ALBANY, N.Y. — The Yale Bulldogs proved doubters wrong all year long, and were in no mood to rest on the laurels of their second-ever NCAA bid Friday afternoon.
Senior winger Matt Nelson tipped home a two-on-one pass from sophomore Brendan Mason with 1:06 remaining to complete a lightning-quick Yale comeback, as the Bulldogs stunned the feisty Saints 4-3 at the Times-Union Center on Friday afternoon.
Sophomore Broc Little scored a goal and added an assist, classmate Ken Trentowski tallied his first collegiate goal, third-year Mark Arcobello and senior Matt Nelson each lit the lamp, and four-year veteran Alec Richards stopped 35 for Yale (23-7-2).
Sophomore Jared Keller had a goal and a helper for St. Lawrence (21-12-4), which also got goals from seniors Kevin DeVergilio and Zach Miskovic. Alex Petizian made 27 saves for the Saints.
“It was a great college hockey game,” said Yale head coach Keith Allain. “We have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach (Joe) Marsh and his team at St. Lawrence. They’re the hottest team in the nation now, in Division I college hockey, so we knew it was going to be a great game.
“We played them twice during the regular season, and they won one in overtime, we tied one in overtime, and tonight it just seemed like it was our turn.”
“First off I just want to congratulate Yale,” said Marsh. “I said to Keith last night, ‘You know, maybe we should just put 3-3 up on the board, and next goal wins.’ It’s incredible how many 4-3 games we’ve had with Yale. Sometimes sports can be pretty cruel; you lose 4-3 in a conventional way, I don’t know if it’s a little more palatable or not. That’s a tough one.”
The underdog Saints scored first, breaking Richards’ shutout following a dozen minutes of hard-nosed hockey. Sophomore center Aaron Bogosian dangled the puck down the right-wing boards, stopping even with the faceoff dots before releasing a low-angle forehand wrister. Keller zipped in front of Richards, tapping the whistling rip over the goalie’s right toe for the 1-0 lead.
The Saints had a couple chances to add to the lead, most notably DeVergilio’s two-on-one with just-sprung linemate Brock McBride emerging from the box with a minute remaining. Lone defender Nick Jaskowiak held his ground however, blocking DeVergilio’s pass attempt out of harm’s way with good skate positioning.
The sides took to their dressing rooms with SLU up a goal, but Yale out-shooting the Saints 13-10 through 20 minutes.
Yale didn’t let its memories of missed chances percolate too long, as winger Little whipped a quick one by Petizian in the game’s 25th minute. The goal followed a number of close-range shots and rebound bids by the Bulldogs, and it appeared the Blue & White had found their game as Bogosian took a tripping call to prevent an ensuing Ivy breakaway attempt only a minute after Little’s equalizer.
The New Haven sextet capitalized on the advantage, as defensive point-man Trentowski blasted a 50-foot rope through freshman Brian O’Neill’s screen and past the baffled Petizian.
St. Lawrence struck right back, as Miskovic scored his 16th of the season on a long slapshot with 10 minutes left in the period. The Saints built a formidable impediment in front of Richards, and the partially screened goaltender had no chance at the post-pinging salvo.
The Canton crew had a prime cut of goal between its teeth moments later, but unmarked junior Jeremiah Cunningham couldn’t pull the trigger from the top of the crease on a bang-bang play from rookie linemate Max Mobley.
Yale had its own golden opportunity with seven minutes on the clock as hot-handed O’Neill pinged both Petizian’s post, but failed to flutter the twine.
The Saints turned an ugly turnover into a pretty goal with 3:06 to play. On the heels of a Jeff Caister giveaway at his own blue line, a Petizian stop, and a sharp dish up-ice, DeVergilio made up for his botched rush earlier in the game. The streaking winger absorbed the puck at the Yale blue line and out-waited Richards on a textbook forehand deke, putting SLU up 3-2.
Each team took a minor with the frame’s final seconds, and the third period commenced with the sides skating four a side.
“It wasn’t a comfortable game,” said Allain. “There are some games where you feel like there’s a little more flow to it, but you get a team like St. Lawrence that likes to play really fast — and we like to play really fast – I didn’t think it was that kind of a game … (but) I certainly thought it was a competitive, hard-fought hockey game.”
The Bulldogs dodged a massive bullet with only six minutes left in the game, killing a 90-second five-on-three SLU advantage to preserve the tight difference.
“No question about it, I think we all felt on the bench that if we could kill that, then we had a chance to win the hockey game,” said Allain of the two-man deficit.
The Saints almost potted an insurance goal with four minutes left, getting Richards down and out off his right post and abandoning most of his net. Sophomore defender Jimmy Martin slid in to save his stranded ‘keeper, rejecting one SLU shot and holding the right post against rebound attempts while Richards finally recovered enough to freeze the puck.
“He made a good play behind me,” said Richards of Martin. “The puck took a funny bounce, and you know what, that’s what he’s there for. My hat’s off to him.”
Allain used his timeout with a minute and a half to play and the faceoff coming to Petizian’s right.
The Bulldogs forced the puck into the corner and fought their way to the net, managing a couple productive whacks that ultimately resulted in the puck popping up over Petizian. The rubber ticked Arcobello on the way down, ending up behind the goalie as the game-tying goal.
“We’ve come back before, so we know we can do it,” said Backman of Yale’s late-game mettle. “It’s just a question of how to do it, and luckily enough we were able to come out on top tonight.”
“They finished first. They obviously have a lot of resiliency, and they’re a very well-coached team,” said Marsh.
Mason to Nelson finished off the scoring, but not before a flurry of last-gasp chances for SLU, which out-shot Yale 17-8 in the third.
“I certainly thought it was much closer than that,” Allain remarked. “They did have that long five-against-three, and the last minute of the game was a mad scramble, so I don’t know how many shots they got on that. But I was comfortable … with the scoring chances that we generated in the third period. I would much rather score the goals and let them take the shots,” he concluded.
The Saints’ season continues beyond the seeming formality of the third-place game. Should SLU win that one, and a number of other highly possible national results fall in place, the Saints will still advance to the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid.
The Bulldogs are already assured of their place in the national tourney – and a regional game at nearby Bridgeport, Conn., where Yale is hosting – but currently have their sights on more imminent opportunities. Back in ECAC Hockey’s final four for the first time in 11 years, Yale is now playing in its first-ever title game.