WORCESTER, Mass. — The Yale Bulldogs shocked the college hockey world and all the prognosticators by defeating the North Dakota Fighting Sioux, 3-2, for their first NCAA tournament victory since the 1952 consolation game. The selection committee threw Yale a curve ball by keeping them east against a much tougher first-round opponent than initially expected, but it never seemed to matter.
The early shocker in this game was who was in nets for the underdog Elis. No one expected junior Ryan Rondeau to skate out between the pipes at the start of warm-ups. He had played but four games all year, and had not won since the very first of those, when he made 40 saves at Princeton on Halloween night.
“It’s really no different than anything we’ve been doing all year long,” explained a smiling and cordial Allain. “I told the team after we got knocked out in our conference tournament that the goaltender who deserved to play after these two weeks of practice was going to play. It was open season and Ryan won the competition.”
While the shots were even, the Elis controlled the play for much of the first 40 minutes. Both the Sioux and those of the 6,572 on hand at the DCU Center who were not coming from New Haven seemed surprised by the speed and offensive relentlessness of their Ivy League foes through the first two periods.
The Elis took a 3-0 lead to the dressing room at the second intermission, though it could have been bigger had they been able to finish on a few more top-notch chances.
“No,” said Darcy Zajac, whose brother plays against Yale in the ECAC at Union, when asked if the team had been surprised by Yale’s style of play. “We broke it down and knew they had speed and a lot of talent up front. They transition quick and just took advantage of that.”
Yale grabbed the lead at 5:48 of the first period on the lone goal of the frame. A slap shot from the left point by Tom Dignard was deflected by Denny Kearney in the slot and popped slowly up in the air. The puck’s arcing trajectory carried it over the left shoulder of Brad Eidsness, who was well out of the net to challenge the initial shot, before he could recover from going down into the butterfly and just snuck in under the crossbar.
Kearney continued to lead the Bulldogs offense following his first goal. On a two-on-one at 12:49 of the second, he came up the left wing, then cut to the center and faked a move to go around Eidsness, before pulling the puck back to the left post and sliding it in on the backhand.
“Kevin Limbert made a great pass to me to set it up,” said Kearney. “My first instinct is always to pass and I looked, and right then I kind of flashed back to that play before where the defenseman broke it up. So I said, ‘I’m going to take this to the net and try to make the best move I can’ and I finished.”
There was a big turning point with under five minutes to go in the second due to a potential two-goal swing. UND’s Darcy Zajac was awarded a penalty shot at 15:48 when he got hauled down from behind by Yale captain Ryan Donald in front of the net with Kristo on his wing. On the ensuing attempt, he had Rondeau beat with a deke to the right, but his shot rang off the left iron.
Yale then went up 3-0 two minutes after that missed North Dakota opportunity. Brian O’Neill was leading the rush and cut to the right as he crossed the blue line before passing the puck back across his body to Mark Arcobello, who immediately let a wrist shot fly from the high zone. The shot sailed wide off the back boards and caromed right back out in front. Arcobello had kept stride and followed his own shot to the net untouched, picked up the loose puck, and lifted it home.
“I don’t know if I was surprised (I got my rebound untouched),” commented Arcobello. “We practiced here yesterday and we knew the boards are pretty lively. I didn’t do it on purpose, but I knew it was going to kick off the wall pretty quick.”
The game took a completely different form in the third period, with the Sioux dominating and outshooting the Elis 18-5. Yale almost seemed to be hoping that would be enough to hold on. Things got very interesting after two quick goals by the Sioux.
At 2:59 of the third, Brett Hextall won a forecheck battle in the left wing corner against Kevin Limbert and circled back towards the slot, then snapped off a rocket wrister as he reached the top of the left circle that beat Rondeau high glove side.
Just three minutes later at 5:58, Matt Frattin blocked a slap shot by Dignard at the blue line in the UND end, knocking the puck back into the neutral zone to start a breakaway. He carried the puck down the ice all alone and faked Rondeau out of position before banking it home off the right post to make it a one-goal game.
The Bulldogs did a much better job of limiting the chances of a desperate Sioux squad over the final 10 minutes. Frattin had the best look to tie it up, with just under six minutes to play, having his initial shot from the right wing circle stopped by the pad of Rondeau and then just missing the gap between the right post and the goalie’s left skate on the rebound.
Yale advances to take on Boston College in tomorrow’s NCAA Northeast Regional Final at 5:30 p.m.