Rondeau Doubles Down
After Leading Yale to ECAC Title, Senior Will Take 3 Straight Shutouts into NCAAs
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. The shirts Yale's players are wearing say "Unfinished Business."
It could be meant for the ECAC Tournament, after Yale was knocked out in the ECAC quarterfinals last year.
But the eyes are on a bigger prize. Especially after winning this year's ECAC Tournament championship in convincing fashion — a 6-0 blitzing of Cornell on Saturday.
No, the "Unfinished Business" is for the NCAAs, and the Bulldogs are confident it can take care of that business. And why not? After this weekend, Yale goes into the NCAAs as the first No. 1 overall seed for an ECAC team since Cornell in 2003. And it's hosting the Regional in Bridgeport.
Last season, Yale won a first-round game over North Dakota, then lost a 9-7 shootout with Boston College in the Regional Final, in a game where three different goaltenders were used.
As they say, when you have three goalies, you really have none. But this year, Yale has one, that's for sure.
The naysayers will still be there until Rondeau wins another NCAA game — as he did against the Sioux last year, despite having barely played most of the season, as Yale searched for an answer in net right to the bitter end. But the naysayers have to at least take notice — no matter how good his team is in front of him — of three straight shutouts to enter the NCAA tournament, including 4-0 and 6-0 wins here in Atlantic City to win the championship.
"He's been great," said senior defenseman Jimmy Martin. "Obviously two shutouts is pretty unbelievable. He's very steady back there, very calm. If their team gets a sustained shift in our zone, he's almost like a calming presence back there, knowing he'll make the save, and that helps us with our confidence."
Rondeau was a standout goaltender in the USHL before coming to Yale, so all of this is a long-time coming. But his first start was a portend of things to come — as he got shellacked.
"I came in with a lot of confidence in myself, and started out pretty rough in my first game, and lost all that confidence. And from then on it was a battle, and trying to keep myself prepared for every game the same way. And that's what I worked on last summer. I knew I had the ability, it was just a matter of bringing it out."
From there, Rondeau played little, as Allain constantly searched for someone to step up. Even all through his junior year, Rondeau played little, then was thrust into service for the NCAAs when no one else stepped up.
He was great against North Dakota, then the wheels fell off against Boston College.
"It's not something you look back on," Rondeau said of that game. "Obviously you take what you can from it, but that's kind of something you do more in the summer — look at what you did wrong and adjust. But that's last year and this is this year."
For all the potential, Rondeau still had a lot of work to do — and there was only one more year to show what he could do. So in this offseason, he doubled down, worked like he never worked before, and learned how to focus.
"Just worked on my mental game," Rondeau said. "It even showed in the (NCAA) tournament, I'd have some good games and then bad games, and I think that's one of the biggest reasons I didn't play a whole lot until this year. So I just worked on that during the summer, and the mental aspect and getting better at it."
If the league, or the nation, has been slow to realize Rondeau's progress — he didn't win any postseason accolades despite having the second-best stats in the country behind North Dakota's Aaron Dell — it can be forgiven. He's not asked to win games himself, with such a strong team in front of him, so his efforts don't always stand out. And his style is very calm — make the first save, stay in control, allow the defense to help.
"That's what my goalie coach has worked on since I'm 10 years old — focus on skating, getting in front of the puck, economy of motion and not try to do too much," Rondeau said. "Not scrambling around. But I feel like if I need to, I can do that."
Meanwhile, the whole team has gained confidence to play their game, on both ends of the ice.
"Our power play was clicking early on and allowed us to get ahead, and we were able to score six goals — but the thing I was most pleased about is how sound we were defensively, right from Ryan on out," Yale coach Keith Allain said, after winning his second ECAC title in three years. "I thought everyone on the bench was committed to playing a strong defensive game, and that's what you need to do to win in the playoffs."
"Our offense was clicking and pucks were going in, but yeah, you definitely need to stay focused on defense," Yale forward Denny Kearney said. "Any one play could be the play that makes them come back in the game, so just always try to keep a third man high and make smart plays, especially with the lead."
And so it's on to the NCAAs, where the pressure will be on to fulfill the dream and prove the naysayers wrong again.
"What makes this team so special, it's not so much about me keeping them in line," Allain said. "They have a goal, they understand what it takes to achieve that goal, and they keep each other in line. It's such a supportive, competitive group, I just kind of push them in the right direction and the senior leadership takes over."