Courtesy Steve Musco

The Yale men’s hockey team (7–7–3, 3–5–2 ECAC Hockey) played its best weekend of hockey all year against two talented conference opponents, vanquishing Clarkson 2–1 before battling No. 15 St. Lawrence to a deserved 2–2 draw.

Captain and forward John Hayden ’17 fired home a dramatic late winner to trump the Golden Knights this past Friday, while an early Bulldog blitz created a two-goal advantage on Saturday that endured tantalizingly close to the final buzzer before the Saints fought back to equalize.

The two results capped off a convincing display over winter break, which started with two wins in three games against difficult nonconference foes from the elite Hockey East conference. After consecutive strong wins — 5–4 and 4–2 over Northeastern (7–10–5, 1–8–3 Hockey East) and UConn (9–8–6, 5–4–2), respectively — the sole defeat, a 3–1 loss against Providence (10–8–4, 2–6–2) featured one of the worst Eli performances in recent memory.

That result proved an anomaly, however, as the team rebounded to produce two of its best efforts of the year against top-tier opposition.

“We were a more confident group this weekend than when we went up north to play [Clarkson and St. Lawrence],” defender Adam Larkin ’18 said. “Both are very good, hard-working teams, but I think that our [competition] level was high and we were not intimidated by their physicality or work ethic. Instead, I think we were able to inflict some of our own physical play on them and that gave us more of an edge.”

Forward Mike Doherty ’17 flicked home a late, backhanded winner to power the Bulldogs past Northeastern to ring in the New Year in dramatic fashion. Yale received goals from forward Chris Izmirlian ’17, forward Andrew Gaus ’19, forward Frank DiChiara ’17 and Hayden to take a 4–3 lead heading into the final frame. After Northeastern drew level, Doherty intervened to put the Elis ahead for good.

The Bulldogs followed up that win with a decisive 4–2 victory over UConn, as goalie Sam Tucker ’19 earned his first collegiate win. Yale dominated a hot Husky team that had been unbeaten in its previous five games, outshooting UConn 41–15.

Forward Evan Smith ’20 scored his first career goal to break a 2–2 tie, while forward Joe Snively ’19, forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 and DiChiara added their names to the scoresheet as well.

Smith’s goal exemplified the Yale freshmen’s maturation in their roles on the team in recent games. Forward Robbie DeMontis ’20 dished out three combined assists against Northeastern and UConn, while fellow forwards Will D’Orsi ’20, Luke Stevens ’20 and Mitchell Smith ’20 also chipped in up front over the break. On the blue line, defenders Matt Foley ’20, Chandler Lindstrand ’20 and Billy Sweezey ’20 have all logged significant minutes.

“The freshmen have really stepped up after Christmas break,” DeMontis said. “Obviously there is an adjustment period that takes place, but I think we are noticeably more comfortable. We are still learning and getting used to the style of play, but with [the size of our class], we realize that we need to continue to step up and make an impact because there are so many of us in the lineup.”

Hayden opened the scoring a minute into the game against Providence, a goal that remained the only bright spot for the Elis in a forgettable performance. The Friars outshot Yale 36–14 and firmly controlled the game until the final whistle.

After this demoralizing defeat, the Bulldogs bounced back in resounding fashion as they returned to conference play this past weekend at Ingalls Rink. The Elis first faced a familiar opponent in Clarkson (11–9–3, 6–4–1 ECAC Hockey), a team they have played to two draws already this season.

Yale opened up the scoring on Stevens’ first collegiate tally, as the forward jammed home a rebound that caromed off the boards. After forward Sam Vigneault scored the equalizer for the Golden Knights on the power play midway through the third period, it seemed as though this game might end in a similar fashion.

However, with just 59 seconds on the clock, Hayden netted his third game winner of the season, firing a wrist shot over the shoulder of goaltender Jake Keily to seize the lead a final time. The captain’s third game-winner of the season was his 13th goal in 16 games, pushing him to fifth in the nation in goals per game.

“We’ve spent a lot of time at the rink building chemistry,” Hayden said. “A 60-minute effort and commitment to the game plan, regardless of the score, helps us wear teams down and hopefully capitalize on plays late in the game.”

The Elis then faced St. Lawrence (12–6–6, 8–1–3), a team that handed them a 5–2 loss in November. One of the keys to the Saints’ success has been goaltender Kyle Hayton, December’s national goalie of the month, who has posted a 0.932 save percentage. But it was Yale goaltender Patrick Spano ’17 who seized the spotlight on Saturday, making a career-high 39 saves to hold St. Lawrence to just two goals.

The Bulldogs, on Spano’s shoulders, closed the weekend with a tie despite being outshot in this game 41–29. After Hitchcock and DiChiara netted the first two goals of the game, St. Lawrence responded with two goals of its own, scoring the equalizer on a power play with less than five minutes remaining. Yale controlled play in the five-minute overtime, outshooting the Saints 7–1, but were unable to solve Hayton and settled for a 2–2 final.

The weekend’s results leave Yale tied with Dartmouth and Princeton for seventh place in the ECAC at eight points, 13 points off the blistering pace set by Union at the top of the table. For the first time this season, the Elis avoided defeat in a conference weekend, securing three out of the possible four points.

“We’ve done a pretty good job offensively as of late,” DiChiara said. “I think just getting pucks to the net and getting there for rebounds has been key. Our [offensive] zone possession time starts from our forecheck; if we’re able to establish a good forecheck early on in the game, it really wears teams down.”

Yale will take on Dartmouth and Harvard next weekend without Hitchcock, after the team’s leading assister suffered a broken leg in the second period against St. Lawrence.