NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The sold-out crowd at Ingalls Rink was surprisingly quiet as the final minutes of the ECAC contest between Yale and Brown ticked away. It wasn’t that the fans weren’t excited — they were simply taken aback by what they saw: a blowout victory for the home team.
Indeed, Yale pounded Brown 6-1, marking the first time all season that the Bulldogs (7-8, 5-6 ECAC) have won a game by more than a single goal. A four-goal, 21-shot outburst in the third period sent the partisan crowd home, blissfully bored.
Ben Stafford led the assault with two goals and an assist while Jason Noe had the best game of his career, notching a goal and two assists. Jeff Hamilton and Nick Deschenes also chipped in with a goal and an assist each. Adam Saunders tallied the lone goal for Brown (2-10-2, 1-8-2).
The Bulldogs had lost six of their previous seven games and were shut out twice at No. 1 Michigan State last weekend. But Friday, back on home ice, they managed to put together both their best offensive and defensive efforts of the season.
“I was very happy to see us get some goals,” head coach Tim Taylor said. “But the part I’m most pleased about is the defensive effort.”
Taylor’s team had allowed at least three goals in each game all season, but the defense stymied the Bears throughout much of the game as goaltender Dan Lombard made 23 saves. Brian Eklund stopped 36 shots for Brown.
The prime culprit in Yale’s defensive struggles had been its penalty kill, which was 11th in ECAC play heading into the evening. Last weekend alone, the Bulldogs gave up five power-play goals to Michigan State. But the unit found its stride against Brown, killing off all five shorthanded situations.
“We wanted to be more aggressive on the penalty kill and try to pressure the puck more,” Stafford said. “We worked on it all week since special teams was a focal point of practice.”
Brown came into the game with renewed confidence after its 6-2 win over Union last Saturday night. It was the Bears’ first ECAC win, and head coach Roger Grillo hoped that confidence would lead to consecutive wins for the first time all season, but his team ran into a frustrated group of Bulldogs.
Stafford got the Elis on the board at the 10:31 mark of the first period. After Eklund had trouble with a Stacey Bauman shot from the left circle, Hamilton corralled the rebound at the right circle. Sensing the goaltender’s uneasiness, Hamilton wristed the puck towards a mass of bodies in front of the net. Stafford found the loose puck and pounded it past Eklund from five feet out to notch his eighth goal of the season.
Saunders answered just 2:10 later, taking a pass from Pascal Denis up the left wing. Though he had a teammate streaking through the slot, Saunders surprised Lombard with a low knuckling shot that snuck through the goaltender’s legs. It was the freshman’s first career goal and evened the score at 1-1.
The second period proved to be a test for both penalty kills, particularly Yale’s. After the Bears — who have the worst penalty kill in the ECAC — successfully fended off the Eli power play early in the period, they went on the man-advantage themselves at the 4:55 mark. Yale’s Spencer Rodgers skated off for interference, only to be followed into the penalty box by Bauman 1:15 later, giving Brown a five-on-three. But the Eli power play held the Bears without a shot, protecting the 1-1 tie.
At the 9:54 mark of the second, Hamilton’s eighth goal of the season gave the Bulldogs a lead they would not relinquish. He took a feed from Evan Wax at the bottom the left circle and fired a shot that deflected off Eklund’s stick before finding the net. It turned out to be the senior’s 15th career game-winner, adding to his school record.
Heading into the third period with a scanty 2-1 lead, the Bulldogs made sure not to put Lombard in his customary high-pressure situation late in the game.
“That was a rallying cry for us early in the third period,” Stafford said. “We wanted to do it for Dan. He’s been playing well for us all year, and we wanted to take some of the pressure of him.”
The Yale power play — which had gone scoreless for nearly 30 consecutive minutes — added to the lead early in the third. After Evan Wax drew a hooking call on Jon Zielinski at the one-minute mark, Noe ended the drought, putting his team ahead 3-1. Bryan Freeman’s shot from the top of the left circle went wide to the far side, deflecting off the end boards to Noe at the right circle. His low wrister found its way through Eklund’s legs for the score.
“We had tremendous end-zone time on the power play tonight,” Taylor said. “We tried a new look on the power play and got a lot of good looks. We executed well, but not with enough crispness.”
Just 1:13 later, Luke Earl picked up his first goal since November 11th, and the rout was on. Stafford and Deschenes both added their team-leading ninth goals later in the third to seal the victory.
Such a lopsided win was a rare occasion, not only for the 2000-01 Bulldogs, but for Yale teams in recent years. Last season’s team scored six times against Brown in a one-goal win in Providence. But the last time the Bulldogs lit the Ingalls Rink lamp that many times was November 21, 1998, when they beat Harvard 7-1.
Ingalls Rink fans also hadn’t seen a five-goal victory since Alex Westlund and Trevor Hanger combined on a 5-0 shutout of Union on March 5, 1999. New Haven fans are accustomed to recent Yale dominance over Brown, however, with the Bulldogs now 5-0-1 in their last six meetings. Brown’s last win in New Haven was November 16, 1996.
This weekend marked Taylor’s return to the Yale bench after spending most of the last month as an assistant coach for the United States team at the World Junior Championships.
On Saturday, the Bears travel to Princeton while the Bulldogs renew their heated rivalry with Harvard at Ingalls Rink. After this weekend, both teams take a break from ECAC competition until February 2 while the rest of the league catches up in games played.