TROY, N.Y. — It took less than 30 hours for the men’s hockey team to double the number of losses it had accumulated so far this season.
The Bulldogs (17–4, 11–3 ECAC) lost consecutive conference games for the first time in three years this weekend when they fell to Union (18–7–3, 10–3–1) and then Rensselaer Polytechnic (17–6–3, 9–5) during a road trip to upstate New York. Sellout crowds cheered both nights as Yale’s offense sputtered and the Eli penalty kill collapsed.
The pair of losses is expected to drop No. 1 Yale out of the top spot in the national polls that will be released on Monday. Yale has occupied the No. 1 spot for the past eight weeks. That fate excited the fans at RPI, who chanted “overrated” as the final whistle sounded on the Engineers’ 5–2 win.
Eli head coach Keith Allain ’80, however, was contemptuous of the rankings at a press conference on Friday night. When asked after his team’s 3–2 loss at Union if he was worried about his team losing the No. 1 spot, he merely stared down a reporter.
Right winger Broc Little ’11 had more to say.
“They can chant what they want,” he said. “The truth is we didn’t get any points this weekend and the ECAC race is just getting tighter. Once the sting of this loss goes away, we have to get back to basics and win some games.”
Little was one of many Eli forwards who struggled to find the back of the net over the weekend, and his personal scoreless streak now stands at four games. The high-flying Yale attack — which still scores at the greatest clip in the country — has usually been able to overcome a bad game from one of its star forwards. Over the weekend, however, the whole offense struggled, and the Bulldogs failed to score an even strength goal.
Instead, Yale scored all four of its weekend goals on the power play. But it allowed its opponents to score even more on special teams. The Eli penalty kill gave up five scores on 12 advantages to its opponents.
Despite the pair of losses, Allain was not entirely unhappy after the RPI game.
“If they bottled up that game and kept it up, I’d be proud of them,” he said of his team.
He had no such positive things to say, however, after the defeat at Union.
OUTHIT, OUTMUSCLED, OUTSKATED
For 20 minutes Friday night, Yale looked like the No. 1 team in the country. The problem was the other 40.
No. 12/13 Union outhit, outmuscled and outskated the Elis for the first two periods, then withstood a furious comeback attempt from the Bulldogs en route to a 3–2 win. The victory in front of a raucous home crowd followed Yale’s 5–0 win over the Dutchmen at Ingalls Rink in December.
“It feels great to have revenge,” said Union goalie Keith Kinkaid, who outdueled Eli counterpart Ryan Rondeau ’11. “They embarrassed us at Ingalls, and we got them back.”
The Dutchmen’s hunger for revenge showed from the opening seconds of the game. They won the opening faceoff and dictated play from then on. Union’s defense pushed Yale’s attackers around for the first two periods and stifled any hint of a Yale attack. The Dutchmen blitzed Rondeau from every angle and by the second intermission, the home team held a 30–17 lead in shots on goal.
“We weren’t getting back on defense fast enough, and that’s all the forwards’’ fault,” said forward Brian O’Neill ’12, who earned an assist on the night.
As Union’s defense proved that it has earned its rank as second-best in the country, its power play unit — which scores at the nation’s greatest clip — also put on a show. Just 14 seconds into the team’s first power play and 11 minutes into the game, freshman winger Daniel Carr picked up a rebound and roofed it over Rondeau to open the scoring.
Yale never recovered. Seven minutes into the second period, the Dutchmen widened their lead with another power play goal after Jesse Root ’14 — who was playing in his first game since sustaining a concussion at Harvard earlier this month — was sent off for interference.
Although Union dominated the second period almost as thoroughly as it did the first, Kenny Agostino ’14 gave the Elis some hope when his one-timer off an O’Neill power play feed cut the deficit back to a goal 13:39 into the stanza.
But the Dutchmen and their home crowd wouldn’t let Yale regain momentum. Adam Presizniuk made the score 3–1 with the game’s only even strength goal just 40 seconds later.
“Any time Yale gets a goal, you know that the momentum will change a bit,” Presizniuk said. “So you have to keep things simple … get pucks in deep. And that’s what we did.”
The Elis returned to the locker room after the second period needing a spirited comeback to avoid their third loss of the season. They came a bounce away.
“After the second period, we knew we were still in the game and we knew we hadn’t been close to our best in the first 40 minutes,” Martin said. “We believed. We just couldn’t quite do it.”
Yale controlled the entirety of the final 20 minutes. It outshot the home team, 13–4, and kept play in Union’s end for most of the frame. Although Martin made the score 3–2 when he crashed the net 12 seconds into a power play, Yale could not beat Kinkaid again, even during a frantic last minute with Rondeau sitting on the bench.
With the home crowd on its feet, the final buzzer sounded and the Dutchmen mobbed Kinkaid as if they had just won a playoff game. The Elis skated off listlessly.
“It’s not anything they did at all,” O’Neill said. “We just didn’t work hard enough.”
Yale outplayed No. 10 RPI for the majority of Saturday night’s game, but struggled to put the puck past goalie Allen York. The Engineers, meanwhile, capitalized on three of their first four power plays and rolled to a 5–2 victory at home.
“It was night and day from yesterday,” Little said. “We just didn’t get the goals.”
But the Engineers did not allow the quick counterattacks and odd man rushes that characterize the Eli offense. Yale was reduced to low percentage shots, and found itself stymied by York on its better opportunities. The sophomore netminder stopped 38 shots.
RPI struggled even more than the Bulldogs to generate an attack. The Engineers were outshot 29–9 in the first two periods, but made the most of their opportunities. They came to life on the power play, and beat Rondeau — who was replaced by Nick Maricic ’13 in the third period — four times on just ten shots.
“[The Engineers] were very effective. They got shots through, and they went in,” Allain said. “They didn’t get very [many opportunities] five-on-five.”
Engineer winger Patrick Cullen opened the scoring on the power play just three and a half minutes into the game with a long wrister that found its way through traffic. Down 1–0 after the first frame, Yale came back firing.
Denny Kearney ’11 knotted the game at one goal each with a deflection off of a hard shot by captain Jimmy Martin ’11. Seven minutes remained in the period and — with the boisterous crowd at RPI’s annual “Big Red Freakout!” momentarily silenced — it seemed Yale might be able to capture its first lead of the weekend.
But the Engineers seized the momentum back fewer than five minutes later when forward Josh Rabbani faked Rondeau out for the team’s second power play goal of the night. Despite four power play opportunities of their own in the stanza, the Elis headed into the locker room down 2–1, in large part due to York’s play.
“In the middle 30, [Yale] was scary, scary good and [York] was outstanding,” RPI head coach Seth Appert said.
RPI took full control of the game in the third. Brock Higgs widened the lead during a delayed penalty call against Ken Trentowski ’11 just 1:54 into the frame.
Down 3-1, the Elis needed to kill another RPI power play to get back in the game offensively. But a floating wrister by Engineer center Chase Polacek 39 seconds into the power play sealed the game for the home team and forced Allain to yank Rondeau in favor of Maricic.
Maricic turned aside every puck he saw, and Kevin Peel ’12 reinvigorated the Elis with 2:15 remaining when his power play goal narrowed the deficit to 4–2.
“We had hope then and we had hope the entire third period,” Martin said of the goal.
RPI crushed that hope when C.J. Lee scored on an empty Yale net with just over a minute to go. The home crowd roared, and the Engineers held their 5–2 advantage until the final whistle.
The Bulldogs will try to break their losing streak this weekend when they host Harvard and Dartmouth. Yale defeated both teams on the road earlier this month.