March 22, 2009
ALBANY, N.Y. - Yale has been playing hockey in the ECAC for nearly half a century. For most of those 48 years the Bulldogs have not enjoyed much post-season success. The Elis had certainly never won a conference tournament title... until Saturday night.
Sean Backman had a hat trick and Alec Richards stopped all 27 shots on target as No. 7 Yale blanked No. 10 Cornell 5-0 to win the 2009 ECAC Hockey Tournament Championship at the Times Union Center. The victory brings an automatic NCAA Tournament spot, something the Elis had already earned by being No. 5 in the latest Pairwise Rankings.
Denny Kearney and Brian O'Neill had the other goals for the Blue (24-7-2), which established a school record with its 24th win. The Elis, who survived a rocky first 10 minutes, were outshot 27-24 and scored on just one of five man-advantages.
Richards, who broke the Yale career record for shutouts with his sixth, saved his best outing for the school's most significant hockey night to date. He made 10 saves in the first, six in the second and 11 in the third to register the fourth blanking in ECAC Championship Game history and the first in nine years. Richards also stopped all seven Big Red power plays.
"It [the shutout record] is a nice thing to put in my pocket," said Richards, who didn't take over as Yale's top goalie until the middle of the season. "I'm just excited about the team getting a championship for this university."
The Big Red (21-9-4) had the opening-frame shot advantage (10-8) and controlled the puck for most of the first period, but trailed 1-0 after 20 minutes.
The Elis, who got their 10th win over a ranked team, connected on the type of scoring play that makes the sport so beautiful to watch. Nick Jaskowiak sent the puck up the left side to Brian O'Neill, who had his head up enough to see Backman (18th goal) making a bee-line for the far post. The freshman winger fired a perfect lead pass to his outstretched linemate, who one-timed it past Ben Scrivens at 14:12.
"Brian [O'Neill] is a great player. He saw the Cornell D going to Arco [Mark Arcobello]. All I had to do was put it into the open net," said Backman, who was named the tournament's most valuable player. "I am more happy about winning than scoring three goals."
Richards had to come up with a great save on Cornell's first man-advantage to keep the game scoreless early in the first. Riley Nash had an excellent opportunity on the Red's second advantage, but the Yale netminder made another huge stop. Scrivens, who finished with 19 saves, was nearly as busy at the other end. Backman broke in alone when the game was scoreless but could not sneak one past him on the deke move.
"Those two penalty kills in the first period were very stressful for us, but our first goal really calmed us down," said Richards, who is second at Yale with 39 career wins and backboned two of the three wins over Cornell this year.
Yale's first power play of the night came with a little over a minute to play in the first and nearly resulted in a two-goal lead. Scrivens lost his stick outside the crease on an Eli flurry as the last few seconds of the frame ticked away.
The No. 1 seed in the tournament made it 2-0 off a Kevin Limbert steal inside the Cornell blueline. The rookie center quickly crossed the puck to Broc Little heading into the right circle. Little sent it back the other way with Kearney (9th) buzzing the far post. The sophomore winger one-timed the feed, catching Scrivens on the opposite post, and the puck went into the back of the net with 6:16 left in the second.
A Scrivens mistake turned into a three-goal Yale lead. Ryan Donald's shot from the point bounced off the goalie's pad and sat in the low slot where O'Neill (12th) was waiting. The Yale rookie snapped the rebound inside the near post with 1:47 remaining in the second.
The Elis jumped all over a Nash boarding penalty midway through the third to increase the lead to 4-0. Little held the puck heading in on the left side and waited for Scrivens to commit. He waited long enough for Backman (19th) to bust up the right side and see a big opening with which he used to feather a one-timer inside the right post. That score wasn't much different than his first.
Cornell pulled Scrivens after a Yale penalty to have a two-man advantage, but Richards stood tall again. When the penalty was over, Backman, who notched Yale's first hat trick since he got three at Quinnipiac two years ago, took a feed inside the red line and fired a low shot into the empty net to make it 5-0 at 13:50.
"You don't know the price that this team paid for this championship," said Keith Allain '80, Yale's Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach of Hockey, who won his 50th game at Yale while producing the championship game's second largest margin of victory. "It was their tournament and their victory. I can't explain how proud I am of them tonight."
The Bulldogs, who will be watching ESPN 2's NCAA Tournament selection show at 11:30 a.m. on Sunday, stormed the ice to jump on Richards at the final buzzer. Most of the players got a chance to hold the championship trophy, and the team posed for photos after the all-tournament team was announced. The Elis were all sporting tournament championship hats.
Bulldog Bites: Backman, Little, Richards and Donald made the all-tournament team... It appears that Yale will be a No. 2 seed at the East Regional hosted by Yale and Fairfield at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport next weekend... The crowd at the Times Union Center was approximately 70 percent for Cornell and dressed in red, but the fans rooting for Yale could be heard, including the Yale Precision Marching Band, which played both national anthems both nights... The only change in the Yale lineup was on defense; senior David Inman replaced sophomore Ken Trentowski, who tallied his first collegiate goal last night on the game's only power-play score... No. 8 Princeton and No. 14 St. Lawrence skated to a 2-2 OT tie in the third place game. In order to have a third-place recipient, the conference executed a shootout that was won by the Saints.
Recap filed by Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD & Sports Publicity Director
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