In an important weekend for the No. 15 Yale men’s ice hockey team’s postseason hopes, the Bulldogs followed up a tough 2–0 loss to No. 3 Union on Friday with a resounding 5–0 victory over Rensselaer on Senior Night.
But the Elis’ chances of making the NCAA Tournament rest on a strong showing in the conference tournament, where they will face Harvard in a best-of-three first round series next weekend at Ingalls Rink.
“I like the way we played Friday night, even though we didn’t get the result,” said captain Jesse Root ’14. “It was great that we got a lot of chances. Eventually they’re going to go in, and we saw that [Saturday] night. Hopefully we can become a little more consistent in our scoring.”
Heading into the final weekend of conference play, Yale (15–9–5, 10–8–4 ECAC) hoped to sweep the Dutchmen and Engineers and clinch a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament. Union (24–6–4, 18–3–1), however, has been a powerhouse all season, ranking first in the conference in both team offense and team defense.
After an early lapse that allowed Union’s Sam Coatta to get space and score on Yale goaltender Alex Lyon ’17, the Bulldogs buckled down and put up 49 shots against the Dutchmen. That number was the most Union had allowed all season.
Despite those opportunities, including a frantic second period that saw the Elis take 20 shots, the Bulldogs were unable to capitalize. Union found the scoreboard again just 39 seconds into the third period to bring its lead to 2–0, where it would remain.
The loss ensured that the Bulldogs would host a series in the first round of the ECAC tournament next week—missing out on a first round bye—but Yale’s seeding still depended on Saturday’s result against Rensselaer (14–14–6, 8–9–5).
Saturday’s game was the final regular season home match for Yale’s three seniors: Root, defenseman Gus Young ’14 and forward Kenny Agostino ’14. With 81 wins, a conference championship and a national title over four years, the 2014 seniors are among the most decorated classes to skate at Ingalls.
“They kind of mean everything right now,” Obuchowski said. “Throughout the years our seniors have done a good job of leading. They’re a great class on and off the ice.”
But the additional emotion stemming from the pregame introductions of those seniors may have started Yale on the wrong skate. The Bulldogs managed just nine shots in the first period, and more glaring was the Bulldogs’ inability to convert on two power plays.
But whatever head coach Keith Allain ’80 said during the first intermission worked, because the Elis came out firing. Yale allowed just three shots during the second period and garnered 18 of its own, including a rebound shot from Root that found the back of the net and gave the Bulldogs a 1–0 lead at the 9:12 mark.
“The result was just a bit better, but our process remained the same,” Root said. “We’ve been focusing on our forecheck structure for a while and it’s just coming together for us. It was a hard fought first period and we wore them down a little bit, and that paid off in the second and third periods.”
In the third period, the Bulldogs made their move. Just 2:25 into the stanza, forward Anthony Day ’15 took the puck on a two-on-one advantage and wristed a shot above RPI goaltender Scott Diebold. Ten minutes later, the Bulldogs struck again when defenseman Matt Killian ’15 unleashed a long pass from deep in the Yale zone to the blue line. Forward Frankie DiChiara ’17 collected the puck, skated down and put a shot on goal, which was mishandled by Diebold into the net to extend the Yale lead to 3–0 with 7:40 left.
In the final two minutes, the Elis poured it on, scoring two more: a power play goal from forward Mike Doherty ’17 and a slapshot from defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16.
Goalie Alex Lyon ’17 registered his second career shutout with 18 saves in the game, but just ten of those came in the final two periods as the Yale defense snuffed out many Engineer opportunities before they developed into shots.
“We played excellent team defense,” Obuchowski said. “Lyon played a good game, making stops when he needed to. We’ve been focusing on our defensive zone coverage and the game against RPI was a culmination of our hard work.”
Despite the Yale victory, Clarkson’s tie with No. 8 Quinnipiac means the Bulldogs and the Golden Knights are tied for fifth in the conference. Becase overall conference wins serve as the second tiebreaker, the Elis will take on rival Harvard in the conference tournament’s first round instead of facing league-worst Princeton, which has just four conference wins.
Yale has already faced Harvard three times this season, coming away with a tie and a victory in conference play and a win at Madison Square Garden in the inaugural Rivalry on Ice game.
“I think it helps to know your opponent, but at the end of the day it’s playoff hockey,” Root said.
Friday and Saturday’s games will be at Ingalls Rink at 7:00 p.m. Sunday’s game, if necessary, will also be at 7:00 pm.