March 20, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Yale Reverses Fortunes, Will Play For First ECAC Title

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Matt Nelson reacts after scoring the game winner with 1:02 left. (photos: Brad Pettengill)

Matt Nelson reacts after scoring the game winner with 1:02 left. (photos: Brad Pettengill)

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Yale scores twice in the closing minutes to stun St. Lawrence.

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ALBANY, N.Y. — Already regular season champs, Yale is in position to win its first ECAC tournament championship, thanks to a stunning 4-3 victory over St. Lawrence in Friday's semifinal. And, as is often the case in these kind of games, it was a player that isn't ordinarily in the limelight stepping up with the heroics.

Down 3-2 with less than two minutes to play, the Bulldogs scored a "garbage" goal that no one, including those on the ice, have yet been able to aptly describe. That was followed just 22 seconds later with the winner, as senior Matt Nelson — a fourth liner and one of only two senior skaters in the lineup — converted a feed off a giveaway.

"I really don't remember much about coming up the ice," Nelson said. "I just saw (Brendan) Mason coming up the ice with me. He fed me a perfect sauce pass, and I knew if I didn't convert, I was going to be hearing it for a long time. It was just an awesome feeling."

For every winner, there is a loser of course, and St. Lawrence got the heartbreak this time. And it was a player who coach Joe Marsh earlier in the week called the most underrated player he ever coached — defenseman Shawn Fensel, senior captain — who muffed the chance to clear the puck, creating a bang-bang 2-on-1.

"I'm definitely not known as a goal scorer. I found my role on this team in other ways," Nelson said. "It just shows that everyone on this team can be a contributor. And it shows the depth of our team. That's what a team needs to win a championship."

Just minutes earlier, it looked like St. Lawrence was going to wrap the game up. During a power play, the Saints scrambled for an insurance goal, only to get the net knocked off the moorings. The officials ruled that it was intentional, creating a lengthy 5-on-3 power play for St. Lawrence.

But the Saints got very little going during the advantage, and suddenly, Yale had new life.

"I think we all felt on the bench that if we could kill that, we had a chance to win the hockey game," Yale coach Keith Allain said. "It was one of those kills where, usually in a prolonged 5-on-3, you're in the zone and they're passing it around. But we were able to keep them out, and we were able to get three or four changes to our penalty killers during that time, and that made the difference."

Still, it took the late heroics.

Yale has had its share of amazing wins this season — including coming back from down 4-0 in the third period to win at Colgate. But considering the venue, this one takes the cake.

"The stakes are higher," Yale forward Sean Backman said. "We were down a couple times during the game. We'd come back before, so we knew how to do it, it was just a matter of how to do it."

These teams are used to playing entertaining, close games. They both love to skate, and make plays. But this game didn't necessarily have the tone of those other matchups. It was grinding, playoff hockey at times, albeit still entertaining.

"It wasn't a comfortable game," Allain said. "There are some games where you feel like there's a little more flow to it. When you have a team like St. Lawrence that likes to play very fast, and we like to play fast — I didn't think it was that kind of game, maybe because of the stakes and being in an unfamiliar building. But it was a competitive, well-fought hockey game."

The victory guaranteed Yale a berth in the NCAAs, and it hosts a Regional in Bridgeport next week, as a likely No. 2 seed. But for now, the focus is on Saturday.

"It's a great feeling," Backman said. "Our program's never been in this situation before. Just as we have all season, we take it one step at a time. We've been lucky to have some of our goals realized so far, and the energy we have in the locker room day to day is unbelievably high, and guys are just excited to be playing hockey this late in March. We all know anything can happen, but we just want to bring our best effort, and hope this goes on longer."

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