NEW HAVEN, Conn. — Brown scored an early short-handed goal and then goalie Mike Clemente played lights out, stopping all 44 shots on net by Yale, as the 11th-seed Bears knocked top-seed Yale out of the ECAC tournament by winning the deciding third game of their quarterfinal series, 1-0.
“Mike Clemente was absolutely incredible,” said Brown coach Brendan Whittet. “I’ve been coaching for awhile. I played the game my whole life. That is single-handedly the best goaltending effort I have seen. He is a calm, intelligent kid. He’s the type of goaltender you can actually talk to between periods and not get him rattled. He’s a young kid; he’s only 19 years old, and he’s getting better.”
The Brown defense should not be left out of the story either, as they blocked an additional 28 tries at the mesh by the nation’s leading offense, albeit without star Sean Backman.
“Whenever I made a mistake, my team was there to clear a puck away, or knock a guy on his butt, or block a shot,” commented a modest Clemente. “They did a really good job in front of me.”
The hosts dominated play throughout this Sunday evening affair, and it was not for lack of effort that they came up short.
“I am extremely proud of the way our guys competed,” Yale coach Keith Allain commented. “I thought we were smart, we played hard, and showed great discipline skating through the hooks, the holds, the hacks, the whacks that were allowed to go on in the slot area in front of their net. We just stuck at it and were persistent and it was a night where their goalie stole the game. It’s as frustrating as it can get in a team sport when one guy is the difference maker.”
The game’s lone goal came 9:21 into the first period on Yale’s first power play opportunity. Jack Maclellan gathered a loose puck in the Brown zone and broke out hard the other way in transition. He had space to take a shot on the rush and let one fly from the top of the right circle that beat Billy Blase stick side high. No one ever thought it would turn out to be the game-winner.
“That’s one that I should definitely have but I don’t want to be too hard on myself,” a somber Blase said. “I played well to keep it a 1-0 game. I only give myself room to make one or two small mistakes a game and that might have been one of them. It’s just tough that had to be the game-winner.”
The rest of the way, the game resembled those that Yale was playing at the end of the regular season, where they fell behind early and it was only a matter of when they would score and open the floodgates. Then, as the game got late, “when” turned to “if” and before you knew it, there was no time left and the Brown bench was out mobbing Clemente as the Elis stood around stunned.
“You don’t want to watch the clock,” Whittet said. “Because once you start (doing that), you forget about what you have to do and then the clock doesn’t move it seems like.”
“As a game wears on, it just becomes more and more fun,” added Clemente. “This is something you dream about. You’re in the playoffs, you’re up by one, and there’s five minutes left. It’s something we’ll remember doing. We now have a chance to win a championship, something that hasn’t happened in a really long time at Brown.”
The win advances the Bears to Albany for the single-elimination ECAC semifinals, where they will face second-seed Cornell and their eager to travel fan base. That doesn’t seem to worry Whittet.
“We’re the underdog,” he said. “I mean, we were the 11th seed, but it’s a Cinderella story. It sounds clich, but I think some people may root for us too because our guys have worked very hard to get where they are now.”
It has been a remarkable turnaround this year for Brown under Whittet in his first year. Yes, they only improved one spot in the standings, but fans are certainly taking notice of a brand-new desire in their team that has led to a vast improvement in output from many players.
“From day one since we met Coach, you could see his passion for Brown University, not just the hockey program but the school as a whole,” said senior tri-captain Devin Timberlake. “He loves that place and lets it show, and it’s contagious. His enthusiasm rubs right on to everybody and everyone feels good about themselves and about Brown. I just talked to a few of the guys downstairs about it. Fourth year here, haven’t had so much success in the last three years. Especially for myself, last year I missed over half the year and missed the playoff run. I just feel great for all the senior guys.”
On the other side of things, the Bulldogs will try to lick their wounds and stay positive as they wait until next Sunday to see if they receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“They’re high,” Allain said of his team’s tournament hopes. “We practice as if we’re in.”
Allain is probably right, as Yale currently sits 10th in the PairWise Rankings at the conclusion of play this weekend. As of now, the top 14 teams in the PWR will get a spot, but the Elis will have to root against the Bears, because if anyone other than Cornell wins the ECAC championship, their automatic bid will eliminate yet another spot for an at-large bubble team.
For a more detailed look at the game, check out my live USCHO Fan Forum blog here: http://board.uscho.com/showthread.php?t=89480