NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The most telling statistic in the Brown-Yale rematch at Ingalls Rink, was this: of the five goals given up by Yale, four were on a Brown power play — and even the fifth didn’t quite come at even strength.
The Bears (10-6-3) went four for nine in power play chances and added an empty-net goal as they defeated the Bulldogs (3-16-1) 5-3 in front of 3,021 fans. Mike Meech scored his sixth, seventh, and eighth goals of the season in a hat-trick performance, while Bears goaltender Adam D’Alba picked up his eighth win of the season with a 32-save showing.
“Our goalie held us in there all night,” said Meech. “We didn’t come out as well as we wanted in the first period but we were fortunate to come out on top.”
Brown came back from one-goal deficits twice during the course of the game, tying the game at 1-1 and 2-2 after being down. After Yale battled back to tie the game at 3-3 early in the third period, Meech’s 5-on-3 power-play score gave the Bears a lead they would not relinquish.
“We’ve come back all year long,” said Brown head coach Roger Grillo. “We’ve been down a lot and bounced back, and the guys have done it enough times that now they have confidence in those situations.”
On the other hand, it was a promising sign for the Bulldogs that they managed to stay in the game as well. For the early part of the season, the Bulldogs had been a decidedly fragile team, unable to handle go-ahead goals by opponents and sitting back to allow blowout losses.
Friday, the Elis showed considerable mettle in taking the early lead and skating with the Bears throughout the game. Yale outshot the Bears 35-23, with goaltender Matt Modelski making 18 saves in net.
“They definitely didn’t look like a team that has three wins,” Meech said. “They looked like they’re starting to put things together.”
Everything, that is, except the penalty kill.
“We keep thinking we’re getting better on the penalty kill but for some reason that still kills us,” said rookie Jean-Francois Boucher, who notched his second goal of the season in the second period to give Yale the 2-1 lead at that point.
Yale head coach Tim Taylor was similarly frustrated with the success of the man-down unit.
“I’m sick to my stomach over our penalty-kill issues,” he said. “It is a very clear Achilles’ heel for this hockey team, and it was obviously the tale of this game.”
The contest began well for Yale, as Christian Jensen scored a gritty unassisted goal after stickhandling the puck through the zone just 3:24 into the game.
Nearly ten minutes elapsed before Meech tied things up on a power play on an assist from Jeff Prough to put the teams at 1-1 going into the locker rooms.
In the final moments of a Yale power play on a kneeing penalty by Brown’s Sean Dersch, Boucher took advantage of confusion in front of the net to bury the puck just as the man-up situation expired. Blair Yaworski and Zach Mayer earned assists on Boucher’s goal that gave Yale the 2-1 lead.
Penalties to Boucher and defenseman Mike Grobe, however, gave the Bears a five-on-three opportunity that they converted when David Robertson beat Modelski 10:28 into the second to tie things at 2.
With one penalty wiped off the board, the Bears managed to score on the other one as well, as Brian McNary was set up by Adam Tichauer for Brown’s first lead of the night at 3-2.
“On the whole, in terms of puck possession, positional play, and territorial advantage, it was a good effort,” Taylor said. “I feel terrible for the kids, because it was pretty disheartening to have one element of our play determine the outcome of this hockey game.”
While Brad Mills tied the game at 3 when he poked the puck over the goal line and past D’Alba, penalties on Bobby Burns and Nick Shalek 60 seconds apart allowed the Bears a full minute of five-on-three once again.
And for the second time in the game, it was Meech who came up with the goal, giving Brown a 4-3 lead 7:25 into the third.
“Mike’s a kid that I’m so happy for,” Grillo said. “He had some tough years but this season he’s shown great leadership despite not being a captain. He’s really stepped it up.”
The Bulldogs had their share of almost-goals throughout the game, including a slapshot by Jensen that pinged off the post in the second period, a great chance for Mills with six minutes remaining in the game, and an open net with just over a minute to play when D’Alba got tripped up behind the Brown goal.
“We’ve had enough good outings to build upon, but we still haven’t proven that we’re a winning hockey team,” Taylor said.
The Bears, on the other hand, are hoping that they are just beginning to roll in the final stretch. With improved first-period play, Meech noted, they won’t find themselves in the position of having to rebound the way they did tonight.
The Elis regroup to take on archnemesis Harvard Saturday at 7 p.m., while Brown travels to Princeton for a matchup at the same time.
“We’ve got to pull out the positives from tonight and use them tomorrow,” said Boucher.