With the final weeks of the regular season looming, the Yale men’s hockey team delivered in a big way, securing its best weekend in nearly a month with a tie against No. 18 Harvard and a 4–3 comeback victory against Dartmouth.
To find a weekend where the Bulldogs (11–12–2, 8–9–2 ECAC Hockey) secured more than three conference points, one must revisit the second week in January — a stretch that saw wins against Union and RPI. While the Elis struggled late en route to a 4–4 tie against the Crimson, netminder Corbin Kaczperski ’20 made the save of the season for the Blue and White with time ticking down in overtime. Yale dominated the first two periods of play, scoring two goals within the span of 10 minutes in the first before adding two more in the second — making it 4–1. As one would expect from the fourth ranked team in the standings, Harvard (11–8–6, 9–4–5 ECAC) fought back with commendable resolve. With their fans roaring, the Crimson managed to claw back to four even with a minute to spare in regulation and appeared to have all the momentum north of the Charles River heading into overtime. Not three minutes into extra hockey, the Crimson looked to be in prime position to hammer home the final nail in the coffin. Yet Kaczperski had other plans in mind, making an ineffable save to secure the 4–4 tie and ECAC point.
Yale closed out the weekend a visibly different team than just several weeks ago when it lost 7–0 to Harvard at Madison Square Garden. The Bulldogs traveled to Hanover on a roll, fresh off their impressive display in Boston. The Blue and White triumphed over Dartmouth (11–10–4, 8–8–2) 4–3. Although two out of the first three scores, all awarded during power-plays, went to the Big Green, the Bulldogs bit back in the second 30 minutes. Down 1–0, forward Justin Pearson ’22 notched his third goal of the weekend less than a minute into the middle frame. Yale again came back from a one tally deficit later in the frame after Dartmouth responded to Pearson’s goal, yet the Bulldogs hit home in the third period to ultimately defeat the home team. The Elis held the Big Green to a 4–2 lead until 54 seconds left of the third, when Will Graber notched his second tally of the night, minimizing the difference to one.
“Going into the weekend we knew we had to play at our best to improve our playoff seeding as the season’s coming to a close here soon,” forward Cole Donhauser ’23 said. “We had a great week of practice and battled hard. We knew we owed both Harvard and Dartmouth one, and we really wanted to just outwork them and play our game. It would have been nice to get the four points we went in hoping for, but we are happy with where we’re at going into the final two weekends.”
In its previous two meetings with Harvard, Yale failed to secure a lead in any of its 120 minutes played. It took three minutes into Friday’s game to change that, when forward Curtis Hall ’22 cleaned up a blocked shot from defender Phil Kemp ’21. The Bulldogs were hardly finished, as Hall continued to control the tempo of the game — dishing it out to Pearson in the slot, whose wrist shot through the five hole tacked on another score. While Harvard managed to cut the lead in half in the final 10 seconds of the first, the Blue and White got that goal right back less than a minute into the second frame, with the Crimson again unable to contain Pearson in the slot. The score now read 3–1.
While Harvard’s defense managed to settle the Elis’ offense down for a large chunk of the second, forward Evan Smith ’20 led an odd-man rush to the Crimson’s zone, culminating in a pass to his brother, forward Mitchell Smith ’20, who snapped the puck from the slot for the shorthanded goal — making it a 4–1 game. Yet, in what would become a key moment, Harvard capitalized on the power play not twenty seconds later to cut into the Elis’ lead.
As if this rivalry needed any more drama, the Crimson managed to muster late-game magic, finding the back of the net with five minutes remaining to make it a one score game, before miraculously tying the contest in the last minute and a half after pulling its goalie.
The game was decided in overtime.
Both defenses buckled down for nearly half of the five minutes. Then, in the blink of an eye, Harvard had a three-on-two. Nick Abruzzese led the charge as he dished it out to the nation’s hottest scorer, Jack Drury. Drury controlled the puck in stride. Darting down the right side of the rink, the Carolina Hurricanes draft pick stationed himself at the right hash and gave a perfect feed to Abruzzese at the low left slot. All that stood between Abruzzese and a Harvard victory was a few feet of open air. As the puck was one timed to the four hole, Kaczperski shot out his right pad to make the incredible stop and preserve the tie. This score would hold for the remainder of overtime, and the Blue and White skated off of Bright-Landry Hockey Center delighted with the ECAC point.
“Overall we felt we had a strong weekend,” defenseman Brandon Tabakin ’23 said. “We felt like we played well enough to win Friday but they’re a good team and managed to battle back and tie it. We always want to win but knew that once that game ended we could only turn our attention to Dartmouth. We battled hard and got the job done, and leaving with a win always feels great and makes for a happier bus ride.”
On Saturday, Yale defeated Dartmouth for the first time since the 2016-2017 campaign, and Pearson yet again led the way for the Elis. For the second consecutive night, the forward registered two goals on the scoreboard — a feat only Hall has accomplished this season.
The Bulldogs decided the contest’s fate in the middle frame when Yale erased 1–0 and 2–1 deficits. Pearson found the first equalizer just 51 seconds into the second, and forward Michael Young ’23 made his first career goal to level the score at two all. From there, Yale controlled the third beginning with Donhauser who fired the biscuit unassisted into the five hole from the slot. Soon after, Hall skated from behind the net and made a beautiful pass into the crease where Pearson netted his fourth over the weekend, carrying Yale to a 4–2 advantage.
Dartmouth made a last minute attempt to send the game into overtime, yet the Eli defense stood strong. The game closed out 4–3 in favor of the Bulldogs.
Though Yale only spent a total of six minutes in the penalty box on Friday against Harvard, the Bulldogs played a bit rougher on Saturday and wasted a large chunk of time in the sin bin. Defenseman Billy Sweezey ’20 spent a total of seven minutes in the box against the Big Green and was taken out of the game for ten minutes after a major penalty.
With four ECAC teams — Colgate, RPI, Dartmouth and Yale — all within one conference point, the final two weekends of the regular season are crucial to the Bulldogs’ final standing.
The Bulldogs return to Ingalls Rink next weekend where they will square off against No. 2 Cornell and Colgate.
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