Yale Survives and Advances
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. For the second straight season, Yale will get a shot at the Frozen Four.
But despite coming into this tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, it was far from easy.
The normally explosive Bulldogs recorded their lowest shot total of the season, 28, and had a tough time, as teams often do, against the rugged Air Force Academy. It was Air Force that defeated Michigan in this same venue two years ago, and took Vermont to double overtime in the Regional Final.
But Yale survived the battle with the Atlantic Hockey champion, winning 2-1, when Chad Ziegler scored on a rebound at 3:16 of overtime. It sets up an East Regional final against Minnesota-Duluth on Saturday.
"Coach was saying to get to the net throughout the whole game, there are rebounds to be had," Ziegler said. "I just threw a shot on net. I got to put it across the goal line. I'm pretty happy about that.
"It's an amazing feeling to get that goal. It felt great, especially for the seniors we have on our team. It's something special. We're one more game away from moving on to the Frozen Four and we're focused on that now."
Air Force coach Frank Serratore said his game plan was to wear down Yale, and try to capitalize in the third period. The plan almost worked to perfection, until the Falcons allowed the overtime goal.
"Yale is an explosive team that plays with a tremendous amount of energy," Serratore said. "Our game plan was to rope-a-dope our way through two periods. They can't play like that for three periods, nobody can. We figured that they would lose their energy, they would just peter out a little bit. And in the third period, we took their shots and got some bonuces, and all of a sudden the worm started to turn and all of a sudden we were the ones with legs."
It appeared Air Force, whose conditioning has a reputation for being unmatched, indeed had the better legs late in regulation and overtime. But Yale downplayed, and disagreed with, that.
"Air Force did a good job with their game plan," Yale senior defenseman Jimmy Martin said. "They're a very tough team and it took everything we had to come out with a win. (But) I felt pretty good and the energy in the room was pretty good."
Said Yale coach Keith Allain, "There were 10 total shots in the third period, each team had five. I thought we had the better of the offensive zone possession time in the third period. I think there were nine total shots in three minutes of overtime — I thought they had some of the better chances in overtime. I guess I agree, but disagree, with Frank."
Yale's tenacious forecheck was certainly on display in the first period, but it couldn't break through with a goal. Yale finally did get one in the second period, when Brian O'Neill got a pass on the back door and tipped one in, his 19th of the season.
"He's really the heart and soul of our hockey team," Allain said of the 5-foot-9 junior winger. "He gives you everything he has, not just every night, but every single shift. Obviously he exposes his body to some hard hits every single shift. And gets up and goes, gets up and goes ... I thought he started the game on fire and kept it going."
But it wasn't the kind of knockout punch that Yale needed to put Air Force away.
"We're at the Air Force Academy — our guys are in tremendous shape," Serratore said. "Like a Mike Tyson fight, they needed to knock us out in the first period. ... If we could get to the third, we needed to win the game in the third period. The longer that game — we played a terrific road game against a team that plays with tremendous energy. They tried to knock us out, we rope-a-doped enough, got to the third period ... and they were all over us for a period and half. We knew that was going to happen. We kept a third man back, we pushed the rush out wide, we packed our zone coverage — and had things in survival mode. But we knew the worm would turn."
As Air Force started to get some chances later in the period, it finally capitalized when Sean Bertsch made a power move, putting in a back-hand wraparound to tie the game.
"They had a really good shift the shift prior. We had a couple opportunties to get the puck out and we didn't, so we had an extended defensive zone shift," Allain said. "And the following shift, we had another one, and they were finally able to power the puck to the net from the goal line, which is something we saw they do a lot of. So it was probably three minutes of offensive hockey by them and they finally broke through."
Despite that, Allain was not concerned, he said, that his team would wear down.
"I guess I wasn't, because I think we're pretty fit," Allain said. "We've got what I think is the best strength coach in the country ... (and) we have a bunch of players that are willing to pay the price to do what they need to be fit, and our guys have literally been working at this since last May. So I wasn't worried about our fitness level in any way, shape or form."
It's the same kind of thing Allain says about his goaltender, Ryan Rondeau, despite the obvious skepticism of those around the country. The senior Rondeau will now get a chance at redemption. He didn't play most of last season, but was thrown into the NCAAs when Yale had no better options. He came up with a huge win against North Dakota, followed by an embarassing performance against Boston College in the Regional Final.
Now here he is again, under much different circumstances for him personally. The goal he allowed Friday snapped a shutout streak of 240 minutes, 53 seconds.
"Ryan addressed his mental training, his physical training and goaltending fundamentals — he addressed all three in the offseason," said Allain, a former Yale goaltender himself. "We had a long heart-to-heart fairly shortly after the BC game last year. We talked about how I believe he's a better goaltender than he believed he was. And I asked him, 'How badly do you want it? This is what you need to do, are you willing to do it?' And clearly he was. It was all him. He went out and was all business, and if you saw him now, the way he prepares for practice, the way he prepares for games, that's someone who really deserves to be successful. And as a coach, that's what you ask for."