Any debate about whether Yale belonged in the NCAA tournament was emphatically erased a little more than a week ago in Grand Rapids, Mich.
The Bulldogs beat Minnesota in overtime in the West Regional semifinals and then scored four third-period goals against North Dakota to advance to their first Frozen Four since 1952.
2013 NCAA Frozen Four
Follow all of our coverage at Frozen Four Central
As a result, the Bulldogs needed Notre Dame to beat Michigan in the CCHA title game to get into the national tournament. At first glance, that might be the textbook definition of backing into the playoffs, but a look at the bigger picture reveals that’s anything but the case.
Yale neutralized St. Lawrence’s Kyle Flanagan and Greg Carey, two of the nation’s top scorers, in the ECAC quarterfinals and entered Atlantic City with the potential to clinch a No. 1 seed in the national tournament.
“I thought we played very good against St. Lawrence in that second round,” Bulldogs coach Keith Allain said. “[We] hit a bump in the road in Atlantic City. And I thought we were back on our game [in Grand Rapids]. So we see Atlantic City as an aberration.”
Yale had a chance at a No. 1 seed thanks to several strong road games earlier in the year. The Bulldogs beat Denver and Colorado College in November and tied at Boston College in January.
They might not have the scoring depth of previous Yale teams, but forwards Andrew Miller, Kenny Agostino, and Antoine Laganiere are all dangerous, while Jesse Root had the game-winning goal against the Golden Gophers and added another against North Dakota.
“Not many people know that he’s one of the best shots on our team and has worked on it the past three years,” Miller said of Root, a Pittsburgh native. “[He] can put the puck away when he gets the opportunity.”
Freshman center Stu Wilson sees significant time on both special teams units, while Tommy Fallen is an offensive threat from the blue line.
As in the past, the Bulldogs lean on a tenacious forecheck, which was on full display on Root’s overtime winner against Minnesota. Yale can transition quickly and makes opposing teams pay for any turnovers.
The Bulldogs also have received steady defensive play this season, thanks in part to three freshman: Rob O’Gara, Ryan Obuchowski and Mitch Witek. The trio have teamed with holdovers Fallen, Colin Dueck and Gus Young to form a solid nucleus in front of goaltender Jeff Malcolm.
The senior was shut out when it came to the ECAC’s end-of-the-year awards, but it could be argued that Malcolm is one of the most valuable players in the league. The Bulldogs went 0-5 during a stretch in February with Malcolm out of the lineup with an injury.
They’re 18-6-3 with him in net, good for a .731 winning percentage, a mark bested only by Quinnipiac this season.
So, you’ll understand if the Bulldogs aren’t having any of this “backing in” talk.
“I don’t feel like we got a second chance,” Miller said. “The body of work we did in the regular season puts us in a position to play in the tournament.”