As the regular season came to a close, the Yale men’s ice hockey squad spent its spring break battling in the ECAC playoffs.
Having earned a first round bye, the Bulldogs (18–9–5, 12–6–4 ECAC) began their tournament play against the Harvard Crimson (21–12–3, 11–8–3 ECAC) in a best-of-three quarterfinal series. After three tightly fought games, Harvard emerged victorious, winning the series 2–1.
In the first contest of this quarterfinal matchup, the Elis hosted Harvard at Ingalls Rink and fell behind early to an aggressive Crimson offense that produced two goals early in the second period. Despite Yale’s regular season dominance against Harvard, the Elis seemed unable to corral the Crimson scorers with their typical brand of physical defense. Though Yale got back in the contest with goals from forward Cody Learned ’16 in the 19th minute of the second period, and defenseman Nate Repensky ’18 just three minutes later, the Elis had their hearts broken by Harvard star Jimmy Vesey who scored the game winner late in the third.
Though Yale proved itself capable of shutting down Vesey in the past, the standout forward finally broke through against the Eli defense for one of the most important goals of his season.
“We felt like we didn’t play nearly up to our standards on Friday,” forward Mike Doherty ’17 said regarding Yale’s opening loss to Harvard.
In the second contest of the series Yale came out desperate for a win. The Elis reasserted their normal brand of suffocating defense on a Harvard squad that had dissected the Elis just a game prior. Defenseman Mitch Witek ’16 opened Yale’s scoring with a goal in the third minute of the second period. While Witek and the defense kept Vesey and the Crimson offense at bay, forward Trent Ruffalo ’15 doubled the Elis’ lead in the third period with an unassisted goal just 30 seconds from the match’s conclusion. Ruffalo’s strike iced a much-needed Yale win and ensured a do-or-die third game of the series.
“I thought we played very well in the series against Harvard,” forward Frankie DiChiara ’17 said. “We did a lot of good things that we can take into the [NCAA] tournament.”
Finally, Yale hosted Harvard in the must-win conclusion to a playoff series between bitter Ivy League rivals. Finishing as a 3–2 overtime win for Harvard, the contest lived up to its billing as a matchup between two top hockey squads. Harvard’s Tyler Moy gave the Crimson an early advantage by netting a goal 10 minutes into the first period; however, Yale responded just 20 seconds later with a goal from Learned. As the second period opened, Yale rushed to an advantage when DiChiara took advantage of a power play to fire a goal in against Crimson goaltender, Steve Michalek.
Despite Yale’s forceful play, Harvard leveled the match once more in the 16th minute of the third period, forcing the match into overtime. With another goal, Jimmy Vesey returned to haunt the Elis, scoring the game-winner 16 minutes into the second overtime period. Once again, the Elis proved unable to contain Vesey’s scoring talents at a critical moment in the series.
Harvard’s overtime victory, which came after nearly two full periods of overtime play, was the longest contest in Harvard hockey history.
“We had a disappointing end to the Harvard weekend, but with recent pairwise changes we have the chance to win another championship,” forward John Hayden ’17 said. “We couldn’t be more excited.”
Yale’s season continues as the Elis open up the NCAA tournament against Boston University on Friday, March 27 in Manchester, New Hampshire.