Backstopped by goalkeeper Alex Lyon’s ’17 dominant 20-save performance and a 42-shot, four-goal-offensive outpouring, the Yale Bulldogs defeated their century-old rival — the Harvard Crimson — officially opening up a Rivalry on Ice win streak of two.
Since their first meeting in New York in 1900, Yale and Harvard have established themselves as two of the most dominant teams in collegiate men’s ice hockey. Both teams count an NCAA tournament title among their accomplishments — Yale most recently in 2013 — and the two squads have claimed a total of 10 ECAC championships since the league’s inception in 1961.
Yale and Harvard’s storied tradition consists of 245 games in eight different cities, a series Harvard has taken 140–86–19. But almost none of those games have seen a national stage comparable to number the 246th matchup. At 8 p.m. last Saturday, Yale and Harvard faced off in the 2015 Rivalry on Ice, a game hosted at Madison Square Garden. Last year, in the inaugural Rivalry on Ice, Yale took the game decisively, clinching a 5–1 win.
Early in the first period, both Yale and Harvard seemed to be firing blanks. Crimson goaltender Michalek made some big saves early, highlighted by a huge back-door stop near the five-minute mark. Lyon held on to what few shots were sent his way. Part of Lyon’s success in the first period can be attributed by his early ability to control rebounds, a theme that resounded throughout the rest of the game.
This stalemate was broken midway through the first, however, as forward Chris Izmirlian ’17 put one past Michalek on a point-blank blast assisted by defender Adam Larkin ’18. The goal marked Izmirlian’s second of the season and was followed up a little over three minutes later by another Eli goal scored by Charles Orzetti ’16 off of a rebound from Michalek’s pads. Despite initially being called back on a late offsides ruling, the referees later reinstated the goal, ruling that the puck was put back into play by a Harvard attempt to clear the zone. The Bulldogs dominated the remainder of the first and racked up a 16–5 shot advantage against the Cantabs heading into the second frame.
Yale seemed to be pulling away early in the second after forward Matt Killian ’15 notched a goal off of his own rebound, his second of the season. Yale’s poise early in the second and its ability to grab a third goal reflected not only team cohesion but also the necessity of maintaining pressure and winning the little battles against a dangerous opponent.
“We want to beat Harvard every time we play them in everything we do,” Mitch Witek ’16 said. “We come out hard when we play here and every time we play them.”
By the midpoint of the second period, Yale was dominating the shot count by a staggering 20–5 margin. Yet Harvard fought back, led by none other than one of the nation’s most lethal forwards, Jimmy Vesey. Property of the Nashville Predators, Vesey cradled an odd man rush back-door pass across the crease and around Lyon, sliding the puck into the open net to make the game 3–1.
The momentum seemed to swing Harvard’s way, as it began to match Yale shot for shot after going nearly 10 minutes without registering an attempt. Two Yale penalties — both for hooking — fed into this changing of tides and left Yale short-handed against a team with a 28.6 percent power play conversion rate, the third-best in the country.
However, Yale was able to maintain their composure, and much of that had to do with Lyon.
“I turned to Lyon [after Vesey’s goal] and he just gave me like a little shake of the head, a calming look, and [I think] that carries over, he’s one of the leaders on our team, and that calming presence helps a lot,” Killian said.
Four minutes of five-on-four later, the score was held at 3–1. And just as quickly as it had come, Harvard’s momentum swing had passed. Minutes later in the second, Harvard added an interference penalty. Likewise, however, Yale was unable to convert. The second period ended 3–1, with shots 31–12. After two, Yale looked to be in control.
While intermissions can often swing a game, known to often kill momentum and allow the losing team to regroup, the second intermission did no such thing. The Bulldogs jumped out early, applying deep pressure on Michalek, a goalie worn by upward of 40 shots. The aggressive forecheck quickly paid off, as Yale capitalized a few minutes into the period off of a deep wrist shot from Witek — his first goal of the season — that extended the Bulldogs’ lead to three. And while Harvard’s offensive efforts were rewarded with a power play, they were yet again unable to convert against a Yale squad backstopped by a hot Lyon. Yale finished the game dominantly, with a score line very similar to that of last year’s Rivalry on Ice contest. The shot count, however, that was very different. All shots tallied, the count was 42–21.
“We preach team first, and we play as a unit,” Izmirlian said after the game. He later added, “And I think that shows when we play Harvard.”
The Bulldog’s next matchup is at Brown on Friday. Jan. 16.
This story has been updated to reflect the version published in print on Jan. 12.