NEW HAVEN, Conn. — As the beginnings of a much-anticipated blizzard fell outside Ingalls Rink, it was only fitting that the caps tossed on the ice by Yale fans following forward Brad Mills’ third goal of the game were winter snow hats.
Led by Mills’ hat trick — the first of his career as an Eli — Yale (3-15-1) found some of the offense it wished it had last week in a 1-0 loss to Boston College, pulling out a 6-2 victory over Connecticut (6-16-2) in front of a loyal crowd of 2,619 who braved the snow to attend the matinee matchup.
“We feel positive and upbeat,” said the sophomore Mills. “We felt we did a lot of things well but we also think we can do a lot of things better.”
The win was the third of the season for Yale, which must now turn its attention back to the ECACHL schedule after a month of mostly non-conference matchups. Yale has five remaining league weekends, three of them at home, until the playoffs begin.
It was a confidence booster in many respects, especially for special teams. The Elis converted two of their five power plays, and while they gave up two extra-man goals to the Huskies, Yale picked up a shorthanded score on a pretty passing play from Christian Jensen to Mills.
“We continue to take too many penalties, but I think at least we’re getting used to being in the box,” said Jensen, who assisted Mills on two of his goals. “If you give the puck to Mills and there’s no one between him and the net, he’ll most likely get it in.”
Mills was not the only Yale player who showed some offensive mettle. Freshman Jean-Francois Boucher netted his first goal of the season midway through the first period, and defenseman Shawn Mole earned his first career score with a shot from the point in the second.
Nate Jackson rounded out Yale’s scoring off a fantastic power play setup by teammates Blair Yaworski and Bill LeClerc.
“I think our lines have been becoming more in sync,” said head coach Tim Taylor. “They’ve been together for a while now.”
The Bulldogs came out of the locker room in fine form, scoring two goals by the midway point of the first period off shots from Mills and Boucher.
“We felt we needed to dictate the pace of the game, and we did that well in the first ten minutes,” Mills said.
A lackadaisical end to the period, however, allowed UConn’s Aaron Kakepetum to notch his second of the season when he was able to get the puck into an open net past a diving Matt Modelski.
Mole’s goal came just 48 seconds into the second period, and would prove to be the eventual game-winner. Yale’s two-goal lead lasted less than four minutes, however, as Matt Scherer poked the puck past Modelski during a Husky power play to narrow the score to 3-2.
With Matt Grew being whistled for interference at 10:59 of the second, the Bulldogs’ second power play unit demonstrated a patient and precise series of passing. Blair Yaworski moved the puck across the blue line to fellow blueliner Bill LeClerc, who shot a cross-ice pass to a waiting Jackson on the left side of the net. The junior knocked in his fifth goal of the season to extend Yale’s lead.
Four minutes later, Jensen and Mills connected on a shorthanded two on one, with Mills deking Husky goaltender Scott Tomes before backhanding the puck in for the 5-2 lead. The pair would do the same again on an even strength goal 8:14 into the third period.
“Mills is a very good player who was a top point scorer on his junior team,” said Taylor. “He’s a good strong physical specimen and he has a great shot.”
The emergence of Mills as the team’s top scorer-he has 9 goals and 11 assists on the season-is one of the byproducts of a line reshuffle that placed Mills and center Jeff Hristovski on their own lines instead of having them play together. The result has been that the Elis now have two strong offensive lines, one with Jensen, Mills, and junior Joe Zappala, and the other with Hristovski anchoring freshmen Yaworski and Boucher.
Goaltender Matt Modelski picked up his third win, meaning he has been in net for all of Yale’s victories. He finished with 28 saves, while the Huskies’ Scott Tomes stopped 28 as well before being pulled for Brad Smith. The Elis outshot UConn 38-30 over the course of the game.
The Bulldogs are hoping to sustain the momentum they have coming off a 2-1 win over Clarkson, a close 1-0 loss to No. 2 BC and Saturday’s victory as they begin the toughest stretch of their season, which starts with a home weekend against Ivy and ECACHL rivals Harvard and Brown.
“We’re trying over time to be more and more aggressive,” Jensen said. “Hopefully we can ruin some people’s weekends.”