Winter break was anything but for the men’s ice hockey team, as the Bulldogs faced competitors not just in and out of conference play, but from across the globe as well.
On Dec. 27, Yale (9–4–2, 4–3–1 ECAC) took on Russia’s premier athletes from its Junior Hockey League when the Elis faced the Russian Red Stars at Ingalls Rink. Despite three weeks off from competition, the Bulldogs came away with a 2–1 victory.
Both Alex Lyon ’17 and Patrick Spano ’17 saw action in net, combining for a total of 23 saves. Yale drew first blood midway through the second period on a shorthanded goal by forward Mike Doherty ’17. The Red Stars fought back early in the third, putting one past Spano, but forward Stu Wilson ’16 made the eventual game-winner with a wrister when there was just under five minutes remaining.
Captain Tommy Fallen ’15 said that the team benefits from playing against the Russian All-Star team each season, especially coming off a fairly long break.
“The Russian game is something that Yale does every year. Although it is an exhibition game, it is still important for our team’s growth,” Fallen said. “It really doesn’t feel any different than league play.”
Meanwhile, forward and Chicago Blackhawks draft pick John Hayden ’17 was busy with the U.S. National Junior Team at the IIHF World Junior Championships in Canada. As an alternate captain, Hayden helped the United States squad into the quarterfinals with a goal against Slovakia in the third round. In the quarterfinal match against Russia, Hayden was named MVP despite the team’s loss. The forward is no stranger to international competition, having been a part of the U-18 team in 2013 that claimed the world championships silver medal.
Three days after the game against the Red Stars, Yale returned to regular-season play against Holy Cross (8–8–5, 7–3–5 Atlantic Hockey) and came away with a 3–0 win on the road. The shutout was Lyon’s first of the season and he managed to fend off 21 attempts on net by the Crusaders. The Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead after forward Trent Ruffolo ’15 crashed the net on a rebound off the Holy Cross netminder, and Wilson and Doherty were both able to convert on Yale power plays midway through the second.
The Bulldogs carried this momentum into their matchup against No. 9 Vermont (14–5–1, 7–3–1 Hockey East) on Jan. 3, coming away with a 3–1 victory that cemented their status as one of the top 20 teams in the nation. Yale slightly edged out Vermont in shots on goal, 27–21, and Lyon was solid against the relatively few threats he faced. Much of the action took place in the first — when Vermont struck less than three minutes in — and Yale fought back towards the end of the period with goals from forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 and Ruffolo. Doherty scored his third goal in three games midway through the second, and the Bulldogs’ defense was able to shut down the Catamounts’ offensive efforts for the rest of the night.
Forward Chris Izmirlian ’17 noted that the team is unfazed by the national rankings because it prefers to stick to the same plan regardless of the opponent.
“We don’t really focus on PairWise or any of the rankings,” Izmirlian said. “We just want to play a team game everyday and we don’t really care about anyone else … We just care about what’s in our locker room and [our] 20 or so guys.”
It wasn’t until Jan. 6 that Yale’s winning streak was finally snapped in a game against Northeastern (7–11–3, 3–7–2 HEA) where the Bulldogs were unable to hold on to an early lead. Forward Cody Learned ’16 and Ruffolo both put the puck in the net two minutes apart in the first, yet Northeastern bounced back with two of its own towards the end of the second. The Huskies completed their comeback effort with a power play goal with less than four minutes remaining after a tripping call on defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16 put the Bulldogs a man down.
“I think you’re going to have your ups and downs in any season,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said of the loss. “We talked about some of the things we thought we did well and some of the things we didn’t do well and we moved on.”
After their win against Harvard on Saturday night, the Bulldogs now sit at seventh place in the ECAC standings. Yale’s next matchup takes place this Friday at 7:30 p.m. in Providence against the Brown Bears.