The improvement that the Yale men’s hockey team had made throughout the season, capped off by a 6–2 run in February, disappeared this weekend as the Bulldogs were dismantled twice on home ice by a lower-seeded Quinnipiac team.
The Bulldogs (15–15–1, 10–11–1, ECAC) hosted the Bobcats (16–16–4, 9–11–2) in the opening round of the ECAC tournament this past weekend, after defeating their rival for the first time since 2013 just three weeks ago. However, Quinnipiac came to the game looking for revenge and ultimately swept the best-of-three series, winning by four goals Friday night before delivering a convincing 4–1 victory on Saturday to hand Yale yet another premature exit from the conference tournament and end the Elis’ season.
“This weekend was definitely not the way we wanted to end our season and is pretty disappointing,” forward Tyler Welsh ’21 said. “Being a fairly young team, we improved a lot over the course of the year and we can take the confidence we gained from the win streak in the later half of the season into next year. The sting of losing in the first round will help fuel us over the off season and into next year.”
After trading shots in the early minutes of Friday night’s game, Yale jumped out to a 1–0 lead at 13:32 in the first frame. Welsh demonstrated silky stick skills to maneuver the puck past Quinnipiac defenders before ultimately passing to captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18, who had a simple finish to put the Bulldogs ahead. The Eli lead was tested 10 minutes later when Quinnipiac took advantage of a power play with Yale defender Billy Sweezey ’20 in the penalty box for cross-checking. Yale’s penalty-kill unit, anchored by goaltender Sam Tucker ’19, was able to maintain its one-goal advantage heading into the second frame.
Quinnipiac opened up the second period tying the game with a goal of its own. Bobcat forward Tanner MacMaster sent a behind-the-back pass to defender Joe O’Connor, confusing the Yale defense, and the blueliner’s weak shot squirmed past Tucker to tie the game. For the remainder of the second period, the Bulldogs and the Bobcats traded shots and penalties, but neither team managed to produce successful offense. Yale’s offensive futility hampered the team’s success in both games.
In a manner nearly identical to the previous period, the Bobcats once again netted within the first three minutes of play to make the game 2–1 in the third. The Quinnipiac offense was relentless in the final frame: outshooting the Bulldogs 9–4, while the defense kept Yale from adding to its lone tally.
After a flurry of offense in front of Yale’s net, Quinnipiac defender Kevin McKernan extended his team’s lead to two goals with 11 minutes left to play. The Bulldogs continued their efforts to tally a goal, but failed to make any headway as the clock wound down. With less than two minutes remaining, Quinnipiac snagged the puck, and forward Alex Whalen notched an empty-net goal to run up the score. To add insult to injury, with 38 seconds left in the contest the Bobcats snuck another puck past Tucker to claim a 5–1 win in game one.
“I don’t think we were really good in any facet of the game,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “We were second to pucks all night long and that’s the most important thing.”
Yale continued its pattern of switching goaltenders and swapped Tucker for Corbin Kaczperski ’20 in night two. Led by outstanding solidity in the goal from Kaczperski, the Yale defense kept Quinnipiac off the scoreboard during the first period of Saturday night’s game, despite being outshot 11–6.
The Bulldogs and the Bobcats were still locked in a scoreless game entering the second period. However, with Yale defender Phil Kemp ’21 in the box, Quinnipiac assumed the power play, and defender Chase Priskie scored his second goal of the weekend. The Bobcat dominance continued with a second goal just moments later — this one coming from the stick of first-year phenom Odeen Tufto. Despite a power play opportunity of its own, Yale still couldn’t manage to find the back of the net throughout the first 40 minutes of play, trailing 2–0 heading into the final frame.
Yale produced its best looks in the third period, including a fast-break opportunity from forward Joe Snively ’19, but it was Quinnipiac that found the crucial next goal at 10:43. With just under seven minutes to play, first-year forward Kevin O’Neil scored his third goal in as many games to finally put Yale on the scoreboard. Straight off the bench, the Latham, New York, native got the puck at center ice and skated straight past Bobcat defenders to fire a shot past netminder Keith Petruzzelli.
Once again, the clock was not on Yale’s side as it struggled to follow up O’Neil’s goal in the final minutes. Forced to pull Kaczperski for another player on offense, Yale allowed Quinnipiac’s Alex Whalen to tally another empty-net goal which finalized the score 4–1 and ended the season for the Bulldogs.
Despite the premature end to the season, Yale graduates just two seniors from its starting lineup, a huge positive for the young team that already enjoyed growth throughout the season this year.
“Having the honor of being captain of such an amazing program means everything to me,” Hitchcock said. “It was made even more special by the group of guys I was so lucky to play with. I have confidence in the group of guys returning to take Yale Hockey to another level and look forward to following them have a successful season next year.”
The Bulldogs have not progressed past the ECAC quarterfinals since 2013.
Jane Miller | firstname.lastname@example.org