As the regular season nears its end and competition for a spot in the NCAA tournament heats up, the Yale men’s ice hockey team finds itself in the middle of a tightly packed ECAC after a dramatic win on Friday and a loss on Saturday.
On Friday night before a sold-out crowd at Ingalls Rink, the Bulldogs faced off against Harvard (12–8–2, 8–6–2 ECAC) in their third meeting of the season. Yale (13–7–3, 8–6–2) completed its season sweep of the Crimson with a extraordinary performance from goalkeeper Alex Lyon ’17, in which the Bulldog netminder became Yale’s career leader in shutouts with seven only midway through his sophomore season. Lyon stopped all 24 shots, while three different Bulldogs found the back of the net.
Defender Adam Larkin ’18 noted that the team’s success this season against its long-time rivals owes itself largely to the Bulldogs’ defensive prowess. In games against the Crimson this season Lyon has allowed just two total goals.
“Our team defense, for the most part, has been stellar all season. Against Harvard, it all clicked, and everyone was contributing defensively every time we played them,” Larkin said. “When we play that way, we get offensive chances from our defense, and we were able to put up some goals against them this season. Every player that played against Harvard this season had a role in helping shut down their offense, and it translated [into] wins for us.”
Both teams were unable to score in the first, and it was not until the second period that the Elis began to settle into the groove offensively and were able to draw blood against Harvard netminder Steve Michalek. The first goal came off of the stick of forward Stu Wilson ’16 as he put one up and to the right after the assist from John Hayden ’17. Hayden, who currently leads the team along with fellow forward Mike Doherty ’17 with 12 conference points this season, put up one of his own on a one-timer from Chris Izmirlian ’17. Although play was heated throughout, with a few scuffles between the two teams during the final two periods, Lyon continued to come up big for the Bulldogs in their own end and Harvard was unable to get on the scoreboard. With less than two minutes remaining, forward Cody Learned ’16 put the game away with an empty netter.
Sadly Yale had a different ending Saturday night against Dartmouth (11–8–4, 8–6–2), when the Bulldogs saw their three-game winning streak snapped by the Big Green. Despite attempts at a comeback throughout the game and outshooting them 39 to 28, Yale was unable to overcome Dartmouth’s prolific offense, eventually falling 6–4.
Captain Tommy Fallen ’15 attributed the difference between Friday and Saturday night to a lack of the rock-solid defense they displayed against the Crimson.
“Unfortunately we were not ready to go as a team right from the first puck drop,” Fallen said. “We fought to get back into the game, but what really led to the outcome on Saturday was our lack of defensive discipline.”
Dartmouth took control of the game early on, scoring under two minutes into the first. Yale fought back with a shorthanded goal by Doherty, but the Big Green were there to answer twice more before the first 20 minutes of play were up. The Bulldogs once more tried to equalize the game after a power-play goal by blueliner Mitch Witek ’16 midway through the second, but just as before, Dartmouth was there to answer with one of its own three minutes later and another before the period was over.
In the third, Patrick Spano ’17 replaced Lyon in net and Larkin notched his first collegiate goal within the first five minutes. A power-play goal by Wilson put the Bulldogs within one, yet the Big Green had one last answer to close out the match.
Despite the loss, which drops Yale to No. 18 in the PairWise rankings and two places out of an NCAA tournament spot, the weekend did feature some considerable improvement in terms of offensive production for a Bulldog squad that had been struggling to convert on its scoring opportunities.
“I think over the last few weeks we’ve been generating a lot more quality scoring chances and capitalizing on them more which bodes well for ourselves heading forward,” forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said.
After these two games the Bulldogs find themselves with 18 points and in a four-way tie for third in the ECAC with Harvard, Clarkson and Dartmouth while Cornell and Colgate are just one point behind at 17. Meanwhile, St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac now have a relatively comfortable lead over the rest of the conference with 24 and 27 points respectively.
This weekend Yale will face off against Union and RPI in New York on Friday and Saturday.