Strong Yale Blue Line Stands Tall
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
PITTSBURGH The first shift after a goal is dangerous in any circumstance.
Those seconds following a tally that turns a comfortable, 2-0 lead into a desperate 2-1 battle often decide games. Thursday night, Yale defensemen Ryan Obuchowski and Tommy Fallen skated onto the ice just after Massachusetts-Lowell captain Riley Wetmore cut the score in half.
Fourteen seconds later, the game was tied. Fallen fell victim to a nifty drop pass from UML's A.J. White and quick wrist shot from Joseph Pendenza. The puck snuck just between the glove and left pad of Yale's Jeff Malcolm.
"You're going to get scored on," Yale coach Keith Allain said. "The other team is going to score even when you're playing well. You have to understand that."
From there, Obuchowski, Fallen and the rest of the Yale defensemen could only forget. Ignore the preceding chunk of hockey and focus on the 36 minutes — at least — remaining in the game.
"They're two young defensemen, but they're very mature," Yale defenseman Gus Young said. "Even on the goal, I think Tommy got a stick on it, but it fell just right for them. There was nothing he could really do. We've all been on ice for goals before, so we've been in that situation."
They focused on their shape. They focused on puck support. They focused on calmly resisting the urge to pinch.
And they executed flawlessly.
The Yale defensemen were nearly perfect for the rest of the night, patiently doing their job as Yale's dynamic forwards looked for just one more goal. It came, eventually, at 6:59 of the first and only overtime. Andrew Miller beat UML's Gregory Amlong and tucked a backhand shot through the five-hole of UML goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.
The goal sent Yale to Saturday's national championship game. Miller, Yale's unquestioned leader on offense, made the type of play dominant forwards do. Fallen, Obuchowski and their cohorts on the blue line were thrilled to let the winger have the glory. Young knew the group had contributed as much as any other unit.
"All year, we've preached discipline," Young said. "We keep our shape. We've been in those positions before. Against Minnesota, we gave up two goals and came back in overtime. With North Dakota, we felt like we were on them all game and really didn't breakthrough until the 8-minute mark of the third period. Then we scored four goals quickly. We knew that if we stayed disciplined and do the same things our chances coaches preached all year and through the playoffs, it would come."
UMass-Lowell's best offensive weapon is its transition game. The River Hawks earned their first Frozen Four bid after rolling through the Hockey East tournament and Northeast Regional of the NCAA tournament, largely as the result of a dynamic offense that pounces on the slightest mistake from its opponent.
Yale's defensemen weren't overanxious on Thursday. They ignored the stage, the desire to force themselves into the play. Instead, they waited. Ready on the blue line, Yale's reliable defensemen gave their forwards passing options in the offensive zone and snuffed any chance at a quick rush mustered by the UML forwards.
"We focused on ourselves," Young said. "We played our gameplan. We came through. We pride ourselves on transition, too. As defensemen, we're used to it from practicing against our own players. We have a lot of speedy forwards. We defend it in practice every day. To see what Lowell does was really nothing new for us."
Even as the game wore on, and the Bulldog forwards created chance after chance without notching the game-winner, Young and his fellow defensemen adhered to the simple directives of Allain and assistant Red Gendron.
Throughout the season and in their recent run of success regionally, the Bulldogs offense drew most of the plaudits. Miller is only the latest in a long line of offensive weapons racking up big numbers in New Haven. Thursday night, the Bulldogs defense guided its club to victory with simple discipline in a brilliant performance.
"Red does the work with our D corps," Allain said. "What you see tonight is the result of his hard work. They're a group that takes a lot of pride in doing their job well. You see it in the development of the three freshmen. Mitch (Witek) got the goal tonight. Rob (O'Gara) plays a terrific game. I thought Ryan Obuchowski might have been the best of our group tonight. When your freshman defensemen are some of your best players in a game like this, that says a lot."
Saturday night, the opponent changes. The strengths will change — the bullet points and targets all new. Yale isn't concerned. A few timely goals and another flawless performance from the talented players at the back should do the trick on Saturday night. It was just enough on Thursday.