenseman Nick Bailen, who missed a slap shot from the right boards. But RPI picked the puck and sent it back to the defenseman, who made his second shot from the same spot count. His shot along the ice beat a screened Rondea and hit the left side of the net with 54 seconds left to go in the period.
The Elis could not escape the period fast enough. Cahill incurred a tripping penalty as the frame expired, forcing the Elis to begin the third period down a man. Though the Bulldogs killed that one off, RPI retained the momentum from its second-period goal. And its efforts paid off once again in the fifth minute.
Left defenseman Mike Bergin tied the game when he beat Rondeau from just inside the left circle at 4:37. The Engineers held their aggressive pace for several minutes — repeatedly forcing Rondeau to cover the puck as pileups ensued in front of the Yale net — before the Elis got a break.
RPI incurred two consecutive tripping penalties at 9:11 and 10:08 to put Yale up two men. That advantage made the difference. Eleven seconds after RPI was whistled for the second infraction, as the Elis bore up ice, Miller took a pass from Brian O’Neill ’12 just inside the left circle and fired a sharp shot over York’s right shoulder to give Yale the lead for good.
The Engineers pulled their goalie for an extra attacker with just over a minute remaining, but left winger Jeff Anderson ’11 wasted no time in making RPI regret that move. Anderson got the puck in Yale’s defensive zone and sent it gliding across the ice into RPI’s empty net at 18:42 to seal the victory.
Yale returns to Ingalls Rink to take on No. 13 Union at 3 p.m. Sunday.