This past weekend, the Yale men’s hockey team swept Dartmouth out of the ECAC playoffs with a pair of pulsating wins to punch its ticket to the quarterfinal of the conference tournament.
The Elis (13–13–5, 7–11–4 ECAC Hockey) won 6–1 on Friday night with six different skaters netting goals before overcoming an early deficit to win a dramatic 3–2 overtime game on Saturday. Forward Mike Doherty ’17 and netminder Sam Tucker ’19 were the Bulldog standouts on the weekend, with the former contributing 68 saves in two games and the latter tallying three goals plus a memorable assist on the series-winning goal by forward Andrew Gaus ’19.
“[Dartmouth was] in the middle of a change or something,” Doherty said of the series-clinching goal. “One of their guys fell so I knew I had a two-on-one. I was thinking shot at first and I didn’t think I had a great angle coming in as a lefty on that side, so I tried to be deceptive and got it to Gaus over there. I saw it squeak through and was pretty pumped up.”
Dartmouth (11–17–3, 7–13–2) eliminated a heavily favored Ivy League champion Yale team from the ECAC playoffs last year, starting a tailspin that culminated in the Bulldogs’ heartbreaking first-round NCAA tournament defeat. This years’ Eli outfit may have failed to measure up to its precursors in the regular season, but successfully banished those playoff demons at Ingalls Rink.
Yale dominated the Big Green in the regular season, posting an aggregate scoreline of 11–0, but both games this weekend proved significantly closer matchups. The 6–1 result on Friday flattered the Elis: Tucker made a couple of vital stops to dampen an early Dartmouth onslaught before the Yale skaters found their legs. Forward Joe Snively ’19 pushed Yale ahead halfway through the first period, before the Bulldog avalanche began in the second.
Doherty doubled the advantage, coolly finishing a rebound from close range after forward Ted Hart ’19 saw his breakaway denied by Dartmouth goaltender Devin Buffalo. Big Green forward Corey Kalk went bar down to halve the deficit, but Yale’s power play soon exposed Dartmouth’s disastrous penalty kill.
Defender Anthony Walsh ’19 broke the Eli player-advantage unit out of its 2-for-33 rut with his second goal of the year, having scored on the Big Green in its last regular-season matchup. Less than a minute later, Doherty picked out forward Chris Izmirlian ’17 with a reverse pass from behind the cage, and his linemate made no mistake with a precise finish. Forward and captain John Hayden ’17 joined the party at 13:54 of the third with his 11th power-play goal of the year, gloving the puck down before wristing a shot into the top corner from the slot. Forward Mitchell Smith ’20 capped off the night for the Elis, tapping his team’s sixth goal past backup Dartmouth netminder Adrian Clark.
Despite the gaudy scoreline, Yale struggled at times to get the puck out of its end and gave up possession several times in the neutral zone, handing Dartmouth a number of odd-man rushes on Tucker, who was able to bail out his teammates.
“If you look at the game, it wasn’t a 6–1 hockey game, it was a lot closer than that,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “We can be much sharper defensively, we can do a better job protecting pucks. I liked our motion offensively: We scored some really nice goals, we moved the puck, we got to space. We had goals from three different lines, and our power play was effective.”
Friday’s win left Dartmouth facing elimination, and it came out firing on Saturday night. Forward Cam Strong put the Big Green ahead on the team’s second shot of the game before many of the Eli faithful had even settled into their seats. Dartmouth hit the post twice in the first period, and only a series of sterling saves from Tucker kept the Bulldogs within striking distance.
Doherty stepped up again 3:25 into the second period, putting Yale level with a deft, close-range finish for the Elis’ third power-play strike on the weekend. However, Dartmouth forward Grant Opperman restored the Big Green advantage by tipping home Josh Hartley’s shot from the point at 8:01.
“We knew Dartmouth was going to be a really hungry team,” Tucker said. “They were fighting for their lives, we had to weather the storm off the bat and get going. We did a great job picking up sticks in front of the net and taking away the second opportunities.”
Though Dartmouth kept the pressure on throughout the late stages of the game, Doherty could not be suppressed, and the senior forward fired home a rocket from just inside the blue line for his third goal of the weekend after a superb clearing pass from defender Billy Sweezey ’20. After an inconsistent and frustrating regular season that produced just two goals and spurts of limited playing time, Doherty returned to the form of his first two years at Yale, in which he combined for 21 goals and a first-team All-Ivy nod his sophomore campaign.
In a sudden-death overtime, the Big Green outshot Yale 8–3, but the Bulldogs cashed in when it mattered most. Doherty powered into the zone, and with the angle for a shot closed down, slid a pass across to Gaus, whose deflected shot trickled over the line beyond a despairing Buffalo to ensure that Yale progressed to the next round.
“It was an awesome way to end the weekend,” Hart said. “I thought the team showed a lot of resilience on Saturday and that’ll be very important for the upcoming series. Progressing through the first round helps build confidence and momentum, and I think our team will be even better come Friday.”
Yale heads to Cambridge next weekend for its quarterfinal matchup against No. 2 Harvard as the Bulldogs look to claim an improbable ECAC crown and the accompanying NCAA tournament berth.