2nd O’Neill, Brian YALE 5.Contact to the Head 11:38 PP
2nd O’Neill, Brian YALE 10.Game Misconduct 11:38
That’s what a lost opportunity — perhaps even a lost season — looks like in print for the Yale Bulldogs. When Brian O’Neill — referred to only Friday night as “the heart and soul of this team” by coach Keith Allain — tipped Jake Hendrickson halfway through the second period, he also tipped the scales way, way in the favor of Minnesota-Duluth, and simultaneously laid a ton of dead weight on the shoulders of his teammates.
The fans — 7,816 of them, at least 7,500 of whom were clad in navy blue and white — were irate. Allain was irate. His players were irate, and it sounds like the broadcast crews were practically beside themselves with something akin to flabbergastion.
“I thought the game got taken away from us,” Allain said in the postgame news conference.
When asked about his perspective on the hit, he said only, “Look at the video.”
There didn’t appear to be any contact to the head at all, one member of the media pronounced.
“Then write that,” Allain all but demanded.
Yale promptly saw, or allowed, a 3-1 deficit to balloon into a 5-1 hole in 1:12 of UMD power-play time. Mike Seidel lit the lamp first, just 20 ticks into the five-minute advantage. Yale defenseman Nick Jaskowiak took a boarding minor 40 seconds after O’Neill’s transgression — and 20 seconds following Seidel’s score — and Justin Fontaine said thank you very much with his 22nd goal of the season.
That was, for all intents and purposes, all she wrote for the top-seeded Blue.
The goals chased season-long No. 1 Ryan Rondeau from the action, assuredly cementing his legacy in the minds of remote observers as a fair-weather goalie. The Elis mustered two power-play goals in the third period to make it a game again, but the WCHA’s Bulldogs buckled down and ground out the final 6:55 of the game with determined and impressive efficiency, not even allowing Allain to pull clean-up goalie Nick Maricic until there was under a minute left in regulation.
There may have been good reason for Yale to feel slighted when all was said and done, but was that really the story of the game? A death-sentence major against arguably Yale’s most important player?
Or was Saturday night simply the latest example of a program that is so close to greatness, but whose head hasn’t caught up to its legs and heart? Yale was plagued by penalty problems at the start of the year, not only suffering through bouts of minor-itis, but through a handful of major and misconduct infractions as well.
The Blue were able to fight through those challenges on the wings of exceptional strength and skill, but from the get-go, it looked to be the Elis’ Achilles’ heel. They took nearly 15 minutes in penalties a game this season, which is awfully high for a team that also boasted the nation’s most prolific offense, defense, and, ergo, greatest average goal differential as well. They gave up six power plays against the ECAC’s last-place team — Colgate — in last weekend’s league semifinal, only drawing three advantages of their own. If a team could hit with ’em and score with ’em, Yale’s response often was to melt down and lose discipline and focus.
So what really happened to the tournament’s top seed? Did it lose focus? Undeniably. Did it get a raw deal with O’Neill’s eviction? It could be argued that way. Would the former have ever happened without the latter?
Who’s to say?