Yale topped the 20-win mark for the second season in a row, a feat the program had accomplished only once before, between 1984 and 1986. A seven-game winning streak entering the regular-season finale appeared to portend big, big things for these Bulldogs … but a last-day loss at local rival Quinnipiac proved more prescient. Brown hit New Haven and took the bookends of the three-game second-round series, denying Yale a shot at an ECAC repeat.
The Bulldogs regrouped in time for the NCAA regional in Worcester, and stunned most of the nation in downing powerhouse North Dakota 3-2. The team’s performance the following night, however, wasn’t quite so glorious: Eventual national champion Boston College pinned five goals on starting goalie Ryan Rondeau, two more on backup Billy Blase and another deuce on third-string Jeff Malcolm. A 3-2 BC lead ballooned to 6-2, but Yale’s unstoppable offense wouldn’t quit.
Now 6-4, BC scored three more in a row to extend the lead to 9-4 with only a dozen minutes to play. Yale matched with three goals in 5:06 late in the third period, but the deficit was simply too great. An irrepressibly dynamic, fluid, high-pressure offense couldn’t compensate for awful goaltending.
The large majority of Yale’s team returns from last year’s oh-so-close experience, as the graduating class included two forwards, two defensemen and a goalie. There is every indication that the Bulldogs will be as lethal as they were the last two years, and even hungrier.
Brian O’Neill, Broc Little and Denny Kearney alone contributed 55 goals, 27 of those off Little’s magnificent blade. Once you get past the big scorers, the supporting cast still managed to chip in 50 goals as a whole.
“The depth of our forwards” is Yale’s big strength, according to coach Keith Allain. “I think we went into last season with high expectations, and we didn’t achieve our ultimate goal. I think that desire to achieve our ultimate goal is what will motivate us as the season goes on.”
The weak links
Allain, himself a former goaltender, never seemed to find the right guy to claim Yale’s crease last year. Not one of his four netminders could muster strong back-to-back games, and the inconsistency was blinding once the team hit Worcester.
The Elis won a number of games last year on the simple fact that they could score faster than their opponents. While exciting and dramatic, it’s not championship hockey… and this team is so, so close to being a championship-type team. A reliable goaltender is a desperate — yes, I said it, desperate need for this program in the here-and-now.
“We have a great deal of confidence in our goaltenders,” Allain said. He’s either seen a monumental improvement in one or more of his keepers, or he’s putting on an optimistic face until his team takes the ice.
Elsewhere, Mark Arcobello and Sean Backman combined to score 36 goals and 71 points, and were two of Yale’s Big Five super-strikers. One elite scorer is easy to focus on and shut down. Two is a bit more difficult. Three is harder still … but it’s not impossible. Five, though? Five is as close to impossible as another collegiate team can get. How the “supporting cast” steps up and accounts for the loss will make a huge difference to this team.
This team is good enough to win the league, without a doubt. How close, however, can Yale come to replicating last year’s sensational production? Will the defense and goaltending demonstrate marked improvement? This isn’t a cakewalk; there are other teams out there with legitimate shots at No. 1 … but it’s Yale’s spot to lose. Without some serious adjustments, they just might do that, too.