The scene at Ingalls Rink after the final ECAC quarterfinal game was, to Yale fans, upsettingly similar to Saturday’s spectacle at the Palestra in Philadelphia. Disbelief and shock on the faces of the players. Devastated fans in blue. Celebrations by the men in red.
Saturday afternoon saw the men’s basketball team lose on a last-second basket to archrival Harvard, eliminating the Ivy League co-champion Bulldogs from the NCAA Tournament.
On Sunday night, the Crimson again beat Yale — this time on the ice — to advance to the ECAC semifinals against Quinnipiac next Friday. The loss came in the second overtime when Harvard star forward Jimmy Vesey, who led the ECAC in points this season, scored with 3:14 remaining in the period to give the Cantabs a 3–2 victory over the Elis.
“You know, that’s a good team and we went toe-to-toe with them,” said Yale coach Keith Allain, who was recently named Ivy League Coach of the Year. “I’m incredibly proud of this group, given what they’ve accomplished this year, what they’ve done in a season like this … They should be proud of themselves.”
With the loss, the Bulldogs — regular season Ivy League champions — drop to No. 18 in the PairWise rankings. Only 16 teams make the NCAA Tournament, and one of those spots is likely to go to an automatic qualifier from outside those top 16 teams. While there is still hope, the Yale team must wait until noon next Sunday, March 22, to find out if it earned an at-large bid to the tournament it won just two years ago.
Harvard, meanwhile, is still in contention for the automatic bid that goes to the ECAC Tournament champion. The Cantabs join Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence and Colgate in Lake Placid, the site of the semifinal and championship games.
In the regular season, Harvard finished sixth in the ECAC. Yale was third, defeating Harvard all three times the two squads met before the playoffs began.
“To be quite honest, there’s a ton of respect for their coaching staff, their team,” Harvard coach Ted Donato said. “There’s a great group of seniors there that won a national championship, and that to me is deserving of a great amount of respect.”
Harvard’s Tyler Moy drew first blood at the 10:05 mark in the first period, but in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it play, forward Cody Learned ’16 tied it up just 21 seconds later. Teammates Carson Cooper ’16 and Frankie DiChiara ’17 assisted.
Yale was 0–1 during first period power plays, but the Bulldogs had better luck in the second. While Moy sat in the box after getting called for interference, DiChiara scored his eighth goal of the season slightly after the 10-minute mark in the period.
DiChiara took the shot from far up the right side, but Harvard’s Steve Michalek was unable to deflect the puck. The goal came halfway through the two-minute power play. Defensemen Nate Repensky ’18 and Rob O’Gara ’16 earned assists.
But Yale did not make it easy for itself. Harvard defenseman Patrick McNally, in his third game back from an injured leg suffered on Jan. 23 against Cornell, tied the game up with just 3:30 remaining in regulation. McNally shot from just beyond the left faceoff circle, and Yale goalie Alex Lyon ’17 was nearly helpless considering the amount of traffic around the goal.
But Lyon rebounded, making 15 saves in the first overtime alone. His most impressive came six-and-a-half minutes in, when Harvard forward Luke Esposito came free on a breakaway. Lyon’s season-saving poke check stopped the opportunity and elicited cheers from the crowd.
Halfway into the first overtime, Yale had its best chance of the period. Cooper blasted the puck from the left side, but Michalek deflected it with his body.
Only five minutes later, the Bulldogs found themselves playing down a man when the referees called a major penalty on forward Matt Killian ’15 for hitting from behind. Killian was disqualified from the game, and Yale played the rest of the period with four men. The player that Killian took down — McNally — got up immediately.
In an unfortunate twist, it was McNally who assisted Vesey on the final goal.
“They saw a floss, you know, then got the rebound,” Allain said. “Vesey was right there, their most dangerous player was right there, and scores the goal.”
That goal ended the three-game quarterfinal series, and potentially Yale’s season as well. When all was over, Lyon was credited with 42 saves. Michalek earned the same amount.
In the regular season, Lyon led Division I goalies with a save percentage of 0.940. He played to that average against Harvard, as the three goals represented only 6.7 percent of all shots taken.
“Alex was Alex,” Allain said. “That’s how I would describe him. He’s one of the best goalies in college hockey and tonight he played like it.”
Prior to this series, Yale’s last defeat at Harvard’s hands was in a 2012 ECAC quarterfinals game in Boston.