NEW HAVEN, Conn. — After suffering their first two conference losses at home last weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth, it seems that the Union College Dutchmen simply chose the wrong team against which to start a turnaround.
In this battle for late-January ECAC supremacy, it was the homestanding Yale Bulldogs that took a 4-3 victory before a sold out crowd of 3,486 at Ingalls Rink.
With the win, Yale claims a potentially important tie-breaker by taking the season series and moves into a first place tie with Cornell while the Dutchmen sit just one point back in third.
For fans who came expecting a battle between the top two offenses in the ECAC, the first period did not disappoint, so long as they got to their seats on time.
Yale wasted no time getting on the board, as Sean Backman scored his 13th of the year just 45 seconds in on the games first shot on goal. A shot from the point by Unions Mike Wakita took a bad deflection off the skate of Yales Andrew Miller back towards the neutral zone, giving Backman a clear breakaway as he picked up the loose puck, skated in along the left wing, and then deked to the right before backhanding the puck over Keith Kinkaids right pad.
Union would answer just over two minutes later at 3:05 on their own first shot when Luke Cain stole a cross-ice pass in the Yale zone and beat Nick Maricic inside the right post with a wrister from in between the faceoff circles.
Yale coach Keith Allain frequently switched up his lines throughout this up and down game, which saw little if any time spent in the neutral zone.
I was just trying to try some different combinations. I guess the one line that was constant was our checking line if you want to call it a checking line. Sometimes I think guys can get stale if you let them do the same thing all the time, so I wanted to try some different things.
The first fruit of this experiment ripened at 5:56 of the first when Yale would make it a 2-1 game on a pretty give-and-go play by Brian ONeill and Miller, who were playing together as Yale line mates for the first time. ONeill gained the line and dropped the puck for Miller, who guarded it from a defender and then fed it back to ONeill near the bottom of the far circle, where he was able to skate in and beat Kinkaid to the blocker side.
Me and Andrew played together in Chicago (of the USHL) so were pretty familiar with each other, ONeill said. He sees the ice really well, just went to the net, got a fortunate bounce, and I was kind of all alone with the goalie. It was a good play by Andy, pretty simple goal.
Union would have a chance to tie the game late in the first period, when top scorers Adam Presizniuk and Mario Valery-Trabucco had a shorthanded two-on-none opportunity. Nick Maricic was able to make one of many spectacular stops however, as he slid out to stop Valery-Trabuccos shot with the right pad.
Maricic finished the game with 22 saves while Kinkaid made 36 stops for Union.
Union would tie the game at two three minutes into the second on a broken play in front of the Yale net. While being spun around by Nick Jaskowiak to the right of the crease, Cain made a no-look backhanded pass to senior Jon Lareau, who scored under the glove of Maricic for his first career goal.
Yale regained the lead at 12:59 on a garbage goal just two seconds after the expiration of a Jason Walters boarding penalty. After a lengthy review, referee Bryan Hicks awarded the goal to Brendan Mason with helpers from Jeff Anderson and Denny Kearney.
Mason would add his second of the game on the power play 6:44 into the final period to give the home team a two goal lead for the first time. Kinkaid kicked the rebound of a shot from the point by Jimmy Martin right on to Masons stick and he easily buried it into the open net.
Yale would take three bad penalties in the third following their last goal, but the Yale penalty kill was able to stifle the Dutchmen power play each time. In what has been touted as the first of two games at Yale this weekend that will showcase three of the leagues best power play units, the stats might indicate that both sides left disappointed.
Union finished 0-for-5 while Yale was 1-for-7 with the extra man.
I dont think we played well on the power play at all, Union coach Nate Leaman said after the game. We were losing a lot of one-on-one battles, even on the half wall or down low. Then when we got the puck up top, we werent really moving our feet to get out of shot lanes. I thought their penalty kill out-executed us.
Power plays are funny, Allain said. I thought maybe our best power play of the night was our very first one and we dont score on that one. And then we get kind of a grind it out goal in the third which was the game-winning goal. And the third goal came at the very end of a power play, so in my mind that was a result of the work we were doing on the power play. So statistically, thats not a power play goal but I chalk it up as one.
Union would make things interesting with just over a minute left in regulation and Kinkaid heading for the bench when John Simpson had the rebound of a shot by Valery-Trabucco deflect off his skate and past Maricic. Yale was able to control the final minute to avoid further suspense and escape with the victory.
I thought we had the bulk of the scoring chances, Allain said. But I certainly wouldnt short-change that team in any way, shape, or form.
Commenting on the three-game skid for Union, Leaman saw a difference between tonight and last weekend.
Last week I was very happy even though we lost the games. We had better chances in the games and we outshot our opponents pretty handily. This game tonight, I thought the better team won. They won the one-on-one battles and they outworked us. Its the first time in awhile that weve been outworked. We tightened up in the second and the third, but we put ourselves in bad situations.”
We didnt make them work for a lot of their offense; we gave it to them. You have to give them credit because they are good enough to (take advantage), but I was disappointed because when you go on the road, you have to make a team earn their offense and we didnt make them earn enough tonight.
Yale hosts RPI tomorrow while Union heads to Providence to face Brown.