What could have been a season defining 7–0 loss to No. 16 Harvard at Madison Square Garden ended up motivating the Bulldogs to a weekend sweep over two tough ECAC opponents. Yale controlled the fate of both contests, shutting out Union 5–0 and outshining Rensselaer 4–1 while also earning both ECAC Player and Goalie of the Week honors.
While Yale (6–6, 8–9 ECAC Hockey) and Union (4–9–1, 6–17–1) failed to put any points on the board in the opening period, the difference in play could not be more apparent — the Elis were simply a class above the Dutchmen. Union appeared unable to get out of its own defensive zone for almost the entire period, as the Bulldogs put up shot after shot, requiring exemplary goalkeeping from netminder Darion Hanson. But Union caved 25 seconds into the second, as forward Curtis Hall ’22 tallied his tenth goal in 12 games played this season. The floodgates had officially opened. Four goals later, in tandem with Corbin Kaczperski’s ’22 second shutout of the season, the Elis had secured its most dominant victory of the season at a time when they needed it most.
“It feels good to get all four lines rolling for 60 minutes,” Yale captain and forward Evan Smith ’20 said. “We finally got a consistent game, start to finish. It was a great way to bounce back from MSG, and it gives us a lot of momentum heading into the tournament next weekend.”
Rensselaer (7–7–1, 10–12–1) entered the weekend confidently, after defeating No. 7 Clarkson 3–1 as well as fellow league foe, Colgate, 3–0. Though Yale bested RPI 4–1 in early December, the Engineers consist of several strong senior team members and, on paper, appeared as a tough opponent for the Blue and White. But the Bulldogs were not swayed, and the aggressive, offensive style of play that proved successful against Union reappeared on Saturday. Yale’s ability to make quality shots on goal ultimately stemmed from the defensive strategies that they practiced this past week.
From the opening puck drop of Friday’s match against Union, it became apparent that Yale was not going to play passive hockey. Throughout the first four minutes, the Blue and White had already amassed four shots on goal to the Dutchmen’s zero. Although both teams headed to the lockers scoreless at the end of the first, the Bulldogs outshot Union 12–3.
Coming out of first intermission, the Elis looked poised to change that. 25 seconds later, Hall fired a rocket of a wrister from the slot that whizzed past the goalie to give Yale a 1–0 advantage. A few minutes later, a clean pass from Hall found defender Brandon Tabakin ’23, who timely dished it out to fellow defender Jack St. Ivany ’22 at the point, whose ensuing shot miraculously made its way through a throng of players to find the back of the net.
With five minutes left to play in the second, Hall would again make his presence felt on the ice, with a beauty of an assist from forward Tyler Welsh ’21 finding Hall in stride by the left crease, as the latter converted the feed to gift his Elis with a 3–0 lead heading into the final period.
“I think we were just being hander on pucks, especially in the D zone,” Welsh said. “We were too soft last week against Harvard, so we kind of worked on that in practice and tried to be physical and aggressive down low.”
With the third period underway, it was Kaczperski’s turn to take over. With the Dutchmen unwilling to give up the fight, the squad continued to put pressure on Yale’s defense in an attempt to register at least one point on the board. Kaczperski refused to give in to the onslaught of shots that ensued, making 10 of his 21 saves in the third to keep Union scoreless for the entirety of the game. After forwards Justin Pearson ’22 and Luke Stevens ’20 put finishing touches on a magnificent night with goals of their own, the Blue and White skated off the rink with a 5–0 victory.
Unlike the match-up against Union, puck possession traded fairly equally between the two teams on Saturday night. Yet, the Bulldogs still clearly had the upper hand when it came down to finding the back of the net. Late in the first frame, Pearson got on the board for the Blue and White with a clean assist from Tabakin during a power play. RPI, fired up from the Eli advantage, crowded the home net, attempting to level the score before the end of the first. Yet, Kaczperski defended well, and the senior made multiple saves off of rebound shots — a skill he has struggled with in the past.
“Coach said, ‘Shoot the puck, and things will happen,’ and I saw an opening,” Pearson said of his first goal against RPI. “A lot of power plays are just about hunting pucks and finding an open man, and so I think I have to keep my head up and make plays and attack the net. That’s what creates goals, and that’s what creates opportunities.”
Yale pushed the score to 2–0 in the second with Hall’s back-check on an Engineer scoring opportunity which turned into an individual scoring effort for the home team. Hall obtained possession and skated down the length of the rink to shoot the puck through the five-hole.
The goal prompted a surge of momentum and increase in confidence for the Bulldogs, who were spurred on by loud “RIP RPI” cheers from the Yale marching band. Forward Stevens capitalized with a power play goal at the end of the second frame, extending the Blue and White’s lead to three and extinguishing RPI’s hopes of any come-back.
Two shutouts in two nights were a mere two minutes away for the Elis. Yet, after a Yale time-out attempting to thwart RPI’s intense offensive playing strategy in the back-half of the third, the Engineers finally scored. Kaczperski, unable to hold off numerous rebounds on a Renasselaer power play, finally succumbed to the first puck out of 49 total shots over the weekend.
Kaczperski’s weekend performance earned the senior the title of ECAC Goalie of the Week. Hall also earned ECAC Player of the Week — the first time a Yale player has achieved the award this season — for registering four goals and five points.
“We blocked a lot of shots, we won a lot of battles down low, I thought we did a good job of taking care of those things,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “And that’s in our zone, but in the neutral zone I thought we did a good job. We had tight gaps, and we had good back pressure on the puck. They weren’t able to enter our zone with puck possession.”
The Bulldogs continue their crusade at the Connecticut Ice Festival this weekend. Yale will commence play against Sacred Heart on Saturday at 7:30 p.m.
Jared Fel | email@example.com
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