The Yale men’s hockey team had two first-team All-Americans and its top six scoring forwards coming back for another season. The Elis had perhaps the best goaltender in the country turning down professional hockey interest to return to campus. They had uncommonly high expectations, both from inside and outside the locker room. But they had no record, and they had waited long enough.
And when the puck at last dropped on their season Friday night, the Bulldogs were ready.
No. 15 Yale (2–0–0, 0–0–0 ECAC) swept the Capital City Classic in Trenton, New Jersey, affirming its nationally ranked status by dealing two teams their first losses of the season. After a season-opening 3–1 win over Princeton (1–1–0, 0–0–0) on Friday night, the Elis took down UMass (4–1–1, 0–0–1 Hockey East) 6–1 on Saturday for the event championship.
“With Ivy League rules, we have to start a little bit later than most teams,” forward John Hayden ’17 said. “We’ve been bringing a lot of hard work the last couple months, so it’s good to get out there. And obviously our work paid off, because we got two wins.”
Forward Mike Doherty ’17, the team’s leading goal scorer last season, lit the lamp early in Friday’s contest against the Tigers, who were picked to finish last in ECAC hockey by both the coaches’ and media’s preseason polls.
Doherty took a loose puck near the crease and put it past Princeton goaltender Colton Phinney, opening Yale’s scoring just 1:06 into the team’s 2015–16 campaign.
“On that play, I just sort of got lost while our [defenseman] had the puck up high,” Doherty said. “I tried to get to the net in case there was a rebound. I was able to get to the rebound and squeeze it by their goalie.”
The Tigers quickly responded, however. Twenty-two seconds later, Princeton’s Eric Robinson found the back of the net, beating goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 on a redirect.
Although the Bulldogs controlled puck possession and would outshoot their Ivy foes 44–29 on the night — including 19–5 in the second period — both teams failed to score for the next 55 minutes. That stretch looked reminiscent of a Yale team that saw its share of struggles finishing on offense a year ago: though the 2014–15 Elis ranked 12th in Division I in shots per game, they finished 38th in goals per contest.
But Yale broke through against Princeton with just 3:04 left in regulation. Forward Joe Snively ’19, racing into the offensive zone, won a battle for the puck behind the Princeton net. He then found forward Chris Izmirlian ’17 coming across the blue line, who took Snively’s pass and rifled a low blast past Phinney. Hayden sealed the victory for Yale, hammering home a power-play empty-net goal with 26 seconds remaining.
“We knew if we kept playing our game and stuck to our Yale hockey systems, it would eventually pay off,” Hayden, who was on the ice for Izmirlian’s game-winner, said. “We didn’t know if that would be in the second or the third period, so we were determined and, honestly, I wasn’t surprised when [Izmirlian’s shot] went in.”
Yale burst out the following night in the tournament championship game, backed by another strong performance from Lyon. Against a then-unbeaten UMass team that had scored four or more goals in each of its five prior games, Lyon turned away 25 of the 26 shots he faced, making him 53 for 55 — a 0.964 save percentage — to start the season.
On the other side of the ice, a balanced Eli attack scored twice in each period by way of five different Bulldogs. Not until late February did the 2014–15 Bulldogs send six pucks through the pipes in a single game.
“Getting that first game [against Princeton] really gave us some confidence going into Saturday night,” captain and defenseman Mitch Witek ’16 said. “UMass plays a very skilled game, so we had to make some adjustments, but on the whole we felt pretty good going into it.”
Doherty again headed the team’s charge, drawing first blood for the Elis on the power play when he buried home a rebound off a shot from defenseman Charlie Curti ’19 just 4:51 into the game. Hayden added another tally four minutes later, scoring his second goal of the season.
When forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 put the rebound of his own shot behind Minuteman goaltender Henry Dill for Yale’s third goal midway through the second period, UMass head coach John Micheletto pulled his starter and replaced Dill with Nic Renyard.
The change did little to stop the Bulldog offense. Snively capped off the Elis’ second-period scoring with his first collegiate goal, an unassisted effort. In the third period, Yale scored twice more on the power play, courtesy of defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16 and Snively, to build its lead to a 6–0 advantage. The Minutemen would ultimately spoil Lyon’s shutout bid with just over five minutes remaining.
“I think we just were trying to keep things simple,” Doherty said of the team’s success on the power play. “We concentrated a lot on our breakouts and faceoffs so we could have as much possession as possible. But mostly [success on the power play is] just making plays and getting pucks to the net and seeing if you can cause some scoring opportunities.”
On the defensive end, Yale’s penalty kill unit, which led Division I a season ago at over a 90 percent clip, picked up right where it left off last winter. The Bulldogs snuffed out all six power plays their opponents had this past weekend, with Witek crediting the unit’s efficiency to its teamwork and movement.
Still, the team sees room for improvement as it prepares to open ECAC hockey play this upcoming weekend.
“We just need to work on our details,” Hayden said. “Obviously it’s early in the season, so the more we practice the better we will be at our systems.”
The Bulldogs, who open their season with six road games, move on to play at No. 11 Harvard on Friday and at Dartmouth on Saturday. Both games are scheduled to start at 7 p.m.