Yale Finds a Goalie, Earns NCAA Win
Bulldogs Advance in NCAAs for First Time Since 1952
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
WORCESTER, Mass. North Dakota coach Dave Hakstol didn't think much of it when he saw Yale junior goaltender Ryan Rondeau lead the Bulldogs onto the ice Saturday afternoon at the DCU Center. Hakstol had enough to worry about with his own team. Even after earning a WCHA Final Five Championship last weekend and winning 12 of 13, the Fighting Sioux skipper wasn't convinced his team was perfect.
Yale coach Keith Allain has been looking for a consistent No. 1 goalie all season, rotating four of them. But the decision to play Rondeau was even more out of the blue than that — he played four games this season, the last one coming Nov. 21, with Billy Blase and Nick Maricic playing most of the games down the stretch.
But Allain decided to go with Rondeau, whose last game action resulted in five goals on 19 shots from Brown, after making another decision two weeks prior.
Following a loss to Brown in the ECAC Quarterfinals, it was clear to Allain that something needed to change. They were too comfortable, too easy to accept a loss. And there isn't a more clear indication that a coach is unhappy with his team than making a goaltending change just prior to the NCAA Tournament.
When Yale began practice after their hasty exit from the ECAC Tournament two weeks ago, Allain told the four goaltenders in practice that the opportunity to start the first game of the NCAA Tournament was open.
"It's really no different than anything we've been doing all year long," Allain said following the win over North Dakota. "One of the things I told the team after we got knocked out in our conference tournament was that the goaltender who deserved to play after these two weeks of practice was going to play. It was an open competition, and Ryan won the competition."
Finding a goaltender who truly deserved to play at any point this season was a struggle for Allain. Aside from Rondeau, who appeared in four games this season prior to Saturday, Allain has started three other goaltenders at various points in the season. The freshman Maricic played 14 games and posted a 2.95 goals-against average; both of those totals were tops on the Bulldog roster, but not enough to impress Allain.
For most of the season, Yale could hide its weak goaltending behind an offense that led the nation with 4.09 goals per game. In tournament hockey, though, goaltening rules. It's not surprising that Allain, a former goaltender at Yale, would know that better than anyone.
But impressing in practice is one thing — performing against a red-hot North Dakota team in the NCAA Tournament is another.
Rondeau didn't change anything when he learned of his opportunity to play. He just went about his practice routine as he normally does. The difference was in the visibility. Allain wasn't looking to Rondeau to fill a net during a drill or provide an extra body — he was looking for a No. 1 goaltender, someone who could lead his team to a national championship. Whether or not Rondeau is capable of that won't be clear until tomorrow evening when the Bulldogs take on No. 1 seed Boston College — who defeated Alaska, 3-1, in the early game — in the Northeast Regional final.
But for now, however, Allain has one thing more than he had last season — an NCAA win, the first one for Yale since 1952. The Bulldogs took a 3-0 lead and then held on in the third as North Dakota rallied, taking a 3-2 final.
One thing that needs no clarification is that Rondeau wants the job. He wants to feel how he did when he skated off the ice to an ovation fom the Yale fans who made the trip to Worcester on Saturday.
"I was actually talking about that with Broc Little; there's not a better feeling than winning a hockey game and then going back to the locker room," Rondeau said. "We were on such an emotional high from the win. It was just unbelievable."
Allain's message to stay focused and avoid complacency seems to have gotten through, too. Even after Rondeau made 35 saves in defeating North Dakota and leading Yale back from the dead, Allain hasn't named the starter for Sunday's Regional final.
"No he hasn't," Rondeau said with a laugh. "At least, I haven't heard anything yet."
After what Rondeau showed his coach on Saturday, maybe he thought he didn't need to say anything.