ALBANY, N.Y. — Yale hockey had four goals in mind when it started the season. Not many would have foreseen the Bulldogs achieving five against Cornell Saturday night.
The Ivy League and ECAC regular-season champs buried the bedraggled Big Red 5-0 to win their first ECAC Hockey Championship in front of 4,587 at Albany’s Times-Union Center.
The Yale band blared the most appropriate “Beatdown Stomp” — a coincidentally traditional Bulldog tune — as the Blue clambered over the boards and into a happily heaving pile. Only one more preseason goal remains for the streaking Elis: the national title.
“People don’t realize the price that they’ve paid for this championship, how hard they’ve worked,” said Yale head coach Keith Allain in an uncharacteristically emotional moment. “I think it was March 31st, this time last year, that we started our training with our strength coach to get ready for this. They’ve really put the time in, and it’s tremendous to see them getting rewarded for their efforts.”
“On a scale of one-to-happy? I’m happy,” the normally subdued Allain grinned. “Very happy. Couldn’t be happier.”
Junior scoring sensation Sean Backman tallied his second career hat trick, freshman Brian O’Neill scored with two assists, and sophomore Denny Kearney also lit the lamp for Yale (24-7-2). Senior netminder Alec Richards made 27 saves for the win, Yale’s first and only title-game triumph in the 48-year history of the league.
“I think for this group, it was their tournament, their win, and I think that’s reason enough to feel pretty darn good,” Allain said.
“You know, we had this goal coming into the beginning of the season, and for us to fulfill it, I can’t even explain it. We couldn’t be more happy,” beamed Backman.
Cornell (21-9-4) never seemed to recover from the fatigue of Friday night’s double-overtime semifinal, going 0-7 on the power play and never really threatening the kind of comeback it achieved the previous evening.
“Give Yale credit, they blocked some big shots tonight,” said Cornell head coach Mike Schafer. “We moved it around, and had some opportunities, and their kids did a good job of sacrificing their bodies and when it got through to the net, Alec made some big saves.
“We had our opportunities, especially early on a couple of power plays and we didn’t get it done. I said you get that first power-play goal, a goal, you get that lead, things can change … but they did a good job throughout the course of the night killing penalties.”
The sides traded blows in the first period, as Richards and Scrivens had to be sharp early. The Red hummed around Yale’s crease multiple times in the opening frame, but it was Scrivens who made the first big save when he kicked Backman’s breakaway attempt to the boards 7:30 into the game.
Backman didn’t give up so easily, though, scoring the game’s first goal in the 14th minute of play. The slippery winger found space high in Cornell’s right-wing slot, and red-hot rookie Brian O’Neill found him on a cross-ice feed. Backman beat the sliding Scrivens low to the goalie’s left, sneaking the puck just beyond his extended left toe.
“The first was a real killer for us,” lamented Schafer. “With the game last night in double-overtime, I just felt we needed to get a lead in this game tonight. For me the second was obviously a killer, but the first one that got in the back of the net after having a real good first period was a tough one.”
The first 20 minutes hit the books with 1-0 Yale on the board, but Cornell possessing the 10-8 advantage in shots.
“We had opportunities early on, and coming out of last night’s game I thought that obviously the lead was going to be imperative to us, to try to get up on them,” said Schafer. “They did a tremendous job of capitalizing in transition.”
Yale sophomore Jimmy Martin had a great look at a 2-0 lead, but instead of the bright red light, found Scrivens’ big red pad. The defenseman jumped deep into the play late in a Bulldog power play, and took a crease-cleaving feed from winger Chris Cahill right on the tape. Martin teed it up without hesitation, but the 6-foot-2 Scrivens was just quick enough to deny Martin his third goal of the year.
Cornell had its first good equalizing opportunity four minutes into the second stanza as Brendon Nash and Sean Collins tangoed into Yale’s zone in a two-on-one. Nash elected to take the shot from the right lane, but missed Richards’ net high and wide to the far side.
Cornell dodged a bullet three minutes later as Scrivens lunged headfirst across his net for a loose puck. Yale popped it by him, but only did so a split-second after the goalie had already inadvertently dislodged his left post. Blue boosters howled their argument, but the play stood as no goal.
The Red couldn’t dodge Yale’s next bid, 13:44 into the second after a pretty series of passes. Center Kevin Limbert entered the zone and crossed it to right wing Broc Little, who promptly sent it back across the slot to Kearney for the easy one-timer.
“We had a couple great opportunities, two great chances,” said Schafer. “One we blew over the net, and we had a little turnover, they made it 2-0, and it was obviously a struggle from there on in to get back into it.”
The Bulldogs kept the heat on the wilting Ithacans as Mark Arcobello nearly found an onrushing Martin in another odd-man rush. Arcobello threw a low shot at Scrivens with barely two minutes to go, but the goalie couldn’t handle the rebound as it bounced off to his left. O’Neill flew in to clean up, roofing the puck over the committed ‘keeper for the 3-0 lead.
Yale only registered 15 shots through two periods to Cornell’s 16, but held a seemingly insurmountable lead where the numbers mattered most. The Big Red were a big failure on the advantage, going 0-5 on the power play through 40 minutes.
Yale buried the game’s first such goal 6:24 into the final period following a controversial Riley Nash boarding minor. Nash nailed Yale freshman defender Nick Jaskowiak from behind two feet off the Bulldogs’ right-wing half-boards, but Cornell’s starting center was only assessed a two-minute penalty for the dangerous slam.
Yale made the beleaguered Red pay anyhow as Little fed Backman for a two-on-one tip-in with 13 and half to play.
Cornell couldn’t stay out of its own way as the seconds bled away, taking another minor as Taylor Davenport slunk off to the box with under 11 minutes on the board. Schafer lifted Scrivens in favor of the extra attacker with 8:32 to play, but despite a few valiant efforts, the gamble failed with Backman’s third goal.
“It’s always nice to score some goals, but I’m more happy about the win than the three goals,” Backman deferred.
Allain became the first Yale head coach to beat Cornell in the tournament: the Big Red had been six-for-six against the Bulldogs entering Saturday’s tilt. The five-goal margin of victory was also the second-largest in the history of the ECAC finale, as Boston University — now in Hockey East — pounded Brown 9-2 in 1976.
Both Cornell and Yale will play in the NCAA tournament next week, with the selection show airing on Sunday on ESPN2 at 11:30 a.m. ET.
Yale hosts the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn. next Friday and Saturday, and is therefore assured of playing close to home regardless of NCAA seed.