After an unbeaten streak lasting eight games and 56 days, the No. 11/12 Yale men’s hockey team suffered its first defeat of 2016 on Friday night to Union before rebounding on Saturday with a 3–0 shutout win over No. 16 Rensselaer.
The split weekend dropped Yale’s place in the PairWise rankings, which penalize home losses more than road losses, from No. 10 to No. 13 in the nation. Still, with two points in the conference standings, the Bulldogs (12–5–4, 7–4–3 ECAC Hockey) remained the fourth-place team in ECAC Hockey.
Though the Bulldogs had difficulty finding the net in a 2–1 loss to the Dutchmen (10–9–7, 3–7–4) with their only goal coming just minutes into the first period, they largely remedied the scoring problem against the Engineers (14–6–6, 6–2–6). Three goals on Saturday, including two in the first 20 minutes and a flawless performance from goaltender Alex Lyon ’17, sealed the 13th shutout of Lyon’s career.
“I thought we played pretty well on the weekend,” defenseman Anthony Walsh ’19 said. “On Friday night the team worked really hard, but we needed to find a way to capitalize on our scoring chances more.”
All three goals in Yale’s loss to Union came within the first four minutes of a period, the first being a Yale goal just 2:24 into the contest. Forward Cody Learned ’16 raced to get possession of a pass from defenseman Adam Larkin ’18 in front of the net before finding fellow forward Carson Cooper ’16 at the top of the crease. Cooper fired a wrist shot past goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos for his first goal of the season.
The Bulldogs later launched several accurate shots right at Union goaltender Sakellaropoulos, but of the 10 on target in the period only Cooper’s would make it into the net. A killed penalty from each side left the score at 1–0 at the end of the first frame.
“I’m not so much worried about the chances or the goals,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “We have to be better in the details of our game.”
After the break, the Dutchmen had some luck of their own just a few minutes in. Union forward Spencer Foo took advantage of an Eli line change to find a breakaway before firing a shot past Lyon to tie the game at one.
The goal, which came after 16 saves from Lyon, ultimately gave the Dutchmen the momentum they needed to win the game.
“Definitely an opportunity lost,” Cooper said. “When we were off, they capitalized. We made some bad plays, some bad changes that cost us. Thankfully it’s not too late in the season to learn from that.”
Yale’s best chance in the second period came on a Union power play, after forward Frankie DiChiara ’17 drew a slashing call on the Yale end of the ice and had to be separated from a Union player before making his way to the penalty box. During the ensuing Union man advantage, forward Mike Doherty ’17 made his way to the net and fired a shot that hit the pipe and bounced away from the goal.
Just 23 seconds after being released, DiChiara would once again find himself with a two-minute penalty — this time for a holding call. During the rest of the period the New York native would get off three hard shots on goal, but none made it past Sakellaropoulos.
The Bulldogs entered the third period tied at one, but the draw was quickly broken by the Dutchmen. During a scrum on one side of Yale’s net, a shot rebounded off Lyon’s pad to Union forward Brendan Taylor on the other side, giving an opportunity to score quickly before Lyon could reposition himself.
Despite nine shots in the third, Yale could not capitalize on any of its opportunities. Lyon was pulled from the net with a minute to go, but a penalty called on forward JM Piotrowski ’19 would offset the extra forward on the ice. No score from the Bulldogs in the third resulted in a 2–1 Union victory, the opposite result from the two teams’ overtime contest in November.
“We played in spurts,” Allain said. “We had a number of players who weren’t involved positively for us, and you can’t win a team game unless you have the whole team going for you.”
On Saturday, facing the threat of their first multigame losing streak in almost two months, the Elis answered the call to recover with a win.
Yale dominated from the first faceoff, sending 11 shots in the direction of RPI goaltender Jason Kasdorf before the Engineers could respond with even one of their own. Six minutes into that stretch, a scramble in front of the RPI net allowed defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16 to get a shot off through traffic to score his first goal of the season and establish an early lead for the Elis that would only continue to grow.
“Saturday night was arguably our best start of the year,” Walsh said. “We were much more effective offensively and were skating very well right from the start.”
Eight minutes later, a Yale defender would once again find the net. Walsh received a difficult pass along the blue line from Larkin before firing a shot into the top corner and out of the reach of Kasdorf, giving the Bulldogs a 2–0 lead with six minutes remaining in the first period.
After the goal, Walsh was quick to credit his teammates, including Larkin, who earned his second point of the weekend with the assist.
“It all started with [forward John] Hayden ’17 working hard to pursue a loose puck and win a battle,” Walsh said. “Larkin did a great job, making a quick pass across the blue line, and with Hayden screening the goalie, the shot found a way to beat him high over his right shoulder.”
Despite a sequence of shots in the middle frame, the score remained the same heading into the final 20 minutes.
RPI fired another 11 shots on goal in the third period, its highest total in a single period. But Lyon blocked all attempts, even after at one point being knocked to the ground by RPI forward Jesper Öhrvall during a threatening Engineer possession. The netminder, who is now second in the nation in both goals against average (1.56) and save percentage (0.940), finished with 29 saves on as many shots in the game.
The final goal of the night was also characterized by offensive skill from a Yale defenseman. Ryan Obuchowski ’16 outran a RPI player down the right side of the rink before sending a perfect pass to Learned, who put it away to bring the score up to 3–0. The victory would snap a six-game unbeaten streak for the Engineers.
“I thought we played a very complete game on Saturday,” Walsh said. “Lyon made some huge saves for us in the net, which always helps give the team confidence knowing we have arguably the best goalie in the country behind us.”
Yale played both games without the help of forwards Andrew Gaus ’19, Nate Repensky ’18 and Ryan Hitchcock ’18, who were out due to injury.
The Bulldogs are now just one point in the conference standings ahead of Dartmouth, which they host Friday at 7 p.m.