Lukas Flippo

The Yale men’s ice hockey team (15–15–2, 10–10–2 ECAC Hockey), coming off a season that saw a premature exit from the 2019 ECAC Hockey Tournament at the hands of Clarkson, entered a new campaign with one unwavering goal in mind: achieve a NCAA postseason berth for the first time since 2016.

The Bulldogs quickly got off to a hot start, dominating from the opening faceoff to the final horn to begin their season in a game against Brown. However, the season entered an early rough patch from then on, as the Elis went on to drop games on the road against Brown, Colgate and Cornell. Next weekend, against two more ECAC foes in Dartmouth and Harvard, the story remained the same. Following the opening game of the season, the Blue and White was just unable to find itself on the winning side of the scoreboard — falling first 4–3 to the Big Green and then 6–1 to the Crimson.

“I thought it was really a pretty even game in every measure probably except for the goals,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said of the Dartmouth matchup. “I thought we had them in the ropes at the end of the second period, and then when we came out in the third, we kind of let them off the ropes a little. They took advantage, and they got the go-ahead goal. I thought we responded well. Then they got that one late, and that was the game.”

Yale entered its subsequent weekend of play undeniably hungry for a win at Ingalls for the first time in over three weeks. Those hopes were met as forward Curtis Hall ’22 continued a breakout campaign with two stellar goals, which gave the star sophomore a then team-high five goals on the year. Goalie Nicholas MacNab ’21 made his collegiate career debut as starting goaltender for the Bulldogs and earned his first career win, making key stops down the stretch to give Yale the necessary breathing room to grab a 6–3 victory against St. Lawrence. Any spark that may have been lit from this much-needed victory didn’t last long, as the Elis went on to drop their game against Clarkson the next day.

The Bulldogs finally began to heat up throughout the month of December and beginning of January — going 5–2 in that stretch — which gave them the necessary momentum heading into a Madison Square Garden showdown against Harvard. In New York, however, no Yale player made a discernible mark on Harvard rookie netminder Mitchell Gibson, who contributed 27 out of the Crimson’s 31 saves. The trouble started early in the second period for the Blue and White when forward Jack Donato’s wrister from the left side of the crease tallied 2–0 on the scoreboard. From there, the MVP of the night, forward Jack Drury, went on to score a hat trick, and the Crimson shut out the Bulldogs with a seven-point advantage.

Though the Crimson shut out the Bulldogs at Madison Square Garden, Yale earned a sweep over Union and Rensselaer the next weekend. (Photo: Lukas Flippo)

What could have been a season-defining 7–0 loss wound up instead as being the motivating force the Bulldogs used to catapult themselves to a weekend sweep over two tough ECAC opponents. Yale controlled both contests in an absolutely commanding fashion, shutting out Union 5–0 and outshining Rensselaer 4–1, with Hall and goalie Corbin Kaczperski ’20 earning ECAC Player of the Week and Goalie of the Week honors, respectively.

“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.”

In the inaugural CT Ice Tournament the following week, Yale failed to make it to finals after losing 4–2 against then-No. 20 Sacred Heart. Nevertheless, the Bulldogs ended the weekend with a successful 3–2 stint against UConn to finish third in the event. The following weekend, the Bulldogs were set to take on ECAC foe Clarkson — a squad which ranked first in the league and sixth in the nation at that time — for the second time that season. The Elis gave a strong showing, with forward Tyler Welsh ’21 tallying a score late in the first frame. However, it would be to no avail, as the Knights went on to score three in a row to seal the win. The next day, against St. Lawrence, the weakest team in the ECAC conference, Yale held a 2–1 lead early in the third, yet the Saints bounced back, and the score finalized at a tie with two goals apiece.

Yale went 4–3–1 over the final four weeks of the regular season. (Photo: Lukas Flippo)

From that point on, the Bulldogs played arguably their best, most consistent hockey of the season. The team never had a weekend of ECAC play when it did not tally at least one win. After going 4–3–1 over the course of the final four weeks of the regular season, the Elis closed out the season with the seventh-best record in the ECAC Conference — good enough for a home-ice advantage throughout the first round of the playoffs. Their first opponent? Union.

“In the past we’ve played hard and we jumped on [Union] early,” forward Luke Stevens ’20 said. “They play a similar style to us and really work hard, so if we’re going to have success again we need to make sure we’re skating right from the drop and playing on our toes. It’s going to be a battle and we’re ready for that.”

Yale had previously shut out the Dutchmen both times that these two teams faced off against each other during the regular season. However, Union brought a style of hockey for which the Bulldogs were evidently not prepared. In the premiere match of the first round of the ECAC playoffs, the Dutchmen completely turned the tables on the Elis, shutting the latter out on their home ice 3–0. One day later, the two conference rivals returned to the rink, with Union netminder Darion Hanson putting up another incredible effort through two periods — preventing any Yale pucks from reaching the back of the net.

Undeterred, the Bulldogs continuously pressured Hanson with shot after shot in the third, with their efforts eventually coming to fruition in the final period. From there, the game was broken wide open, and the Bulldogs skated off with a 4–1 victory. In the last game of the series, the Blue and White outshot the Dutchmen 52–21 through 60 minutes, yet the scoreboard remained locked at 1–1. In double overtime, forward Graham Lillibridge ’22 netted the game-winning goal that would have sent Yale into the quarterfinal round to face off against Quinnipiac.

However, the Bulldogs never got the chance to play in the quarterfinal round — no team did, for that matter. A few days before the second round was set to commence, the tournament was canceled due to the increasing spread and severity of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Yale has not achieved a NCAA Tournament postseason berth since 2016.

Jared Fel |