NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Based on their remaining opponents’ records, this was the toughest and most important game remaining on the regular season slate for both Yale and St. Lawrence with two weekends to play.
Each team came into tonight’s contest before the sixth consecutive sellout of 3,486 at Ingalls Rink controlling its own destiny for a very important place in the ECAC standings, the Bulldogs for first place and their second straight Cleary Cup and the Saints for fourth place and the final first-round bye in the league playoffs. Because of the results tonight in Allston and Troy, where Cornell and RPI both won to keep pace in the races, only one of tonight’s contestants would leave doing the same.
In a game after which both Yale coach Keith Allain and SLU coach Joe Marsh remarked it was “one of the strangest games” they had ever seen, Yale avenged a two-goal loss a month ago in Canton by taking home a 7-5 victory.
“I think we still have the opportunity to get that fourth bye spot, but now we kind of took it out of our hands a little bit, so we just have to win out and hope for the best,” senior Travis Vermeulen commented.
Yale started tonight right where they had left off against Cornell, absolutely dominating the game with speed and intensity and keeping the puck almost exclusively in the SLU end. The pressure paid off quickly when defenseman Kevin Peel took a pass back up to the point from Brian O’Neill and sent a wrister through traffic that found its way to the mesh at 1:51, as Kain Tisi never even saw it.
Tisi kept his team from falling behind even further in the very beginning of the first period, as Yale outshot SLU 13-0 through the first seven minutes, making countless reaction stops on Yale forwards right in front of the cage. From there, it got ugly for both he and Eli starter Billy Blase.
SLU got even on its second shot of the game at 7:48 when they caught the Yale defense being over-aggressive for the first of two times in the opening frame. Tom Dignard tried to step in front of a lead pass from Brandon Bollig to Jeremiah Cunningham but missed, leaving Cunningham and Aaron Bogosian on a two-on-one. Nick Jaskowiak committed to Cunningham, who passed it across to Bogosian, who beat Blase before he could get into position.
Brendan Mason took the lead back for Yale two minutes later when he stole the puck away from Derek Keller in front of the SLU net, faked a backhand shot, and then brought it back to the forehand and buried it up high past the glove of Tisi.
Only three minutes after that, the Saints made it 2-2 on their second two-on-one of the period. This time, it was Vermeulen and Matt Dyer. Vermeulen carried the puck in on the right wing, faked a pass to Dyer, but kept it himself and sent a wrister past Blase.
The Bulldogs went up for the third time on the game’s first power play at 17:52. Broc Little skated with the puck back up toward the point on the right wing, where he found a seam and fed a pass across the zone to Jimmy Martin to the left of the crease, who sent a touch pass to Mark Arcobello on the back door for the easy finish to a pretty play.
The hosts took two penalties 17 seconds apart in the final minute of the opening period to put the Saints up two men, and they scored twice, first with four seconds to play in the first to send the teams to the locker room nodded at 3-3 and then again on the remaining carry-over penalty 22 seconds into the second to take their first and only lead.
Vermeulen had a part in both goals, assisting on the first when he and Bollig moved the puck up to Derek Keller, who hit the back of the net from above the right circle, and then scoring his second of the game when he gobbled up the deflection of a George Hughes shot on the doorstep and gave a rude awakening to the new Yale netminder, Nick Maricic.
Blase got sent to the showers after the first, in which he allowed three goals on just seven shots.
“I thought we did a great job offensively. We created some chances and were able to finish,” Allain said afterward. “I don’t think we were as good as we needed to be on the defensive side. This certainly wasn’t the script that we wanted, but it was good for us in the sense that it was a real test of our focus and mental toughness. Our guys really beared down when push came to shove and gutted out a good win. In the long run, this will be a valuble win for us.”
Sean Backman seemed to take personal offense to giving up the lead, as he skated a step ahead of everyone the rest of the game, having a part in the tying and eventual winning goals. He made it a 4-4 game at 5:50 of the second when he stepped around Tisi to the front of the crease to bat the puck out of the air after it deflected up on an initial save. He then found Brian O’Neill on the back door from the right-wing half-wall to put Yale up 6-4 at 12:27.
In between, Peel had scored on a power play to pick up his first career multiple-goal game. The play had been made mostly by Little though, who came from behind the net to the goal line and saucered a pass diagonally over the defense in the slot to Peel at the top of the left wing circle, from where he buried it on a wrister glove side.
The strangest part of the game was a case of dj vu that came at the end of the second. Yale again took back-to-back penalties in the final minute of the frame, and SLU again made them pay immediately on the two-man advantage. Vermeulen made it a hat trick and a 6-5 game with just half a tick left on the clock when he tipped home the third helper of the game from Bollig.
To make matters worse, Allain had taken his team to the locker room as the goal was being reviewed to make sure it had come before the buzzer. When referee Bryan Hicks determined there was still .5 seconds left, five Yale skaters and Maricic quickly hustled back out from the locker room, but Yale was hit with a bench minor for unsportsmanlike conduct for its empty bench, putting them back down two men to start the third.
The dj vu ended there. Yale killed :38 of the five-on-three before SLU took an inexcusable penalty of its own. The Bulldogs then killed off the remainder of the four-on-three and after an absolute shootout in the first two periods and plenty of chances for both sides in an even third, no one would score again until Little nailed it down with an empty-netter at 18:26.
“They are a tremendous team offensively, there’s no question about it,” Marsh mused. “We weren’t able to bottle them up or get any rhythm going. They just keep you off balance so much, they can fly and really move the puck. Fortunately, our power play got clicking, but it’s kind of in a wasted effort. I thought we did some good things offensively and we didn’t quit, but we have a five-on-three and then take a penalty. Those are the things that just have killed us, for awhile too. It’s been a rough month for us so far.”
Yale hosts ECAC bottom-dweller Clarkson tomorrow afternoon at 4 p.m. on senior day, while St. Lawrence travels east to Providence to face-off against Brown at 7 p.m.