Yale Plays First Fiddle to Hockey East Champs
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
See all of CHN's Tournament coverage: articles, brackets, history and more.
PITTSBURGH The game was almost a microcosm of Massachusetts-Lowell’s season. Falling behind early to Yale in the national semifinal, the River Hawks quickly flipped the switch, striking for two goals inside of 14 seconds in the middle of the game, just as they turned their season around in December.
But the Bulldogs made sure there was no cinderella ending this time around.
Yale dominated the Hockey East regular-season and tournament champions from wire to wire, advancing to Saturday’s NCAA championship game courtesy of a 3-2 win in overtime.
Yes, overtime. But don't let that fool you, this game was owned by the Bulldogs.
“It was as good an effort as we've had,” Yale head coach Keith Allain said, “And our last three games have been all great efforts. I thought that we were as much as we created offensively, I thought we were rock solid defensively. A lot of our offense was because of the fact that we defended so well that we had the puck and they didn't.”
With 7:05 remaining in the first period, freshman defenseman Mitch Witek wristed a shot from the blue line, through a screen and nearly tipped by Kenny Agostino, that snuck past Lowell goalie Connor Hellebuyck.
That lead was extended to 2-0 with 52 seconds left in the first when Antoine Laganiere, Yale’s third-leading scorer, potted just his second goal since Jan. 19.
Laganiere’s goal put the River Hawks in unfamiliar waters. It was only the second time in 18 games Lowell had trailed by two or more goals, the last time being March 8 when Providence College beat the River Hawks, 3-0.
After that, even when Lowell was able to find holes through Yale’s lockdown defense, the River Hawks weren’t able to do much to get through them.
Riley Wetmore tipped a pass while on the penalty kill and raced the puck up ice on a shorthanded breakaway, but he lost an edge in the slot and instead of firing a shot, went crashing into Yale goaltender Jeff Malcolm.
“We had no response,” said Lowell head coach Norm Bazin. “It was just one of those games that the magic certainly wasn't there tonight in terms of skating and being able to
adjust on the fly. You know, you can't say anything but tip your hat to the Yale hockey club. They played an excellent hockey game, and they were able to take the play to us.”
Lightning did strike for Lowell at the 14:38 mark of the second, though. Wetmore, making up for his earlier miscue, went to the net and was able to backhand a Derek Arnold rebound around Malcolm’s right pad. Then 14 seconds later, Joseph Pendenza skated down the left-wing side and fired a dart over Malcolm’s glove to tie the score.
Things remained that way in the third, despite Yale outshooting the River Hawks 16-3 in the final period (and 47-18 for the game).
In this case, lightning did strike twice. It wouldn’t strike a third time.
Instead of serving as a momentum changer for Lowell, as it should have, Yale went back to controlling the puck for much of the next 23 minutes.
“They did to us what we normally do to teams,” Wetmore said. “They deserve all the credit; they played a great game tonight.”
Lowell’s best chance since it tied the score was about to come with 2:56 to play in the third, after consecutive icing calls for the Bulldogs meant they couldn’t make a line change. But Allain called his timeout, got the change, and the Bulldogs were able to take the puck back the other way off the draw.
“With that new change in the icing rule, you can't get your guys off,” Allain said. “Our guys had an extended shift. It was late in the game. I didn't think we needed the timeout for anything else. We just took it, rested our guys and were able to make a line change because of it. They did the same thing earlier in the period.”
Yale’s dominance picked up right where it left off in the overtime.
After outshooting the River Hawks 7-0, meaning Yale had now outshot the River Hawks 23-3 since the start of the third period, Andrew Miller stayed strong on the puck as he carried it to the net from the right-wing boards and slipped it through Hellebuyck’s five-hole to send Yale to the national title game, ending a 23-year drought for the ECAC.
“To me, up until right now before we play Saturday night, that'sprobably the biggest goal in the history of Yale hockey,” Allain said.
Added Miller, “It was a good bouncing puck. I think we stopped them in transition a bit, came across, and I think it caught a defenseman flat footed.”
Yale will play for its first national title, in its first national title game, on Saturday.