ATLANTIC CITY, NJ — In the end, Colgate could only beat the odds so many times.
Yale pulled away in the third period and ended the surging Raiders’ Cinderella dreams with an emphatic 4–0 victory Friday afternoon in the ECAC semifinals. As the Elis (26–6–1, 17–4–1 ECAC) pulled away from the streaking Raiders (11–27–3, 4–15–3), they simultaneously clinched a spot in the conference tournament championship game and the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.
Although the Raiders finished the regular season last place in the ECAC, they caught fire late in the year and rolled to playoff upsets of RPI and Union — which had beaten Yale out for the conference’s regular season title.
“They were clearly the league’s hottest team,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “And they gave us everything we could handle.”
But everything Colgate had was not enough. Although the Raiders held Yale scoreless through the first period, the Elis exploded with three goals in the third period and goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11 anchored the Eli victory with his fifth shutout of the season.
The senior broke the school season shutout record with his 22-save effort, but he said the personal mark was the last thing on his mind on Friday. The senior netminder has been a fixture for Yale all season — a marked change from last year, when Allain started a carousel of four goalies.
Rondeau has ridden the starting role to the second-best goals against average and save percentage in the country, but received no end of season accolades from the ECAC for his performance. On Friday, he may have been the most valuable player on the ice. Captain Jimmy Martin ’11 called the goalie’s steady play in net crucial, as Yale led by no more than a single goal through the end of the second period.
“The two words that come to mind are steadiness and a sense of calm,” Allain said of Rondeau.
While Rondeau ensured that the Raiders never set the red light flashing, Colgate forward Brian Day said the Yale win stood as a testament to entire Bulldog squad. On offense, linemates Chris Cahill ’11, Brian O’Neill ’12 and Andrew Miller ’13 buoyed their team with a combined seven points and the two of the Elis’ four goals.
That production from Yale’s top scoring line was one familiar element in a game that looked on the surface unlike a typical conference contest, as the teams squared off in Atlantic City’s Boardwalk Hall — a vast converted theater with high arched ceilings and a gold-column flanked stage. The Elis also saw an unfamiliar site in the stands: empty seats. The small crowd that turned out to cheer on the teams was also dwarfed by the massive arena.
The game, however, was typical Yale. The Bulldogs struggled to get on the board early but wore down Colgate with their relentless speed and offensive outbursts.
“You look down for a second, and all of sudden they have a forward flying at the other end,” Colgate assistant captain Francois Brisebois said.
Cahill’s second-period strike immediately after a faceoff broke a scoreless tie that Colgate already seemed to have ended five minutes earlier. The Raiders appeared to grab the lead 18 seconds into the second period, but the referees waved off the goal after determining the puck had been kicked into the net.
Colgate could not muster any more serious scoring chances until after Kenny Agostino ’14 widened the Yale lead to 2–0 early in the third period. The rookie forward knocked in the rebound of a Miller shot to notch his 11th goal of the season.
Miller’s next shot didn’t have a rebound. He all but sealed the game with a perfectly-placed wrister that snuck under the crossbar with five minutes left in the final frame, ensuring that Yale would not suffer the kind of collapse it did against St. Lawrence after losing a similar two-goal, third-period lead in the first game of the ECAC quarterfinals.
“I’d say that was a pretty outstanding effort in the semifinals of a championship hockey game,” Allain said of Miller, who tallied two assists along with his goal.
Antoine Laganiere ’13 scored an empty net goal in the closing seconds and Rondeau stopped a slew of dangerous last-ditch efforts by the Raiders, who will have a chance to reclaim playoff success in Saturday’s consolation game.
The Elis celebrated little after their win, and immediately turned their minds to Saturday’s championship game against Cornell, which defeated Dartmouth, 3–0 iin the second semifinal game.
“Our first priority is to eat, get plenty of fluids, and prepare for tomorrow,” captain Jimmy Martin ’11 said.
The puck will drop against the Big Red in Boardwalk Hall at 7:30 p.m. Saturday.