This past weekend was circled on the calendar of the No. 10 Yale men’s hockey team as a highlight of the Bulldogs’ early-season slate. But after two disappointing losses and an injury to its All-American goaltender, Yale moves forward with just one game before winter break to get itself back on track.
In front of a sellout crowd Friday at Ingalls Rink, Yale (5–4–2, 3–3–2 ECAC Hockey) fell 3–0 in a highly-anticipated matchup with No. 2/3 Quinnipiac (15–0–2, 6–0–2), dropping the Elis to 0–2–1 against top-10 teams. The next night, with Yale facing a Princeton team (4–8–0, 3–5–0) that came to New Haven having not defeated the Elis in 11 straight tries, starting goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 was hit by a shot in pre-game warm-ups, leaving netminder Patrick Spano ’17 to take the net in a 4–2 loss.
“[Friday] night was an emotional one,” forward Frankie DiChiara ’17 said. “We came in [Saturday] and we thought it was going to be a little bit easier than [the night before], but at the end of the day we can’t play hockey that way. We have to respect our opponent every night no matter who we play.”
Quinnipiac arrived at Yale on Friday looking to extend its then-15 game unbeaten start, the longest for a Division I team since 1995. The Bobcats’ first-ranked defensive unit shut down the Bulldog offense for most of the first period, limiting the Elis to just four shots on goal. After a power-play opportunity just 12 seconds into the game and several early chances, Yale could not manage a shot against Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig for a span that listed nearly 15 minutes.
Nevertheless, it did not take much time for Quinnipiac’s seventh-ranked offense to convert on its own opportunities at the beginning of the second period. At just 1:31 into the frame, Quinnipiac forward Tim Clifton took a pass near the left side of the crease from Bobcat forward Soren Jonzzon and slipped the puck past Lyon’s glove.
Although the Bulldogs managed to keep Quinnipiac off the scoreboard for the remainder of the period — Yale allowed just six shots on goal during the second — the Bobcat defense continued to stymie the home team’s attack. The Elis entered the game averaging 11.2 shots per period but were held to just 12 in the first and second frames combined.
The Bobcats doubled their lead right at the outset of the third period, when Quinnipiac forward Landon Smith grabbed the puck near the Yale bench and rifled a blast into the top left corner.
Yale responded with a threatening possession that lasted several minutes early in the third period, highlighted by a shot from forward Ted Hart ’19 that beat Garteig but hit the left pipe. Defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16 had the best Eli chance for the remainder of the game after slicing through two Bobcat defenders, but his shot was saved by Garteig, who was ultimately able to finish the shutout. Another 3–0 win for Quinnipiac over Brown the next night brought Garteig’s shutout count to six, which leads the conference.
“He’s a quality goaltender,” Yale head coach Keith Allain ’80 said of Garteig. “I thought we were slow to shoot on a couple of occasions, we put a couple right in his belly, but he did a nice job, for sure.”
With under two minutes to play, Bobcat defenseman Devon Toews, assisted by Jonzzon, sealed victory for his team with his third goal of the season.
Four man-advantage opportunities in the game yielded no scoring for the Bulldogs, whose power-play unit ranks 12th in the nation with a 23.4 percent success rate.
“I thought it was a pretty even game,” Allain said. “They were able to capitalize on their scoring opportunities, and we weren’t.”
On Saturday, Yale returned to Ingalls hoping to bounce back with a win over Princeton in its final ECAC contest before winter break. The Elis had already faced the Tigers once this season, opening their 2015–16 campaign with a 3–1 victory against Princeton in the Capital City Classic at the end of October.
But the circumstances of this game quickly changed before it even started, with Lyon getting injured. Spano had not seen ice time since Nov. 29, 2014, when he started against RIT in a game that resulted in a shutout victory for the Bulldogs.
“I’ve got nothing but respect for that kid,” Allain said of Spano. “He prepares everyday, he works his tail off. To be thrown into that situation is very, very difficult, and I think he handled it really well [on Saturday].”
Playing his first minutes in over a year, Spano faced his toughest challenge of the game in the first period. Although the Bulldogs bested the Tigers in shots in every period and served up some noteworthy attempts of their own, it was Princeton who was presented with the best scoring opportunities.
The Tigers entered the first power play of the game nearly 13 minutes into the contest, yet they only took one shot during the two-minute stretch. Twenty-one seconds after the penalty clock ran out, a Princeton forward intercepted a pass from Spano behind the net, giving forward Garrett Skrbich a free shot in front of the net to put the Tigers on the scoreboard.
“My defenseman told me to leave [the puck], and I tried to pass to him,” Spano said. “It was my mistake. They got possession [and] they got the puck in front.”
Just 10 seconds later, the Tigers would once again be celebrating. An unorganized line change by the Bulldogs immediately after the goal handed Princeton another chance to get ahead.
According to Allain, it was mistakes like these that that prevented the Elis from winning despite outshooting Princeton 39–31 in the contest.
“We had momentum,” Allain said. “I thought we had them right where we wanted them and then we didn’t put the puck in the zone when we should have. We had a sloppy line change and they scored. You make your own bed.”
The second period kept the score at 2–0 in favor of the Tigers, although each team had several chances during two power plays per side in the frame.
Yale fought through more than three consecutive minutes of Princeton power play at the start of the third period, including 37 seconds of a 5-on-3 Princeton advantage. The Bulldogs held the Tigers scoreless on four power plays, finishing with the best penalty-kill rate in the conference at a 93.5 percent.
Nearly halfway through the third period, defenseman Anthony Walsh ’19 knocked down a Princeton clear attempt with his glove to set up a shot that would find its way over the shoulder of Princeton goaltender Colton Phinney and into the back of the net. The goal was the first of the weekend for Yale after a total of 109 minutes of hockey, and also the first of Walsh’s collegiate career.
Less than two minutes later, forward John Hayden ’17 would tie up the game on a power play with 8:40 on the clock.
But the Eli momentum did not last for long. A shot from Tiger forward Ryan Siiro with four minutes remaining would once again give the Princeton the lead, which they extended to 4–2 with an empty-net goal 18 seconds before the end of regulation. The defeat extended Yale’s losing streak to three games.
“We’ve got a lot of things to look at,” DiChiara said. “We’ve got one more game going into the break, and it’s a big one next week. We’ll be ready to go.”
That game, played on Friday at home, will be against No. 11/12 Boston University, which defeated Yale 3–2 in overtime in the first round of last season’s NCAA Tournament.