Goaltender Corbin Kaczperski ’20, who made 33 saves on 34 shots Saturday night, resembled a brick wall in the Yale cage as the Bulldogs earned a crucial 2–1 victory over archrival Harvard. Forward Kevin O’Neil ’21 netted twice to hand his goalie the lead, and Kaczperski and the Bulldog penalty kill proved up to task to stymie a late Crimson rally and seal a 2–1 victory for the Elis.
Yale (15–13–1, 10–11–1 ECAC Hockey) avenged its 6–4 loss to Dartmouth (13–4–2, 11–10–1) on Friday with a resounding effort against Harvard (13–12–4, 11–8–3) to earn the Elis a home matchup with Quinnipiac in the opening round of the conference playoffs. A defensive meltdown resulting in six Big Green goals in the first two periods on Friday proved too much for the Bulldogs to overcome, but the Yale rebounded to notch its sixth victory in its last eight games in front of a sold-out crowd at Ingalls Rink the following night.
“After [the Dartmouth game] we were not happy,” Kaczperski said. “We kind of went back to the drawing board a bit … and we saw that we were really bad defensively. Tonight we did a much better job in the defensive zone, we blocked a lot of shots and that was just a great team win. Everyone was into it, we were into it, the fans were into it. It’s great to win. I’m just happy, honestly.”
Yale entered Friday night’s bout against the Big Green looking to improve on its seventh-place mark in the ECAC standings against a Dartmouth squad sitting two points ahead of Yale in conference standings. Dartmouth exploded out of the gate and capitalized on a lax Yale defense to seize an early 3–0 lead.
Facing that three-goal deficit, the Bulldogs responded with two tallies of their own, a power play finish from defenseman Phil Kemp ’21 and a nifty score from forward Joe Snively ’19 in front of the net, in the final five minutes of the period to head into the first intermission trailing by just a single score. Early in the second period, leading scorer Snively seemed destined to net the equalizer on a breakaway but saw his shot turned aside by opposing goalie Devin Buffalo.
Matters only intensified for the Bulldogs as Dartmouth fired home two more goals, capped when Foreman completed his hat trick by tapping in a loose puck past goalie Sam Tucker ’19. This prompted head coach Keith Allain ’80 to pull Tucker in favor of Kaczperski, who was making his first relief appearance of the season. The Dartmouth run continued, however, as a power play strike from Alex Jasiek beat Kaczperski at his near post made it 6–2 Dartmouth after two periods.
The Bulldogs fought back and cut the deficit when captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 scored off the pipe early in the third period, and a power play finish from Snively pulled them within two. Moments later the officials went to video review after a scrum in front of the Dartmouth cage, but ruled no goal to keep the score 6–4.
The Elis saw its last opportunity at a lead after Allain pulled Kaczperski with two Dartmouth players in the box to give the home squad a 6-on-3 man advantage. However, the Bulldogs failed to convert despite a bevy of scoring chances and nearly all of the puck possession during the power play. That kill sealed the win and a regular season sweep for Dartmouth, and dropped Yale to ninth place in the ECAC standings.
Saturday night’s tilt with Harvard saw five senior players who made their final regular season appearance as the Elis looked to complete a season sweep. Forward Ryan Donato, the team’s leading scorer with 23 goals, was back in the lineup for the first time this weekend after missing time to play for the U.S. Men’s Olympic Ice Hockey Team in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Despite a pair of power play opportunities for Harvard in the first period, Yale successfully killed off the man-advantage opportunities to hold serve at 0–0 and avoided the disastrous start that doomed the Bulldogs on Friday. Shortly after the second infraction, forward Kevin O’Neil ’21 skated off the bench and burst into the Harvard zone. Drawing close to the cage from an acute angle, he didn’t have any options to center a pass but found the rebound of his shot, slotting it past Crimson netminder Merrick Madsen to give Yale a 1–0 lead at 17:39 in the first period.
“On the first [goal], Joe [Snively] made a good play chipping the puck out and I got some open ice and shot from a bad angle, but luckily the goalie couldn’t corral it, and I just banked home the rebound,” O’Neil said.
The Bulldogs seemed poised to double their advantage when forward Mitchell Smith ’20 had a late-developing breakaway chance early in the second period but his shot went straight into Madsen’s chest. After sustaining their earlier momentum with another penalty kill, the Elis went on the power play for the first time all night following a Harvard kneeing infraction, but failed to put another puck past Madsen. After a palpable scoreboard malfunction, Yale and Harvard skated into the locker room with the Bulldogs nursing a 1–0 lead.
Penalties by both squads late in middle period caused a brief 4-on-4 ice time to start off the third period, but Kaczperski continued to stand tall in net to keep the Crimson scoreless. However, a Harvard offense which averages 3.03 goals per game finally got on the scoreboard when Henry Bowlby fired a shot through Kaczperski’s five-hole to even the game at 1–1 at 4:30 in the third period. But the sophomore netminder proved unfazed as he made a series of top-notch stops and continually covered the puck amidst a crowd in the crease to keep the Crimson at bay.
“[Kaczperski] played a really good game for us,” Allain said. “He’s calm in the net. He plays with poise, and I think he’s really grown as a goaltender in his second year with us. He didn’t play a minute his freshman year, and now he’s earned ice time and continues to earn it with his play.”
Kaczperski’s standout effort in net was eventually rewarded when O’Neil made his previous tally twice as nice with his second goal of the game to give Yale a 2–1 lead with just 3:16 left to play. The Bulldogs held on to that lead until the end of the game, thereby securing their spot as the eighth seed in the ECAC Playoffs.
The two points earned on Saturday guaranteed the Elis home ice in the opening round, as they narrowly edged out the ninth-place Bobcats, whom Yale will host in a best-of-three series at Ingalls next weekend.
Joey Kamm | email@example.com