It Happened One Night (and Morning)
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
Hard work is something all coaches preach. And in trying to emphasize the importance, even for skilled players, Tim Taylor has a familiar refrain.
"I constantly tell the kids — you watch Canada, it's one of the greatest offensive juggernauts ever assembled, and they were shut out (in the Olympics)," Taylor said. "It's hard to score goals. You gotta work."
That was never more true than last Saturday at Messa Rink in Schenectady, N.Y. But as overtime after overtime was being compiled in what would eventually become the longest game in the history of men's college hockey, Taylor searched for the nugget, pat on the back, or word of wisdom that would squeeze one more measley goal out of his team and send them home winners of the ECAC first-round series.
"I told them, 'You know that talk I gave you about how difficult it is to score goals? I was just kidding. It's easy. Let's go score goals."
Reverse psychology. Works every time.
Freshman David Meckler finally scored — a shorthanded goal, no less — at 1:35 of the fifth overtime. It came on the 120th shot of the game.
A game like that featured the kinds of things you'd expect: good action, some lull periods, lots of fatigue, and eventually, a kind of disbelieve.
"I don't think at any point did the game get to be boring," Taylor said.
Yale had a five-minute power play in the third overtime and into the fourth. That went nowhere.
Meanwhile, Union's power play has been anemic, especially since talented freshmen T.J. Fox and Lane Caffaro were suspended late in the season by the school. So it would not have been a surprise if Union's power play missed its opportunity in the fifth overtime, and the game would have went on and on and on some more.
But it didn't happen. Yale got it out of its zone, and freshman David Meckler, a player expected to be a key part of the Elis' offensive future but who had only scored five goals this season, came to the Union blue line, 1-on-1 with a Dutchmen defenseman. The bench yelled at him to shoot, and he did.
"He didn't have a great angle, and he didn't have the energy or the speed to beat the guy," Taylor recalled. "(Union goalie Kris) Mayotte is the kind of goalie who comes way out of the net. ... So he makes the save, but the shot was so hard, it was a bullet rebound that came right out towards the blue line."
The other penalty killer, Zach Mayer, and Union's defenseman reached for the puck. Mayer kept it in the zone, and put a quick shot on. Meckler had kept on charging towards the net from his initial shot, and deflected it past Mayotte.
Taylor finally knew he could be light-hearted, something he wasn't sure of earlier. You don't get many of these things in order to master how you should act.
"I was trying to think of whether I should be funny, light or serious," he said.
But he has seen a few similar ones. As the game wore on, players, coaches and others were approaching Taylor, asking if the veteran coach had ever been in something close to this.
"I've been in a few, guys," he said.
Taylor recalled his team's 1986 ECAC semifinal against Cornell in Boston Garden. It was the year that Cornell goalie Doug Dadswell stole the show, and held on for two overtimes until his freshman teammate Chris Grenier could finally snag the game winner. The Big Red defeated a Yale team that had future NHL players Randy Wood, Bob Logan and Bob Kudelski.
"I remember how empty that feeling was," Taylor said. "I can't imagine how I would've felt like had we lost this game. And I can't imagine what I would've felt like with either team lacing them up the next day. I don't know if there was a plan to re-schedule for Monday or what ... I think it would've been dangerous to their health."
Yale still had its hotel reservations for Saturday night, planning the potential for a Game 3 on Sunday in Schenectady. So it had a post-game meal waiting for them. Taylor told the team it would go back to the hotel, therefore, either way.
"So we went back, and I said, 'Do you want to go home?' I looked at my watch — it was 2:20 (a.m.). They said they wanted to go home. I said, 'OK, let's everyone be on the bus by 2:40,'" Taylor said, chuckling at the absurdity of the thought. "We got home about 5:15 in the morning."
From there, Sunday was a wash out. Taylor then gave the team Monday off, having them do just light weight lifting and stretching. Tuesday was more like a Monday practice.
"It's been a tough time to get the energy level back up," he said. Yale, remember, has to go through this all again. It has to get mentally and physically prepared for another long bus ride, and another series, this time against top-seeded Dartmouth.
"The most important thing is they're at their mental peak by Friday night," Taylor said. "I'm not an exercise physiologist, so I don't know what 6-plus hours takes out of the body, but we were de-hydrated. Guys were throwing up in the locker room. It was quite a display of physical sacrifice."
It was a tough regular season for Yale, finishing 11th in the league. There have been more seasons like that than not over the past decade, the one great exception being the ECAC regular-season title and NCAA berth in 1998. Taylor, it would seem, who has coached the team since 1978, is getting close to retirement age.
But there's still fight left in him, and still fight left in his team.
"I think the players in the locker room feel pretty good about themselves," said Taylor. "We've got a pretty tough assignment. (Dartmouth is) a very strong offensive team. They're the strongest offensive team in the league, and we're the weakest defensive team. But I think we're a little better than that now. ... In losing (six straight) at the end of the year, we lost a lot of low-scoring, tight-checking games.
"I thought we did a pretty darned good job. We'll obviously have to have a good couple of nights."