For a heart-stopping moment, it seemed as though the script had flipped. Three months ago, the No. 11 Yale men’s hockey team managed to escape the Bright Hockey Center in Boston with a 2–2 tie at No. 7 Harvard due to a last-minute goal by forward Joe Snively ’19. But on Saturday, it was the Crimson — visiting Ingalls Rink and down 2–1 in the final 15 seconds — that was on the attack when the puck bounced free to its All-American forward Jimmy Vesey, standing directly in front of the Yale goal with an open half-net just inches away.
And then Vesey swung — and, somehow, almost entirely missed the puck, connecting just enough to send it rolling slowly to the right of the goalpost, and ultimately to send Harvard back to Cambridge with its 10th loss at Yale in its last 14 tries.
Harvard’s Jimmy Vesey misses a golden chance to tie it in the closing seconds. Yale 2-1 final. pic.twitter.com/LprU50zFpd
— Chip Malafronte (@ChipMalafronte) February 7, 2016
“My heart’s still at about 120 beats a minute, I think,” Yale goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 said after the game. “I was pretty shocked … when it slipped off [Vesey’s] stick. And I know him pretty well, so I feel for him, but I’m happy it happened.”
It was a moment of good fortune for the Elis (14–5–4, 9–4–3 ECAC Hockey) in a set of games when they did not seem to need much of it, as the Bulldogs throttled No. 20 Dartmouth (12–10–1, 9–7–0) 5–1 on Friday, a day before the victory over the Crimson (13–6–3, 9–4–3) pulled Yale into ties for second place in the ECAC standings and for No. 9 in the PairWise Rankings.
Even with seven skaters sidelined due to injury, Yale had perhaps its most impressive weekend of the 2015–16 campaign, dominating a Big Green team that had won six of seven before coming to Ingalls and then coming from behind to knock off its historic rival at the sold-out Whale. Lyon finished with 46 saves on 48 shots, and the forward line of Stu Wilson ’16, John Hayden ’17 and Snively led Yale with a combined five goals and 10 points.
“I think with being down in numbers, it sharpened our focus a little bit,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “Everyone was on task, and it was a great team weekend.”
Friday’s game saw the Bulldogs square off against Dartmouth, and after having to come back from an early 2–0 deficit in Hanover in November before winning 4–2, it was Yale’s turn to open against the Big Green with an explosive offensive start.
Two goals, both by Wilson, on the home side’s first three shots set the tone for the contest, during which the Elis wound up outshooting the visitors 36–22. In both of Wilson’s tallies, which were separated by just 47 seconds, the senior took advantage of a loose puck in front of the net for a quick shot and score.
“[Hayden, Snively and I] felt [ourselves working well together] in practice and it wasn’t really showing on the scoreboard, but [Friday] we kind of broke through,” Wilson said.
Dartmouth soon responded, converting a two-on-one chance for a goal on Lyon. But a highlight-reel backhanded score from Snively, all while falling to the ground, before the end of the period re-established a two-goal margin, and the Bulldogs would only extend their lead from there.
After forward Cody Learned ’16 scored the Elis’ first shorthanded goal of the season early in the second period, Dartmouth replaced its starting goaltender Charles Grant with James Kruger, who stopped all 13 shots he faced in the frame. The Elis, however, killed all four second-period Dartmouth power-play chances and held onto a 4–1 lead as the final period began.
Kruger did not hold his clean sheet for long, as Hayden rounded out the game’s scoring with a one-timer, off a Snively pass, through the senior goalie’s legs on Yale’s first shot of the third period. Lyon was never seriously challenged in the final 20 minutes, and his team finished the contest with its most lopsided win of the 2015–16 conference season.
“We’ve played a number of good games this year, but I was really pleased with the way we played [on Friday],” Allain said.
Saturday was not nearly so comfortable for the Bulldogs, as a sluggish Yale start opened the door for the visiting Crimson to jump ahead. Harvard drew first blood when Vesey collected a pass from linemate Alexander Kerfoot and buried the puck into a wide-open net at 9:55 into the first.
Nevertheless, Vesey’s goal seemed to wake the Elis up, and Yale was quick to respond with a tally of its own. Less than two minutes later, Hayden finished off a Bulldog possession with a shot from directly in front of the goal after receiving a perfect pass from Wilson. The score was the third point of the weekend for Hayden, who leads the team with 12 goals on the season, and the fourth point of the weekend for Wilson.
The first period and a half featured few notable scoring chances other than the two goals, but midway through the second frame, the Yale offense began to take control. During a 90-second stretch in which Yale kept the puck in the offensive zone and Vesey lost his stick, Learned fired a shot through traffic that clanged off the post and off the back of Harvard netminder Merrick Madsen before bouncing in to change the scoreboard for the final time on the night. Learned, who had just one goal in the team’s first 20 games, has scored in each of its last three.
“The line before us had a great shift, so the Harvard guys were tired,” Learned said. “We trapped them in their end. [Defenseman Dan O’Keefe ’17] made a good pass to me down low and I saw an opening and brought it to the middle and got a shot on net. Luckily it went in.”
But the Crimson began seriously threatening the Bulldogs early in the third period with a series of close offensive attempts. Yale star defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16 was called for two penalties in the first half of the period, the second of which was a contact-to-the-head infraction that disqualified him for the rest of the game. O’Gara will also miss next Friday’s game against Colgate due to the penalty.
Forward Henry Hart ’18 served O’Gara’s five-minute major, forcing Yale to skate four-on-four for two minutes and down a man for another three. In total, Harvard had six and a half minutes with a man advantage due to either power plays or an empty net, which meant Lyon had to save 18 shots in the final frame.
Though Harvard almost evened up the score during a whirlwind final 90 seconds, Lyon and his defensemen stood strong, denying three Crimson shots and surviving Vesey’s golden opportunity.
“[There were] puck battles, they took sticks … They were playing desperate hockey,” Allain said. “We were playing just as desperately to keep it out of our net and I think that’s what you see at the end of a really good hockey game.”
With three regular season weekends still to play, Yale heads up to Colgate on Friday and to No. 17 Cornell on Saturday for another pair of pivotal ECAC showdowns. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m.