Last Friday’s loss against St. Lawrence was characteristic of how the hockey team has played this season, but Saturday’s victory against Clarkson might indicate that things are on their way up.
The team played a strong first period Friday but was outskated in the second and fell into a 3–1 hole. In the third period, the Bulldogs picked things up and managed to tie the game with just 34 seconds remaining. But with the crowd’s hopes running high, the Elis gave up a power play goal two minutes into overtime, which caused at least one Yale skater to smash his stick and sent the Yale fans into the night shaking their heads.
Friday’s game was emblematic of the Bulldogs’ entire season — two periods of great play, ruined by 20 sluggish minutes and a bad break in overtime. Such inconsistent performances have led to the team’s 10–11–2 overall record and its seventh place standing in the ECAC.
At this point, the Bulldogs will need to make a run in an ECAC postseason tournament filled with strong teams if they are to earn a bid to the same NCAA Tournament in which they were the favorites last year.
After a season in which the Bulldogs earned their first ever national No. 1 ranking and held it for two months, anything short of a conference title and an appearance in the Frozen Four was going to disappoint the Yale faithful this year. But with the team in the bottom half of the conference, and its NCAA hopes hanging in the balance, many Yale fans have been left scratching their heads and wondering what has gone wrong.
In reality, this is not the same team fans saw last year. Last year’s group set the bar high, but nine of the players who made that success possible graduated in May. Forward Charles Brockett ’12 said the Class of 2011 was a big asset to the program.
“They were an unbelievable group of guys, both talent-wise and leadership wise,” Brockett said. “They did a great job of leading by example. That’s apparent in the fact that seven or eight of them play professional hockey right now.”
On the defensive side, the most painful departure may have been goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11. Rondeau entered the season as a question mark with little experience, but the Albertan proved superb all season and ended up first in the nation in shutouts with six, second in goals against average at 1.92 and third in save percentage at .928.
Jeff Malcolm ’13, another player who entered the season without much experience, has taken to the net in Rondeau’s stead. Unlike Rondeau last year, however, Malcolm has not been a consistent shot-stopper. Recording three straight shutouts in November against Colgate, RPI and Union, Malcolm came out of the gate on fire. But this year’s netminder, also from Alberta, has cooled off since then. He has posted a 3.36 goals against average since the team’s 4–0 win over Union on Nov. 12.
But the defense in front of the goal has also taken a hit. The team graduated three defensemen last year, each of whom played at least 34 games. The group included the team’s captain Jimmy Martin ’11. Allain filled those gaps with four players, three freshman and Gus Young ’14, who played only five games last season.
Perhaps the most noticeable change to observers has been the offense. Last year’s high-octane attack skated circles around opponents, scoring 100 goals through the team’s first 23 games. This year’s team has tallied just 78 goals through as many contests, nearly one goal fewer per game.
The most obvious explanation is the loss of three of the team’s top four goal-scorers. Broc Little ’11, Denny Kearney ’11 and Chris Cahill ’11 scored 19, 16 and 15 goals respectively, behind only current captain Brian O’Neill ’12, who tallied 20.
Last year’s team thrived off depth, with its top six forwards combining for 234 points. But this year’s team has been inconsistent past the first line. The top six forwards have combined for just 122 points thus far.
Last year’s team could rely on its older players almost exclusively, and Agostino was the only freshman who saw regular ice time. Allain has consistently rotated five freshmen through the lineup this season, and although the Class of 2015 has been brilliant at times, the squad has been less consistent from top to bottom.
O’Neill said the transition to a younger lineup has hit speed bumps, although the team is improving.
“We have a lot of younger players that are getting acclimated to our style of play and that takes time,” O’Neill said. “But we’re starting to gel as a team, and we’re getting more comfortable on the ice.”
The good news is that the season is not over yet. After Friday night’s disheartening loss to St. Lawrence, the Elis got back on the ice and played one of their strongest games this season against Clarkson, a team higher in the ECAC standings than St. Lawrence. The Bulldogs thumped the Golden Knights 5–1 in front of a sold-out Ingalls Rink. Although Yale fell behind 1–0 just two minutes into the game, the Elis bounced back and scored five straight behind solid goalkeeping from Malcolm. After the game, forward Andrew Miller ’13 said that the win could give the Elis some much needed momentum.
Winning a postseason tournament is all about getting hot at the right time. Although this season has not gone according to plan so far, and time is running short, there is still a long way to go for the men’s hockey team.
“For the past couple weeks, we’ve put together one really good game, and one night that hasn’t gone our way,” Brockett said. “Coming out and making sure that we’re consistent not only this weekend but also heading into the last two weeks of the season is extremely important heading into the postseason.”
The Bulldogs have six games remaining before the ECAC tournament, which begins March 2.