Bulldogs Fall in Regional Final After Allowing Nine Goals
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
WORCESTER, Mass. From the start of the season, the concern was that Yale's tremendous season could be squandered because of its Achilles' heel: Goaltending.
And after a 9-7 loss to Boston College in the NCAA Northeast Regional Final on Sunday, a game in which Yale coach Keith Allain played all three dressed goaltenders — and may have played three more if he could've dressed them — it was easy to point the finger that way.
But the goaltending — and let's be honest, it wasn't very good — was merely one of the many reasons for Boston College's offensive onslaught.
For one, Yale's style is pretty open to begin with, which is somewhat of an anachronism for the ECAC. The sheer talent that Allain has been able to bring to New Haven has enabled the Bulldogs to do well in the ECAC, but the question was how it would translate to the higher stage, when so many of the big-name teams have that kind of offensive talent. Here, with Yale slipping behind, it was forced to open things up even more, which only gave Boston College a myriad of good chances of its own — and that's something BC can exploit.
Second, Yale's defense did not make life any easier for the goaltenders. After having played so well, and matching up physically, against North Dakota in Saturday's First Round games, even experienced defensemen like Ryan Donald and Tom Dignard were caught giving pucks away and not clearing bodies out of the front. That led directly to a couple of BC goals — like the ones that extended the lead to 5-2 after Yale had battled back.
Finally, the goaltending was not good. Saturday, Allain hit a home run. He started junior Ryan Rondeau, who had played four games all season (the last coming Nov. 21), and Rondeau defeated North Dakota for Yale's first NCAA win since 1952. Recently, Allain had been flipping back and forth between freshman Nick Maricic and senior Billy Blase. But really, all season, Allain had been flipping around among four guys, trying to find just one that would step up. None did.
Sunday, Allain went back to Rondeau, who allowed five goals in 31 minutes. As was mentioned, on two, he was hung out to dry. The other two were good goals, but perhaps a better goalie could've stopped them. The second one, was on a 150-foot slap shot by BC defenseman Carl Sneep, one that bounced 20 feet in front of Rondeau before taking a wicked bounce over his shoulder. Whether Rondeau could've done anything about it is debateable — maybe he could've tried to meet the puck as close to the bounce as possible — but in any event, it was a deflating goal.
Yale's forwards, however, played like they were used to having to compensate for these things. Every time another BC goal went in, the Yale forwards re-doubled their efforts — at least offensively. The Sneep goal made it 2-1. It got to 3-1 before Marc Arcobello scored to make it one-goal game. That's when BC had those two goals off bad turnovers.
"We did a good job getting back, we just didn't have our guys down low sometimes and you can't let a team like that get too many Grade A opportunities, and they just capitalized on it," said Yale sophomore Brian O'Neill, who scored twice. "It's our own fault for not D'ing up. We let the goalies hang out to dry there in the beginning, so it's our own fault for that."
So at 5-2, Allain switched to Blase, who had the best numbers among the foursome this season. Blase made a couple of nice saves to start out, then allowed a brutal goal, making it 6-2. It was a short-side wrister from far out along the left-wing boards, as Blase exhibited poor footwork trying to get in position.
Yale rallied to make it 6-4 before the end of the second period, but early in the third was another deflating goal. Blase did not come out to challenge a loose puck in his zone, when it appeared he had plenty of time to do so. Cam Atkinson out-raced the Yale defense, and beat Blase to complete his hat trick.
So two bad goals by Blase, and Allain went to freshman Jeff Malcolm, who hadn't started since Jan. 16. He then allowed two more goals before Yale scored three goals in garbage time and tried to make a game of it again. The best stretch of play Yale had was with no one in net — with the goalie pulled — when it outscored BC 1-0.
"I think a lot of games have a lot of scoring chances, but this was a lot of quality ones and there's a lot of skill guys out there that are going to bury them," O'Neill said. "It was just a wild game."
So, how much of this is the run-and-gun Yale nature? How much of this was the defense? How much of it was the goaltending? And how much of it was the mental toll taken by the goaltenders from having to rotate among four of them all year, with so much uncertainty?
Allain may have his opinions on these questions, but he wasn't about to share them with anyone. Not much of a philosopher to begin with, Allain was even more terse than usual following the loss. As a former goaltender himself, he knows what's going on, and there's no need to be critical of his team in that forum. But he didn't offer much in the way of the smallest rumination on the topic either.
Instead, he's content to simply go back to the drawing board next season. He'll do it without Arcobello up front, but that's the only loss. Broc Little and his 27 goals return. Brian O'Neill and his 16 goals return. The defense loses two seniors, but that can be absorbed.
The big question will simply be in net again. For now, it's Rondeau, Malcolm and Maricic and whatever else Allain can wrangle up.
"I'm not sure what's going to happen for next year," Malcolm said. "I'm sure everyone's going to be on the same playing field for next year.
"The coaching staff did a really good job preparing us, giving us an equal opportunity to show our talents. It was a fun battle all year."
Fun may be a relative term. Sunday's shooting gallery was fun, but it set back defensive hockey 30 years. Maybe that's a good thing. But it's something that will need to be addressed for next season.
"I think the pieces are definitely there," O'Neill said. "I think we deserve to be there. I think the way we played at times tonight, we didn't deserve it. You have to play 60 minutes against a team like that, and they deserve to win."
Sean Backman was not in the Yale lineup. The Yale senior's season ended when he broke his heel horsing around at the on-campus pool just before the start of the ECAC playoffs.
But after surgery and a couple of weeks at home, Backman was in the arena this weekend, on crutches, to be with his teammates for the NCAAs.
"It wasn't the easiest thing," Backman said, of watching his teammates.
With 21 goals, Backman was arguably the team's most complete player, and was sorely missed, though who knows whether he could've made a difference in this game.
Backman knew he had let his teammates down with the injury, but was trying not to be too hard on himself.
"Yeah a little bit (I let them down)," Backman said, "but everything happens for a reason, so that's just the way it goes."
And being around the team again?
"It was kind of a relief, just to be around the team again with the guys," he said. "I thought they looked good, and they played their hearts out this weekend."
Backman was part of a rejuvenation of Yale hockey in his four years. It was a team that, with a few breaks on the ice (and not ones off the ice) could've gone even farther than it did. But Backman doesn't believe his classmates' departure means the end of Yale's run.
"Things are only going to get better," Backman said. "Coming in four years ago, this program wasn't nearly where it is today. So I think we're just going to get that much better. Recruiting is going to get better, and we'll be good."