The score was the same, the scenario was identical and the stakes were nearly as high. Just as the Yale and UMass Lowell 2013 men’s hockey teams went to overtime tied at two in an NCAA tournament semifinal with their postseason hopes on the line, so too did their 2016 counterparts on Saturday night.
Only this time, the victor was not the same — and neither will be the eventual national champion.
The No. 8 River Hawks (25–10–5, 12–6–4 Hockey East) avenged their 2013 Frozen Four loss to Yale with a 3–2 win in the NCAA regional semifinal over the No. 10 and third-seeded Bulldogs (19–9–4, 14–5–3 ECAC Hockey) in Albany, New York, 24 hours before No. 1 Quinnipiac knocked out UML in a 4–1 victory.
UMass Lowell forward Joe Gambardella scored the game-winning goal against Yale 1:37 into overtime, sending the Bulldogs home despite a 37–31 shot advantage, 28 saves by goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 and goals from forwards Frankie DiChiara ’17 and Ryan Hitchcock ’18. The River Hawk win ended the collegiate careers of the Elis’ eight seniors and finished Yale’s season with a 3–2 overtime loss in the NCAA tournament first round for a second consecutive year.
“I’m very proud of the way our team played tonight,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “Unfortunately, overtime is the bounce of the puck. The only thing I would change is the outcome.”
Unlike the teams’ 2013 national semifinal matchup, in which Yale jumped out to a 2–0 lead in the opening period, the River Hawks drew first blood on Saturday. Four minutes into the first frame, the Bulldogs’ defense, going after UMass Lowell forward Michael Louria near the right faceoff dot, cheated a bit too far towards the sophomore winger.
Louria looked up and found linemate Michael Fallon alone at the opposite circle, and Fallon beat Lyon stick-side.
UML continued to control play for a while, building up an 8–3 shot advantage in the first 12 minutes. That stretch included 1:05 of a River Hawk five-on-three, which the Elis managed to kill without trouble, and it saw UML outshoot the Elis 1–0 on Yale’s only first-period power play.
But with just under five minutes to go before intermission, the River Hawks turned the puck over in the Yale zone to forward Cody Learned ’16. Learned sent a pass over to DiChiara at the high slot, and DiChiara sent the equalizer through the legs of UML goaltender Kevin Boyle.
That seemed to turn the momentum, sparking a run of sustained Yale offensive pressure that lasted until the period’s final whistle. By the time the clock hit triple zeroes, the Elis had rallied off six straight shots to take a 9–8 lead in that category — including a near-goal on a shorthanded wraparound effort from forward Joe Snively ’19 — and the top two defensive teams in the country headed to the locker room tied at one.
The score remained that way for over half of the second period, as the teams traded offensive looks but failed to beat either opponent’s netminder. It took some beautiful puck movement and a rifle of a shot to break the tie, which came from two underclassman linemates.
Forwards Ted Hart ’19 and Hitchcock gained the UML zone with a series of passes between them, the last of which was ultimately sent by Hart. Hitchcock took his offer near the left dot and sent a blast over Boyle’s shoulder, giving the Elis a 2–1 lead with 7:48 to go in the second.
The teams closed out the penalty-free second period knotted at 20 shots apiece, and with Yale holding that one-goal advantage. Coming into the game, UML had been 0–6–0 when trailing after two periods.
“[UMass Lowell isn’t] a team that has a tradition of coming from behind, so I think another goal would’ve made all the difference,” Allain said.
The Elis had their best chance for the rest of the night to get that goal scarcely 20 seconds into the third period, when Snively got behind the River Hawk defense and had a clear breakaway on Boyle.
But the senior stopped Snively’s initial attempt, and Snively slipped going after the rebound — which lay next to the open net — to keep the teams separated by just one goal.
“I think I got kind of lucky there,” Boyle said. “I thought [the puck] was in my glove and it really wasn’t. I think I was maybe halfway to our bench at that point.”
Although the Bulldogs had the majority of offensive chances in the second period and start of the third, one Eli turnover near the team’s offensive blue line proved costly midway through the final frame.
Yale’s defense was caught out of position, and defenseman Anthony Walsh ’19 was left as the lone man back to cover a two-on-one against Gambardella and forward C.J. Smith. Walsh managed to help turn aside an initial River Hawk effort, but he ran into Lyon in the process.
Gambardella, trailing behind, knocked the puck into the open net, tying the score at two with 14 minutes to play in regulation.
Despite several attempts by the Bulldogs’ leading scorers and linemates John Hayden ’17 and Snively, the Elis could not reclaim the lead in the remaining minutes. Lyon and the Yale defense held UML off to end the third frame with a 2–2 tie, sending Yale’s NCAA tournament first round contest into overtime for the third time in as many tournament appearances.
The River Hawks had played the longest game in program history just a week earlier, a triple overtime win against Providence in the Hockey East semifinals, but they finished off the Bulldogs in just 1:37. On assists from John Edwardh and Chris Forney, Gambardella sent a hard shot between Lyon’s pads to score his second goal of the night — and send his team to the East Regional final.
“We had a lot of confidence,” defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16 said. “We were playing well. It just goes to show you how one little breakdown can end a season. Hats off to them. They played a great game.”
The 2016 Frozen Four, which will feature No. 1 Quinnipiac, No. 3 North Dakota, No. 5 Boston College and No. 6 Denver, begins in Tampa, Florida on April 7.