The No. 7 Yale men’s hockey team had won eight games in a row, the most recent coming this past Friday in the Elis’ most lopsided victory of the 2015–16 season. But 24 hours later, in the team’s final matchup before the postseason, the Bulldog train was brought to a screeching halt by the top-ranked squad in the country.
Yale (19–6–4, 14–5–3 ECAC Hockey) closed out its regular season with a split weekend, as the team pummeled ECAC cellar-dweller Princeton (5–21–3, 3–16–3) 6–0 on Friday to secure a share of the Ivy League title before falling 4–1 against No. 1 Quinnipiac (25–2–7, 16–1–5) the following night. Saturday’s game in Hamden lengthened the Elis’ winless stretch in the Battle for Whitney Avenue to eight games, and a balanced Bobcat attack coupled with a phenomenal performance by Quinnipiac goaltender Michael Garteig took away the dominant Yale play that had characterized the Elis’ previous octet of contests.
“I didn’t like our game tonight,” head coach Keith Allain ‘80 said after the loss. “The game was disjointed and sloppy at times.”
The weekend as a whole, on the other hand, opened in a very different way for the Bulldogs.
For all of Princeton’s struggles this season, the Tigers had played Yale exceptionally tough in both of their prior meetings. The first, a 3–1 season-opening Eli victory at a neutral site, was knotted at one goal apiece for about 55 minutes. The second, a 4–2 upset win for Princeton at Ingalls Rink, was marked by a pregame injury and subsequent scratch of Yale’s All-American goaltender Alex Lyon ’17.
But on Friday, the Bulldogs raced out to an early lead and never looked back. Forward JM Piotrowski ’19 opened the scoring less than five minutes in, and the Elis would light the lamp three more times in the first period.
That trio of goals, which was bookended by scores from defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16 and forward Carson Cooper ’16, included the first career goal of forward Henry Hart ’18. On that play, Hart skated out from behind the Princeton net and sent a backhand shot over Tiger goaltender Colton Phinney.
Forward Stu Wilson ’16 continued his blistering-hot February with a goal in each of the remaining two periods, and Lyon earned his fifth shutout of the 2015–16 campaign, turning away all 20 Tiger shots he faced. On the other end of the ice, Yale sent 50 pucks at Phinney.
The win put the Elis atop the Ivy League standings with Harvard, giving Yale its second consecutive title in the intraconference league.
“The Princeton game showed the chemistry we’ve built and the depth we have,” forward John Hayden ’17 said.
Saturday’s contest, however, proved a much greater challenge for the Elis. In their return to Connecticut, the Bulldogs were simply unable to overcome the Hobey Baker candidate Garteig, the Bobcats’ high-powered offense and the electric atmosphere of the High Point Solutions Arena.
Still, the game seemed to start auspiciously for the Elis. Just 1:26 into the first period, defenseman Dan O’Keefe ’17 managed to put the puck past Garteig on the first shot he faced. What appeared to be O’Keefe’s own first career goal took the air out of a raucous Quinnipiac student section.
But the air came right back into the yellow-clad crowd when, following a video review, official Chip McDonald skated back onto the ice and signaled that the goal had been waved off due to a goalie interference call.
The students, who stood behind Lyon’s net in the first and third periods, helped intensify the passion of what Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold called an “emotional” game. Three penalties were called in the first period as the result of post-whistle shoving matches, and at one point in the frame, McDonald held a prolonged talk with captains Mitch Witek ’16 from Yale and Soren Jonzzon from Quinnipiac.
“It’s never an issue getting up for this one,” Garteig said.
The Bobcats drew first blood when freshman forward Scott Davidson collected a puck that bounced in front of the net and knocked it home to give his team a 1–0 lead 12:17 into the game.
While the score would remain the same until after the first intermission, that was only due to a remarkable glove save by Garteig on Hayden, who had chances on breakaways throughout the night but was unable to beat the senior netminder.
“He’s a good goalie,” Hayden said. “But I could’ve done a better job.”
The Bulldogs did manage to find an equalizer, however, as forward Chris Izmirlian ’17 punched in a bouncing puck of his own. Izmirlian gave a noticeable wave to the Bobcat students following the goal, but it only made them louder seven minutes later when forward Tanner MacMaster found the back of the net off a long rebound.
Yale continued to unravel in the third period. Just five minutes into the frame, forward Mike Doherty ’17 was sent to the locker room after committing a charging major and receiving a subsequent game misconduct penalty.
Faced with a five-minute Bobcat advantage, Yale’s top-ranked shorthanded unit stood tall, just as it has all season. The Bulldogs’ penalty kill, which is at a 0.941 clip, is on pace to surpass Michigan State’s Division I record of 0.920, set in 1999.
But just three minutes after the penalty was up, the Bobcats extended their lead when a long slapshot by defenseman Luke Shiplo made the score 3–1.
“I really thought we’d get great momentum from the penalty kill,” Allain said. “But it actually drained us.”
Down two goals and fighting to stay in the game with time slipping away, the Bulldogs, who pulled Lyon from the goal with just over two minutes to go, watched any comeback chance vanish as forward Tim Clifton fired a shot into the Elis’ open net to bring the score to its final of 4–1.
Unless Yale and Quinnipiac face off in the ECAC Hockey or NCAA Tournament this postseason, the Bulldogs will remain winless against the Bobcats for a full three seasons, their last victory coming in the 2013 NCAA Tournament final. Garteig, a senior, took specific pride in his 5–0–3 record against Lyon, who remains at the top of the national leaderboards with a 0.941 save percentage and 1.51 goals against average.
“I think Alex Lyon is one of the best, if not the best in the country, but I don’t think I’ve ever lost to Alex Lyon,” Garteig said. “And I’m not saying that I’m above and beyond him as a goalie, but I think me and him have a really good goalie battle going on with each other.”
With a second-place finish in the ECAC standings, Yale has a first round bye in the conference tournament and will begin its postseason play with a best-of-three series at Ingalls Rink beginning on March 11. The Bulldogs’ opponent will be the second-lowest seed remaining after this upcoming weekend, as the ECAC reseeds after the opening round.