NEW HAVEN, Conn. — This is not how it was supposed to end for the Yale class of 2006.
Two seasons ago, as sophomores, forwards Joe Zappala, Christian Jensen and Jeff Hristovski ranked one, two and three on the Bulldogs points list.
Tonight, on Senior Night, at Ingalls Rink, Hristovski was held scoreless, Zappala was handed a ten-minute misconduct penalty for fighting, Jensen sat out injured for the 21st time, and Yale (8-18-3, 6-14-2) fell to Princeton, 4-2.
After the game, Zappala and his nine classmates gathered with family for consolation and photos. Zappala slipped away for a moment and sat alone on the home bench one last time.
“I was just sitting over there, taking it all in,” he said with a voice worn from crying. “I’ll miss the atmosphere here most. It’s one of the best places to play in the league. When you pack this place, it’s loud, with a low roof, and the fans are great. Sometimes you take it for granted.”
For half the game, it seemed as though the ten seniors would receive an appropriate sendoff.
Yale started the scoring 4:29 into the first period when Zach Mayer’s nice move on the half-boards bought him enough space to find defenseman Bill LeClerc creeping in from the far side. LeClerc’s low wrist shot slipped underneath the pads of Eric Leroux.
Princeton (10-16-3, 7-12-3) got even in the middle of the second period when Patrick Neundorfer tipped in a Mike Moore shot from the blue line. The Tigers gained the lead for good less than a minute later when Lee Jubinville chipped a rebound over Yale’s Josh Gartner following a mad scramble in front of the net.
The Bulldogs continued to play carelessly in front of their own net throughout the contest. Near the end of the second period, LeClerc and his defensive partner Matt Cohen failed to pick up Jubinville, whose shot Gartner stopped, and then Neundorfer, who eventually scored.
On the offensive end, however, Yale was dogged. The Bulldogs offense accounted for 41 shots, outshooting Princeton (30) in every period.
But Leroux held strong.
“He’s been phenomenal every night,” Princeton head coach Guy Gadowsky said. “The difference [between tonight and the 6-1 loss to Yale Jan. 6] was Eric Leroux. He came up pretty big when he had to.”
One such moment came when Yale held a two-man advantage for 1:15 at the end of the second and beginning of the third periods. During that power play, Brad Mills found Hristovski wide open on the back door, but Leroux turned him aside with a sprawling pad save.
“He had a couple saves on point-blank shots,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “That was a magnificent one on Hristovski.”
Blair Yaworski beat Leroux in the third period with a rising wrist shot that found its way through a screen, but Princeton regained the two-goal lead for good when Kevin Westgarth capitalized on another Yale defensive breakdown.
With the win, Princeton will face Clarkson in the first round of the ECACHL playoffs next weekend, while Yale travels to Union.
In the intervening week, Taylor said his team, which has scored just eight times during its current six-game losing streak, must find a way to generate more quality scoring chances.
“On top of the 40-plus shots we got, Princeton must’ve blocked about 20,” he said. “Right now we’re certainly snake-bitten when it comes to goals.”