In a game in which they outskated and outplayed the No. 2 Denver Pioneers for most of the game, outshooting them 37-33, the Yale Bulldogs scored an upset win on Kenny Agostino’s power-play overtime goal at 3:28.
“It was a huge win for us obviously,” said Agostino. “It was kind of a lucky bounce. We were just trying to get pucks to the net on the power play. ‘Lags’ (Antoine Laganiere) did a good job shooting the puck. I think it deflected off ‘Rooter’ (Jesse Root), who did a good job screening. It was one of the easier goals I’ve got.”
Whether Denver was suffering from a tryptophan hangover, or a CC-sweep hangover, the Pioneers started slowly, eliciting catcalls from fans in the crowd calling for Denver to “Wake up” and “Get going.” At one point, despite Denver having had the only power play of the game, Yale had outshot Denver, 12-4. A late surge of pressure saw Denver generate sustained offense, but the Pioneers were unable to crack Jeff Malcolm, who finished with 13 saves in the first. At the other end, Denver’s Juho Olkinuora finished with 15 saves, including one on Trent Ruffolo from the slot.
“Certainly, I think even if you were a hockey novice, you could tell that there was one team that was raring to go tonight and the other team was just kind of playing in third gear,” said Pioneers coach George Gwozdecky. “Yale was a fast team, they pressured us into mistakes, our goaltender Olkinuora was really good, kept us in the game. This game could have been over a lot earlier than the overtime if it hadn’t been for Olkinuora.”
The intermission didn’t seem to help, as Yale drew two power plays, and Olkinuora faced down a breakaway from Stu Wilson after Dakota Mermis took a shot from the left point that hit Wilson’s pad and deflected to center ice as Wilson raced past a tired-looking Mermis.
Denver got its best chance midway through the second period when David Makowski was sprung alone in front, but Malcolm made the stop. Moments later, Ruffolo got a chance coming down the left side by himself, but Olkinuora made the stop. At 15:59, Yale’s Clinton Bourbonais was given a five-minute major for checking from behind. Over the last 4:01 of the period and power play, Denver didn’t get a single shot on net, though they did get a break when Agostino was called for hooking with 15 seconds left in the period, giving Denver a five-on-three to start the third.
Yale however, was the team that capitalized while short-handed. Shortly after Malcolm made a save on a point-blank chance by Nick Shore, the puck squirted by Joey LaLeggia at the right point, and Josh Balch carried it up the left side boards. Balch cut into the crease and backhanded it on net. Olkinuora partially stopped it, but Wilson swooped in and poked home the rebound at 1:26.
“I don’t know if you remember, our penalty killing was outstanding, but seconds before we scored the shorty, our goalie made a heck of a save,” said Yale coach Keith Allain. “I think that save gave us the puck and we were able to counter on that. You’re on the road, you’re playing a very, very good hockey team. I thought we played pretty well in the third period to protect the lead. I give our guys a lot of credit.”
Denver ratcheted up the pressure for the rest of the period, but still fell victim to sloppy turnovers, forcing Olkinuora to make several stellar saves. It appeared that Malcolm would net the shutout, but with Olkinuora pulled for an extra skater, Shore deflected LaLeggia’s shot from the right point past Malcolm at 18:31.
“We’re not a team that ever gets down on ourselves,” said Agostino. “Malcolm played unbelievable tonight. There wasn’t a minute where we gave up or had doubt. When they tied it, it was right back to work, and we were fortunate to draw a penalty and go on the power play.”
Right after that, Denver got a golden chance to win it when Tommy Fallen was called for tripping, sending Denver on a power play with 1:04 left in the third, but the Pioneers couldn’t generate any sustained chances, and didn’t even get a shot in the 56 seconds of overtime power play. Then at 2:42, Gabe Levin was called for tripping, putting Yale on the power play and leading to Agostino’s goal.
“It’s a learning process for our team, it’s a learning process for our captains and our seniors, to be able to understand that you are only as good as your last outing,” said Gwozdecky. “We were not ready to play; it’s pretty apparent. Yale was by far the better team tonight, and they deserve that win.”