NEW HAVEN, Conn. — It’s no secret that Yale has been led by its top line of late, but never before had the trio of Joe Zappala, Jeff Hristovski and Ryan Steeves dominated the scoreboard quite like this.
Each of the three players on the first line earned four points on the night, with Zappala contributing a hat trick and notching his nation-leading seventh game-winning goal of the season in a 6-4 victory over Connecticut.
“We have great chemistry,” said Hristovski, who assisted on all three of Zappala’s goals and picked up a helper on a goal scored by Steeves as well. “Ever since Coach Taylor put us together it’s been really nice having Joe Zappala there. Every shot he takes seems to go in so we just keep giving him the puck.”
Zappala, last week’s ECAC Player of the Week and USCHO Offensive Player of the Week, has scored the game-winner in all but two of Yale’s nine victories this season. No other player in the nation has earned more than four.
“It just seems like everything is going right for me right now,” Zappala said. “I don’t really know what to say, but I wouldn’t change anything.”
It was no easy task for the Elis, as UConn had been able to earn a tie against ECAC-leading Brown just one night before. In that game, goaltender Scott Tomes had come up with 42 saves to pick up the 1-1 deadlock against the nationally ranked Bears.
And the Elis saw why the Huskies were so dangerous less than a minute into play, when the team — and the Ingalls crowd — was taken by surprise after Brian Burns scored immediately off a faceoff in the Yale zone, giving the Huskies a quick 1-0 lead.
“Coach told us they’d play us tough and we knew they play well against good teams,” said Steeves, who scored a goal and added three assists. “During the first two shifts we realized that it was true.”
The Elis responded several minutes later when Zappala knocked in a rebound of Hristovski’s shot on net to tie the game at 1-1. But the swarming Connecticut players continued to force Yale turnovers, stealing sloppy passes and playing a feisty forecheck. It paid off when Cole Koidahl’s wrist shot from the left side evaded Gartner to give the Huskies another one-goal lead midway through the first period.
With 4:39 remaining in the stanza, Vin Hellemeyer made a fantastic pass through traffic and hit a streaking Brad Mills, who wristed in his second goal of his freshman campaign. Just 30 seconds later, the Elis took their first lead of the game with a fluttering shot from Steeves that lingered on the goal line before beating Tomes
Less than five minutes into the second period, Zappala notched his second goal of the game with a top-shelf snap shot from inside the right faceoff circle. The Huskies responded to narrow the game to 4-3 immediately following a Yale power play with 13:07 to play in the period. With Zappala tripped up at the blue line, UConn was able to go break into the Yale zone where Koidahl earned his second of the night.
The Bulldogs successfully killed off a 5-on-3 power play for Connecticut in the closing seconds of the third period, an effort that was capped off by a strong save by Gartner.
In the third period, Beau McLaughlin’s score 8:13 into the period evened the game at 4-4 and produced the third tie of the night. But Zappala’s game-winning talents showed up yet again, as the sophomore finished off a successful Yale power play with his 3rd of the night and 15th of the season.
“We recruited him to be a scorer and he’s being quite a scorer,” head coach Tim Taylor said. “It’s what he does best, and I think he’s on a line that suits him.”
Nate Murphy added an insurance goal for the Elis, his fourth of the season, off assists from Mike Klema and Zach Mayer to give Yale the 6-4 advantage that the Huskies could not cut into despite a number of attempts. Yale goalie Josh Gartner stopped 39 of Connecticut’s 43 shots on goal.
The game was prefaced by a moment of silence in memory of four Yale students, Andrew Dwyer, Sean Fenton, Nick Grass, and Kyle Burnat, who were killed in a car accident on I-95 one year ago today.
Connecticut dropped to 5-10-5 with the loss, and resumes its league play next Friday and Saturday when it hosts a pair of games against Mercyhurst. The Bulldogs improved to 9-10-0 overall, and will host the US Under-18 team for an exhibition next Saturday.