The story of the Yale men’s hockey team’s senior class is not yet complete. But as the Elis’ slate of remaining games begins to run short, those seniors are starting to write that story’s final chapters. And with the ECAC Hockey and NCAA tournaments still to come next month, the team’s veterans have a lot of work left to do for their tale’s ending to match its beginning — a 2012–13 national championship for the then-freshmen.
But having members of the squad’s class of 2016 play the hero on both nights of their Senior Weekend is certainly not a bad way to start that conclusion.
On Friday night at Ingalls Rink, it was a goal from defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16 with just 63 seconds left that lifted the No. 8 Bulldogs (18–5–4, 13–4–3 ECAC Hockey) to a 4–3, back-and-forth victory over No. 18 St. Lawrence (16–12–4, 10–7–3). The next night, against No. 20 Clarkson (16–13–3, 8–9–3), the Elis clawed back from a 1–0 deficit to defeat the Knights 3–1, with forward Stu Wilson ’16 netting the game-winner with just 2:29 remaining on the clock. The perfect weekend, Yale’s third in a row, extended the team’s Division I-best winning streak to seven games, six of which have come against opponents that were ranked at the time of the matchup.
“I thought we were good early on to start the year, and it’s impressive how much we’ve improved as a team … I think we’re doing the right things at the right time,” goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 said. “That being said, you can’t be satisfied.”
In addition to adding two tallies to their win total, the Elis added two healthy bodies back to their lineup. Forwards Chris Izmirlian ’17 and Ryan Hitchcock ’18, who both missed every game of the unbeaten run prior to Friday, played both nights.
Not only did the pair return to the ice, but they contributed on it as well, combining for four points. Izmirlian scored on Friday and recorded an assist on Saturday, while Hitchcock did the reverse.
“It’s definitely a lot nicer [having them back],” Obuchowski said. “You’re not as tired after every game. And those guys are great players, and they’re definitely playmakers out there.”
And the Bulldogs needed every skater they could get over the weekend, as both games — the first against SLU an up-tempo, seesaw contest, and the second against Clarkson largely a grinding, defensive struggle — came down to the wire.
Friday saw the Saints jump out to leads in each of the first two periods, only for Yale to respond with a goal of their own before the clock struck zero. In the second frame, the Eli equalizer came from defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16, whose rocket of a one-timer was his first shot since returning from a two-game suspension that kept him out of the lineup last weekend.
The Bulldogs finally pulled ahead early in the third period by way of a backhanded goal from Izmirlian. After nine minutes of the Yale advantage, however — the longest that either team held a lead — St. Lawrence’s Tommy Thompson evened the game at 3–3 with just over seven minutes to play.
But with scarcely over a minute left, Obuchowski took a stretch pass from forward Joe Snively ’19 and snapped the game-winner over Saint netminder Kyle Hayton, sending the sellout crowd into a frenzy.
“The guys did a good job scrumming the puck on the wall just inside our blue line. When they chipped it out, I saw an opening,” Obuchowski said. “I knew we needed a goal there, so I decided to jump up in the rush and Joe made a nice pass … When [Hayton] slid across, I knew he was a smaller goalie so I had to definitely get it up.”
That game marked the first time since Dec. 4, a 3–0 loss to No. 1 Quinnipiac, that Lyon allowed more than two goals in a contest. And the All-American goalie had an uncharacteristic start to Saturday as well, allowing a slow first-period shot slid towards the goal by Clarkson defenseman Aaron Thow to slip through his legs and into the back of the net.
That would be the last puck to get behind the junior on the weekend, however, as Lyon stonewalled all 18 shots he faced afterwards, including a highlight-reel, side-to-side save on a Clarkson power-play look late in the same frame.
“Alex was fantastic [on Saturday]. He let in one goal. That’s a pretty good performance,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “He made a huge save in the first period, we were already down by a goal, and that might have been a game-saving save, really.”
The Knights outshot Yale 11–9 in that first period, but momentum began to shift in the second frame, with the Eli attack taking control for several stretches. The Bulldogs were finally rewarded about five minutes into the third when Snively scored a remarkable wraparound goal in which the freshman skated from outside the left faceoff dot, around the back of the goal and to the right post, beating Clarkson goaltender Greg Lewis to that side of the net.
Snively, Wilson and forward John Hayden ’17, whose line has been the catalyst for Bulldogs during their unbeaten streak, came through once again with time running short to put the Bulldogs on top for good. This time it was Wilson who lit the lamp, finding a rebound off a Hayden shot and scoring the go-ahead goal for Yale.
“I tried to get [the shot] around [Lewis] because he was down,” Wilson said. “I almost missed the net, to be honest — I think it hit the far post [and came back] the other way. A little bit of a blur after that, it was crazy.”
The play marked yet another goal from the line which has emerged as Yale’s most dynamic offensive threat. Wilson, Snively and Hayden have combined for 27 points during the win streak — 41.5 percent of the team’s total of 65 — and 11 of the team’s 24 goals.
Hitchcock scored an empty-netter with a second left to finish off the game quite literally — the buzzer sounded nearly simultaneously with Hitchcock’s goal, cueing the Elis to pour off the bench in celebration — and to finish off the Bulldogs’ regular season home schedule.
But Yale will get at least two more games at Ingalls: Having locked up a top-four spot in the ECAC standings for the second-consecutive year, the Elis will host a best-of-three ECAC Tournament quarterfinal round series beginning March 11 at the Whale.
Before that, however, the Bulldogs will close out their regular season on the road next week. Yale goes up against ECAC cellar-dweller Princeton on Friday in New Jersey and against ECAC leader Quinnipiac on Saturday in Hamden. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m.