BRIDGEPORT, Conn. — Vindication.
That might be the best word to describe the matchup between Yale and Air Force Friday night at the Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
For Yale, the 2-1 overtime win added to the Bulldogs’ case for deserving the tournament’s top seed. And for the Falcons, another thrilling tournament matchup involving an Atlantic Hockey team proved the league’s top talents can hang with anyone in the country.
“Don’t think that everyone around the country that’s not a Yale fan was rooting for Air Force,” Falcons coach Frank Serratore said. “Our teams have to earn their way here. The Atlantic champion doesn’t limp in; they have to win their tournament. We don’t get the third or fourth seed in the tournament; we’re playing the No. 1 or No. 2 team in the country. We’ve had some heartbreaking losses but we’re there in the end. There ain’t a more relieved guy in the building then [Yale coach] Keith Allain. They know they got a heckuva game from Air Force.”
The Bulldogs avoided a first-round upset at the hands of the Falcons (20-12-6) when Brendan Mason coasted up the left boards, bringing the puck deep before finding Nick Jasowiak alone at the opposite circle. The junior defender lofted the puck down low to Chad Ziegler, who stuffed it on net, and then pounced on his own rebound, poking it past Jason Torf at 3:16.
“It was a great shot on net, “Ziegler said. “The goalie froze and I just put it across the line.”
Despite the loss, the game had proceeded just as Serratore hoped it would for the Falcons, who were able to contain Yale’s high-powered offense for large stretches of the game.
“Our game plan was to rope-a-dope our way through the first two periods and we really felt that they just can’t go like that,” Serratore said. “Nobody could play like that for three periods without tiring. Our guys followed the plan to the letter. Sometimes life isn’t fair. Better get used to it. This ain’t a juice box league.”
An up-tempo opening period ended with no goals, but featured several good scoring chances for the Bulldogs, including a blast by Andrew Miller that rattled off the post and to the left of Torf near the midway point. Despite not showing up on the score sheet, Miller was all over the ice for Yale, generating several prime chances.
Yale scored when first when Brian O’Neill easily tipped in Nick Jaskowiak’s blast from the point at 7:28 of the second. O’Neill’s goal came just seconds after the junior’s slap shot from the circle hit off Torf’s skates and bounced tantalizingly out of harm’s way.
Air Force tied it late in the second period when Sean Bertsch made a nice change-of-direction play behind the net, cutting toward the right post before cutting back and losing a Yale defender on the end boards as he wrapped around the post to beat Ryan Rondeau at 18:34. It marked the first goal Rondeau had given up in almost two weeks, and 240:53 of ice time.
“Air Force did a good job with the game plan,” Yale senior Jimmy Martin said. “They’re a very tough team, and it took everything we had to come out with the win.”
O’Neill had a chance for another goal in the waning seconds of the middle period, as he took a pass from Mike Matczak and rifled a shot on net, but drew a cross-checking call against Mike Walsh as he went for the loose puck.
Neither team was able to replicate its scoring chances of earlier through the final period, but a Yale turnover deep in its zone in the closing minutes set up the Falcons with a two-on-one situation.
Casey Kleisinger shoveled the puck to Paul Weisgarber in the low slot but Rondeau slid to his left to deny the junior as the puck rebounded off him and toward the boards.
“Between the third period and overtime we were focused,” Allain said. “We all understand what’s at stake. We stressed that if we continued to play our game that would happen.”
Yale (28-6-1) will face Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday for the right to go to the Frozen Four.
Video: Yale’s news conference:
Video: Air Force’s news conference: