As the old saying goes, defense wins championships. But offense is enough to snap losing streaks.
After a seven-hour drive to upstate New York, the men’s hockey team dropped a disappointing 3–2 decision to a struggling St. Lawrence team (9–15–5, 5–11–1 ECAC) Friday night. But Yale finally ended its four-game road losing streak the next night at Clarkson (13–14–2, 7–9–1) as Brian O’Neill ’12 caught fire and led Yale’s vaunted attack back to life in a 6–3 victory.
The offensive outburst, however, was not enough to preserve the Elis’ grip on first place in the ECAC. No. 9 Union — which beat Yale two weeks ago — won its sixth and seventh consecutive games over the weekend and moved into full possession of the top spot with just four regular season games left to play. The Dutchmen lead by a razor-thin one-point margin, but control their own destiny in their bid to end Yale’s two-year reign as ECAC regular season champion. With just four regular season games left to play, the Elis need to win at least one more game than Union to win the championship.
Just one month ago, it would have seemed foolish to question Yale’s grip on the ECAC title. On the night of Jan. 22, the Bulldogs had completed a sweep of the other 11 teams in the ECAC with a convincing 5–1 victory over St. Lawrence. They had lost just one conference contest — the second leg of a home-and-home series with Brown. At the time, that match seemed an aberration for the surging Bulldogs, who were ranked No. 1 in the country. But the loss has instead been part of a trend in Yale’s second set of conference games.
The Elis went 11–0 their first time playing ECAC teams this season. After this weekend’s split, they are a mediocre 3–4 in their second cycle through the conference. The slump comes at a bad time, as the games become more meaningful with each passing week. The conference tournament is less than a month away, the NCAA tournament less than two.
FOUR IN A ROW
None of the dominance Yale displayed in its Jan. 22 thrashing of St. Lawrence was apparent Friday night.
The Elis’ away-game difficulties continued against the Saints (9–15–5, 5–11–1) as the Bulldogs were unable to bridge a two-goal gap their opponents opened in the first period. The Saints rode their early advantage and momentum throughout the game, and Yale could not make up the difference.
“We haven’t been ready to play on the road in the past month, and I think this is just getting a little bit ridiculous for us,” Brian O’Neill ’12 said. “I think everyone knows that they have to prepare better and play better, and hopefully it doesn’t happen again.”
St. Lawrence didn’t waste time getting on the board Friday night. The Saints’ Riley Austin found himself with the puck on the left point after a lucky bounce, and teammate Sean Flanagan tapped in his pass inside the near post.
The home squad continued to out-skate and out-play the Bulldogs throughout the first stanza. Though Yale accrued 10 shots to St. Lawrence’s nine, none of the Blue’s attempts could seriously threaten goaltender Robby Moss, who stood tall in net throughout the night with 31 saves. The goalie foiled a good shot Jimmy Martin took from the right circle in the opening frame, and prevented Andrew Miller from dodging his outstretched leg pad to put the puck away.
The Saints widened their advantage to 2–0 on a power play in the 14th minute. Nick Pitsikoulis notched his eighth goal of the season when he blasted a rebound in from the low slot.
“We didn’t play well enough to win,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 told Yale Athletics after the game. “We had poor puck decisions and we didn’t skate as a team.”
Miller finally generated an offensive spark for Yale in the second period. The sophomore attacker got the puck after O’Neill intercepted a clearing attempt at the blue line, and wove through two defenders before wristing in the puck from the low slot. The Saints received a hooking penalty at the same time as the goal, but quickly killed off the advantage and any momentum the Miller-O’Neill work had precipitated. Instead, St. Lawrence’s Aaron Bogosian gave his team its two-goal lead back with an even strength marker late in the second period.
The Elis narrowed the deficit after Antoine Laganiere ’13 backhanded the puck inside the right post, but could not catch their stalwart opponents. Allain pulled goalie Ryan Rondeau ’11 with 56 seconds left and Broc Little ’11 nearly sent the game to overtime when the puck shot toward his position on the left post. But the puck flew wide, and the buzzer sounded on Yale’s fourth consecutive road loss.
Allain kept his comments to the team brief after the game, O’Neill said.
“Obviously he wasn’t happy, nor should he be,” O’Neill said. “We know we didn’t play a good game and we didn’t deserve to win.”
BACK TO LIFE
O’Neill’s second-period assist against St. Lawrence had not been enough to spark a comeback for his team. Against Clarkson, he made sure his team would not need to rally for the win.
O’Neill — who led Yale in points last year and now leads the team again — tallied his first career hat trick and Brendan Mason ’11 doubled his season output with two goals as Yale rolled to a 6–3 victory over Clarkson.
“We didn’t feel good about last night, and we responded the way a good team should,” Allain said in the postgame press conference. “We had all four lines going and playing well.”
Clarkson seemed poised to give the Elis another difficult night when Julien Cayer brought the home crowd to its feet just three minutes into the game. Then O’Neill went to work.
Yale was on its second power play of the game when Kenny Agostino ’14 threaded a pass through the defense to O’Neill in the slot. O’Neill froze Clarkson goalie Paul Karpowich with some nifty stickhandling, then backhanded the puck into the net to tie the game at one.
Andrew Miller ’13 had the other assist on the play and two total on a night that showcased his chemistry with O’Neill. The pair has played together all season, and — along with winger Chris Cahill ’11 — has proved to be the team’s most dangerous line. Miller’s teammates voted him best passer at the beginning of the season, and he has deployed that skill to feed the crafty O’Neill — who despite his diminutive, 5’9” stature can often be found fighting for space in front of the net — and the bigger Cahill.
The trio — who occupy three of the top four spots on the team’s scoring chart — padded their statistics with six points Saturday night. Agostino, who plays with O’Neill and Miller on the power play, added two assists.
Mason’s two goals, meanwhile, put an exclamation point on the weekend for the checking line — which typically focuses on shutting down opponents’ top scorers but managed to contribute a third of Yale’s goals over the weekend.
Mason’s first tally made the score 3–1 toward the end of the first period. Chad Ziegler ’12 had given the Elis the advantage when he knocked home a rebound just 92 seconds after O’Neill’s goal, and Mason’s score ensured that Clarkson would not threaten again.
Two O’Neill goals in the second period made the score 5–1 before Clarkson could beat Rondeau — who finished with 22 saves — again, and the Elis cruised to the win.
The Elis will spend next weekend on the road as well as they take on Quinnipiac and Princeton on Friday and Sunday, respectively.