Facing the challenge of stringing together two successful weekend series for the first time all season and continuing their ascent up the ECAC standings, the Yale men’s hockey team shifted back into neutral by claiming just a pair of points in two winnable conference games at home.
Yale (9–9–1, 6–7–1 ECAC Hockey) suffered its first loss at Ingalls Rink since November after conceding a third-period goal to Union (14–12–1, 10–4–0) on Friday in the 3–2 defeat. One night later, however, the Elis garnered a crucial victory in a must-win game against Rensselaer (4–18–4, 3–10–2) as the Bulldogs’ nation-worst player-advantage unit came alive with three power-play goals on the night.
“When it comes down to it, it’s about winning hockey games, especially when you’re in the second half of the season,” forward Luke Stevens ’20 said. “We were able to come out Saturday and overcome a sluggish first period and get a good win versus RPI. We played physical in both games, which led to opportunities and I thought we skated really well.”
The Dutchmen seized an early lead on Friday when forward Ryan Scarfo scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season on a top-shelf snipe that beat starting netminder Sam Tucker ’19. Less than 10 minutes later, captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 scored unassisted on a shot that deflected off the back of Union goalie Darion Hanson, but the officials initially ruled no goal. A brief video review revealed that the puck had crossed the line, drawing the Bulldogs level at 1–1.
A hooking minor by Stevens put the the Bulldogs at an early disadvantage at the beginning of the second period while Union fully capitalized on the penalty. With only 10 seconds remaining on the Dutchmen power play, Sebastian Vidmar promptly received a pass across the crease and fired it past a scrambling Tucker to give the visitors a 2–1 advantage. But Union’s next power play opportunity played out more favorably for the Bulldogs as Stevens atoned for his earlier mistake by netting Yale’s fifth shorthanded goal of the season on a breakaway chance to tie at 2–2.
A plethora of chances for both teams in front of the net highlighted the early stages of third period but neither team could break the deadlock until Union’s Liam Morgan scored to make it 3–2 midway through the period. Despite a late scrum in front of the Union crease, the Bulldogs couldn’t find an equalizer and tasted defeat for the first time in five games.
“We played well against Union even though we lost,” forward Mitchell Smith ’20 said. “It’s important that we know why we lost but don’t dwell on the fact that we lost. Playing well in a game doesn’t guarantee a win, it just gives you a chance to win, so the takeaway of that game is to keep working hard and playing well like we have been doing.”
Yale took to the ice on Saturday looking to redeem both the previous night’s loss and the disappointing defeat it suffered at the hands of Rensselaer from when the two teams faced off in December. After a scoreless first period in which the Engineers outshot the Elis 10 to seven, it seemed as if the Bulldogs’ gathering momentum from the past few weeks had come to a grinding halt.
Then, the Yale power play, the worst in the country, stepped up and delivered three second period goals to jumpstart the Eli engine. A scrum over by the sideboards sent two RPI skates and a Bulldog to the box, and Yale defender Charlie Curti ’19 converted the resulting Bulldog power play into a goal with a blast from the point to mark the team’s sixth power play goal of the season and give his team the lead. But, RPI answered with a goal of its own just 26 seconds later to draw level up the game.
After struggling all year to convert power plays, the Bulldogs continued to find their bearings with an extra player. Forward Dante Palecco ’21 took advantage of the Engineer’s indiscipline and scored unassisted to reclaim the Elis’ lead at 6:55 in the second period. Midway through the second frame, RPI’s Meirs Moore was sent to the penalty box for hooking and Yale once again assumed the power play. This time around, Stevens delivered the puck past RPI goaltender Linden Marshall on a pass from defender Chandler Lindstrand ’20.
In the final 90 seconds of the period, the team’s leading scorer, forward Joe Snively ’19, who ranks first in the country in shorthanded goals, scored his third of the season to put Yale ahead 4–1. The Bulldogs outshot RPI 18–4 in the decisive second frame, finally asserting their dominance over an Engineer squad that sits second-to-last in the ECAC, above only a winless St. Lawrence team.
“We were finally just playing hockey on the power play,” Palecco said. “We took Coach’s starting points and expanded and started making the right plays which led to a successful night for both units.”
Already boasting a comfortable three-goal lead, Yale headed into the final period of the weekend and capped off a strong offensive performance. Assisted by veterans captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 and defender Adam Larkin ’18, rookie forward Kevin O’Neil ’21 notched the sixth goal of the game to finalize the score at 5–1.
Next weekend, the Bulldogs will travel to upstate New York to take on No. 2 Clarkson and St. Lawrence in another weekend of ECAC play.
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