NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Joe Zappala stood in the press room for the umpteenth time this season, walking reporters through yet another of his game-winning goals. Of his 12 scores this season, half have been winners, placing him first nationally in that category.
This particular one happened to come in overtime, with 24.8 seconds remaining, to give Yale a 4-3 victory over St. Lawrence and a second consecutive ECAC sweep. It was one of three ECAC games on Saturday night that went into overtime.
“Jeff Hristovski took it into the zone and laid the puck back for me,” said Zappala, with fresh stitches jutting out from his chin. “I was looking to make a pass, but then the d-man jumped back so I took the shot.”
Even an overtime game-winner with little time remaining is nothing new for Zappala in a standout season for the sophomore. Back in early November, Zappala’s shot with 20 ticks on the clock in overtime against Colgate sealed the game for the Elis as well.
But that goal came at a very different point of the season for the Elis. Back then, they were struggling to find themselves amidst a 1-6 start. Now, they have won five straight ECAC games, ironed out lines, and gained a new outlook on their abilities.
“The beginning of the season was definitely rough, and we were coming off some bad losses,” said captain Vin Hellemeyer, whose own play has surged along with the Bulldogs. “When people scored on us the attitude on the bench was, ‘Here we go again.’ Once you get big wins people have more confidence in those situations.”
It was Hellemeyer’s goal off his own rebound at 10:46 of the third period that tied the game at 3-3. The senior captain also scored the opening goal of the game, giving him five points in the past three games after having earned only two prior.
For the Saints, it was a frustrating finish despite a strong effort throughout. St. Lawrence outskated Yale early but was unable to score, instead giving up the first goal to Hellemeyer off an assist from Brad Mills to give Yale the 1-0 lead after one.
In the second period, the Saints took over, with Kyle Rank sliding the puck just over the goal line to tie the game 4:41 into the stanza. Rich Peverly gave St. Lawrence the lead when he pushed the puck past Yale goalie Josh Gartner, who was tied up by teammate Nate Murphy, just over two minutes later.
For the remainder of the period the Elis looked disjointed, especially in the defensive end, but managed to keep the one-goal deficit. It looked as though the Saints were going to add to their lead several times with good looks on Gartner, but the netminder made a number of stops to close out the period.
A beautiful pass from Jeff Dwyer to Christian Jensen 1:23 into the third stanza set up the sophomore for his fifth goal of the season and evened the score at 2.
Again, the Saints responded with physical, dominant play, and their effort paid off 1:02 later when Stace Page beat Gartner to put SLU on top once again.
Midway through the third, it seemed as though Mills was going to tie the game after he stickhandled past two St. Lawrence defenders. While he was unable to get the tying goal, the Elis kept the puck in play and Hellemeyer backhanded in his second of the night off assists from Jensen and defenseman Mike Grobe, evening the score at 3-3.
“I thought it was a victory that we earned,” said Yale head coach Tim Taylor. “There were some lulls in the game but for the most part we answered back when we were behind, and responded to some great saves by Josh [Gartner].”
In overtime, the Saints clamped down on defense, blocking nearly every Yale shot and preventing the Bulldogs from keeping their sticks on the ice. But with just 24.8 seconds remaining, Hristovski set Zappala up for the game-winner in what has become an old story.
“With Chris [Higgins] leaving, everyone is trying to do a little part to fill his shoes,” Zappala said. “I’m just trying to do my part.”
Gartner finished the game with 31 saves, while SLU’s Kevin Ackley picked up 30, including three in overtime.
The win was an important one for the Elis, who have played more ECAC games than St. Lawrence and needed the victory to maintain distance in the standings going into two non-league weekends. The win improved the Elis to 8-10-0 (7-5-0 ECAC) while dropping the Saints to 6-13-4 (2-6-1 ECAC).
Yale will host Connecticut next Saturday at 7 p.m., while the Saints travel to Vermont and Dartmouth for another ECAC weekend of play.