Down 2–0 with three minutes left, the No. 16 Yale men’s ice hockey team stormed back on Saturday night against Rensselaer to earn a split in a pair of road games in upstate New York this weekend, after blowing a lead the night prior.
The Bulldogs (2–1–0, 1–1–0 ECAC Hockey) started the weekend in Schenectady against No. 20 Union (8–2–1, 4–0–0) and lost the 3–2 lead they held entering the third period to fall to a disheartening 5–3 reverse. The next night against RPI (2–6–1, 1–3–0), a sweep looked likely as the Bulldogs faced a two-goal deficit with three minutes to play. However, three power-play strikes, with the tying goal and overtime winner coming from captain and forward John Hayden ’17, lifted the Elis to an unlikely victory.
“We had moments in both games where our team looked great and moments where we didn’t look so great — that’s the way the game is,” forward Frankie DiChiara ’17 said. “We have to be able to stay even-keeled and control our emotions, and I think we did a good job of that, especially on Saturday night. [It] starts from the top with our coaching, our upperclassmen and even our underclassmen.”
On Friday night, the Bulldogs came up against a high-powered Union offense featuring the nation’s top scorer in captain and forward Mike Vecchione. The Elis flew out of the blocks, as Hayden appeared to score on the Bulldogs’ first shot on net, only for the officials to wave it off after review as the net was dislodged before the puck crossed the line.
Yale kept its offense humming, jumping out to a 2–0 lead with two power-play goals in less than a minute from defender Adam Larkin ’18 at 14:44 and 15:20.
However, the Yale power play slipped up in the second period, as Vecchione took a pass from forward Spencer Foo on a short-handed two-on-one break before deking past goaltender Patrick Spano ’17 to score at 3:01. This tally marks the first goal the Bulldogs have conceded short-handed since the 2013–14 season.
Forward Ted Hart ’19 restored Yale’s two-goal advantage four minutes later at 7:37, wristing a shot through the five-hole of goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos.
This proved to be the high point of the night for the Elis. Union cut the deficit in half at 14:30 on the power play, as defender Jeff Taylor smoked a slap shot from the point. The goal was Taylor’s 11th point this season, tying him for the lead among NCAA defender, and the first power-play goal that Yale have allowed this season.
The Engineers scored the equalizer four minutes into the third on a Luc Brown goal at 3:42. Vecchione then scored the eventual game-winner at 15:43 after a tremendous individual effort by Foo, who stickhandled through the Eli defense before dropping off a pass to his unmarked captain in front of the net. Vecchione capped off the night with a short-handed, empty-net goal for his second hat trick of the season, after the Bulldogs pulled Spano for an extra attacker late in the third.
Coming off that frustrating defeat, the Elis traveled to Troy to face an RPI team that dropped two games to Union last weekend. The Engineers frustrated Yale further, holding them off the scoresheet for the first 57 minutes of the game, before the Bulldogs rallied for the victory.
“The keys to Saturday were discipline and resilience,” Hayden said. “We maintained structure and executed our plan from the first till overtime. We were willing to shoot the puck — it’s important to not pass on shooting opportunities in our league.”
RPI took the lead at 15:25 of the second period after a delayed penalty against Mike Doherty ’17. Before the Elis could even touch the puck to earn a whistle and start the penalty, Engineer forward Drew Melanson fired a rocket from the point past Spano.
RPI extended their lead on the power play with just over five minutes left in the game, as defender Viktor Liljegren hammered home a laser past a screened Spano for his first goal of the season.
Facing an Engineer penalty-kill percentage that led the nation entering the game, the Bulldogs roared back to life in enthralling fashion, finding a scrappy power-play goal to halve the deficit. Larkin wristed a shot on goal, and DiChiara found himself on the doorstep to push the rebound over the line at 17:01.
Thirty-four seconds later, Doherty took a penalty to leave the Bulldogs short-handed, but with a minute to play, RPI was called for a holding penalty. With the net empty and Doherty charging out of the box to put the Elis at a six-on-four advantage, Hayden came up clutch and drew his team level, finding the five-hole from the faceoff dot with 18 seconds left.
“Our power play was clicking this weekend,” DiChiara said. “With the new rules in college hockey there’s going to be a lot of penalties called so our special teams need to be ready to go when we’re called upon. We just … didn’t panic if things weren’t going right. We kept at it and that’s what made it successful.”
With just four seconds remaining in regulation, Engineer forward Jared Wilson was called for holding, handing the Bulldogs a power-play opportunity heading into overtime.
Twenty-three seconds into the extra period, Hayden found a loose puck outside the crease and flicked a backhanded shot into the back of the net, giving the elated Elis an unlikely victory.
The flurry of goals on the man advantage gives Yale the best power play in the NCAA, alongside Harvard, at 33.3 percent, while their penalty kill ranks eighth.
“The bounce back is a good hint at the character I believe we have on this team,” Larkin said. “Even being down late in the third on Saturday, we never had an attitude of feeling sorry for ourselves or counting ourselves out. It was nice to get rewarded for that persistence at the end of the game on Saturday.”
Yale returns to Ingalls Rink for its league home opener against Colgate on Friday before playing Cornell on Saturday. Both games are at 7 p.m.