Steady as He Goes
Rondeau's Season-Long Turnaround Fuels Yale's Success
by Chris Hudson/CHN Reporter
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. A year ago, a surprise upset kept Yale out of the ECAC championship weekend. And after an NCAA win, the Bulldogs lost an ugly 9-7 game in the NCAA Regional Final, using three different goalies.
But a year later, Yale (26-6-1) is not just in position for its second Whitelaw Cup in three years, it's doing it with goaltending in addition to its offense. And it's because of the progress made by senior Ryan Rondeau, who continued a season in net in which he's put it all together by shutting out Colgate, 4-0, in the ECAC semifinals, breaking a school record with his fifth shutout of the season.
“Two words come to mind [about Rondeau],” said Yale head coach Keith Allain. “Steadiness and a sense of calm. We have confidence in Ryan back there, and I think it allows us to create offensively how we do. ... He prepares really well. He does everything he can so he can be successful.”
The Bulldogs needed that calmness, as they had to withstand a strong attack in the first two periods from the ECAC’s last remaining Cinderella. Colgate (11-27-3) came into Atlantic City off of road series victories against No. 5 RPI and No. 1 Union, winning both in overtime in game threes.
“Clearly they were the league’s hottest team; they gave us everything we could handle,” Allain said.
The question remained whether Yale would be able to do what Union and RPI had not, end the Raiders’ season. Yale knows something about upset losses, having been bounced by the then-No. 11 Brown Bears in the ECAC quarterfinals last year.
But Rondeau’s performance put any worries of another upset to rest.
"He's physically stronger, he's mentally stronger," Allain said. "I think he wanted it. This is a guy who won a championship in the USHL. He's been through those kind of battles before."
Pacing Colgate’s Eric Mihalik with eight saves in the first, Rondeau nearly gave up the game’s first goal less than a minute into the second. A squeaking puck through traffic made it past the netminder’s right side, but the goal was waved off after video review, keeping the game scoreless.
Less than four minutes later, Chris Cahill’s 14th goal of the season gave Yale a lead it never relinquished. While Colgate had several more chances throughout the contest, Rondeau was up to the challenge, bolstered by a strong defense. He was particularly strong early in the third, when the game was still close.
“[Colgate] beat two really good teams, and were bringing their 'A' game,” said Andrew Miller. “We wanted to play solid defensively in front of Ryan.”
Yale did so, with defensemen clearing pucks off any shots Rondeau allowed a rebound on, which has been a formula all season — make the first save, stay in control, rely on the defense to do the rest.
"As a coach, I think body control is important for a goaltender," Allain said. "I also think his style is his style, and we want to enhance is style, but we never want to make him be something he's not. That's who he is.
"But we've had some stretches this year where he's needed to come us in the game at certain points, and he's done that. So, he's done more than (just be in control) is what I'm saying."
When asked how he felt about breaking the Yale season record for shutouts (previously held by Alec Richards, who had four in 2008-09), Rondeau was surprised he had.
“I didn’t even know," Rondeau said. "It’s not something I focus on, but it is pretty exciting.”
Rondeau may not get the accolades that goalies like Union's Keith Kinkaid — this year's Dryden Award winner — and RPI's Allen York do, but he was able to do something neither of them did this postseason — stop Colgate. And you can call it a function of his team, or whatever you want, but Rondeau is second in the nation in goals against average (1.89) and save percentage (.930).
"I would like Ryan to get the credit he deserves," Allain said, "but I care about our next five hockey games."
With the win, Yale clinches the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament next weekend, the highest Yale has ever been in the tournament, and the first ECAC team to do that since Cornell in 2003. But for now, the Bulldogs are focused on winning the title that last year’s Cinderella team denied them: the ECAC Championship.
No matter who their opponent is, Captain Jimmy Martin says the team’s top priority is to “just make sure we’re prepared for tomorrow.”