March 22, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Yale Wins First ECAC Title, Riding High Into NCAAs

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

(photo: Brad Pettengill)

(photo: Brad Pettengill)

PICTORIAL: ECAC Final, Yale-Cornell (see full pictorial)

Yale goalie Alec Richards makes a stop

Yale defeated Cornell, 5-0, in the 2009 ECAC tournament championship game in Albany, N.Y.


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When Wayne Dean — associate athletic director at Yale — was just ending his stint as chair of the NCAA men's ice hockey committee, he had the dream of hosting a regional just down the road, at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

That his Yale Bulldogs will now be hosting there as a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament — fresh off the first ECAC tournament championship in the program's history — was a whole other matter. Two years later, long-time coach Tim Taylor was let go, and replaced by one-time Yale goaltender Keith Allain. The road to this spot seemed a long ways away. But it remained a gleam in Dean's eye.

Call it coincidence, call it fate, call it motivation — but the Bulldogs have made Dean look like a genius.

"When I first took the job," Allain recalled, "it was one of the things Wayne Dean reminded me — 'Oh, by the way, we're hosting the regional in three years in Bridgeport, and if we make it, we get to be the host team. And no pressure.' Being in the NCAA tournament is thrill enough, but getting to do it so close to home where our friends and family will get to see us play, this is going to be a great week for us."

To get there, Yale won a thriller Friday — a game for the ages — then took advantage of a wearying Cornell squad to the tune of a 5-0 win. The team that had never won defeated the program with the most distinguished history of any ECAC school.

"We had this goal coming into the season, and for us to fulfill it, I can't even explain it," said Yale forward Sean Backman, who had a hat trick.

A number of Yale's goals came off pretty plays. And the backbreaker was the second one, off a Cornell giveaway, leading to a tic-tac-toe goal by Broc Little.

"We were able to finally get some real nice goals tonight, some back door feeds, and a couple I didn't think (Cornell goalie Ben) Scrivens had a chance," Little said.

Yale had Cornell's number all season long. And the Big Red couldn't find the formula to turn that around in the championship game.

"They've got some real good players," Cornell coach Mike Schafer said. "I remember playing against Timmy's teams in 1986 when I was a senior, they had a heckuva hockey team. I don't think much has changed. Keith has been able to get them over the top and win a championship. I know Keith looks up to Tim as a mentor, but Keith has done things to get them over the top."

Schafer thought the Big Red had opportunities early, but needed to get a lead considering it played a double OT late game against Princeton the night before.

"You take a quick peak at the shot charts, and we had chances in the scoring area, and everyone chance they had in the scoring area, they buried it," Schafer said. "The first goal was really the killer, because I thought we needed the lead."

Backman was named tournament Most Outstanding Player, and Yale's Alec Richards was the all-tournament goaltender.

"We hadn't beaten them up until this year at their barn," Richard said. "We didn't dominate them at all. We just got bounces and got some goals early."

Heading to Bridgeport

There are so many good people in the ECAC, and through college hockey, it's hard to root against any of them. But every now and then, you just have to feel extra good for a group of extra good people, who finally get some rewards. There's a lot of people at Yale who waited a very long time for this, and one of them is Dean.

Dean expanded more on getting to host next week's NCAA regional.

"When we started it five or six years ago, our dream was we would host and be in it. When Keith came on board, we talked a lot about it — we kidded about it," Dean said. "Last year, I came home from the ECAC meetings, and I walked down to this building, and he was on the Cape (Cod), and I told Keith, 'Look, I really want to be in this tournament, I want our boys to be in the tournament, I want you to be in the tournament' — and we haven't really talked about it since. And when we beat Brown (in the quarterfinals) he said, 'I guess I'm off the hook.' But it hasn't really sunk in yet. We're whirling about this, and now to be in the NCAAs next week.

"This is where we want to go, no one here has been there. And we talked about going to Bridgeport all year long. So yeah, it was motivation. But every time we talked about Bridgeport, a reporter said, 'Is it realistic that you'll be there?' And we said 'Absolutely.'"

Dean said he expects a sellout now, by Monday.

"It will be a big Connecticut and Yale crowd," Dean said. "Let's enjoy it for a few minutes and we'll see where we end up and who we're paired with."

Cornell still alive

The Big Red will play on as a No. 3 NCAA seed next week, somewhere out West, most likely. So the sting may not have been as hard, but it still was a chance at a 12th ECAC title that went by the wayside.

"It hurts. It hurts when you lose, but part of the dream we still have is to win a national championship," Schafer said. "And we have to get people healthy here. Blake Gallagher was playing on one leg. Joe Devin and Mike Devin are out. ... Wherever you go, we're going to be playing good teams. But our dream is still alive."

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