March 27, 2009
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - The Cats always seem to have another life. Unfortunately for the Yale men's hockey team, the Bulldogs don't, and the season came to a crashing end with a 4-1 loss to Vermont in an NCAA East Regional semifinal at the Arena at Harbor Yard.
No. 10/11 Vermont (21-11-5) shut down the high-powered Yale offense by limiting the Elis to 26 shots, six grade-A scoring chances and killing off all seven man-advantages behind 25 saves from freshman goalie Rob Madore. Meanwhile, four different Catamounts scored at even strength to end Yale's best-ever season at 24-8-2.
The Bulldogs and Vermont were coming off very different conference tournament finishes. Yale won its first-ever ECAC tournament title at Albany last weekend, while the Cats fell to UMass-Lowell in a quarterfinal series two weeks ago. The idle weekend may have been enough motivation for the No. 3 seed to knock off second-seeded Yale, which got 22 saves from senior goalie Alec Richards.
"I give UVM a lot of credit for playing a great game, but they didn't see the best Yale team tonight," said Keith Allain '80 Yale's Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach of Hockey.
The Catamounts had the first chance to draw blood with the man-advantage but couldn't cash in on a 5-on-3 for a minute or the rest of the other penalty, and the Eli defense prevented UVM from putting any shots on target.
Yale's first power-play chance included a 24-second two-man advantage, but the Blue managed just one shot. Broc Little broke free on Madore late in the second chance and nearly slipped one by with under nine minutes left in the first. The Elis had other grade-A chances in the first, but Madore held strong.
Richards wasn't as fortunate. A turnover in the offensive end resulted in a fluke score and the game's first goal. Matt Nelson had the puck poked away from him and it landed on the stick of Justin Milo, who raced up the left side with a defender in good position. Milo (12th goal) crossed the blueline and sent a hard wrister toward Richards that slipped between his arm and stomach with 5:32 left in an opening frame that had UVM with an 8-7 advantage in shots.
"They didn't surprise us, we just weren't able to sustain the pressure long enough," said Nelson, the Yale captain. "They have a really big defense that is tough to move. We just couldn't get into our routine tonight."
The Cats found the net again, this time on first attempt of the second period, just 1:50 in. Viktor Stalberg, the Toronto Maple Leaf draft pick and Hobey Baker finalist, carried into the slot with both blueliners in good position. However, the puck bounced off the leg of one Bulldog and came back to the junior winger, who flicked it past Richards to make it 2-0. Stalberg tallied his 24th of the year by using the Yale player to screen Richards.
Madore survived a great scoring chance by Denny Kearney on the power play and then another brief 5-on-3 late in the second to keep the two-goal lead. That penalty-kill provided the momentum the Hockey East needed to put the game away and make it a three-goal lead. Colin Vock (5th) picked up a rebound off a blocked shot in the right circle, took a few steps and then fired a low shot inside the near post with 59 seconds left.
"The key moments tonight were killing those two five on threes," said Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon, who played on Harvard's 1989 national championship squad and helped the Cats win their first NCAA game since 1996. "We stop those and then come back and score. That was the turning point in the game."
Corey Carlson (7th) put the finishing touches on the win with a nasty wrister from the right circle at 16:25 of the third, which sent many people into the aisles on the way to the parking lots.
The Yale faithful was begging for a Bulldog tally to get them going in the stands. The Yale Band did its part and the fans were cheering for the Blue to get back in the contest. Chris Cahill's goal, which prevented Madore from notching the shutout with 1:45 left, was too late to help.
"It's impossible for me to reflect on the season right now, but I am really proud of the way these guys have responded to adversity all season," said Allain, the ECAC Hockey and College Hockey News (national) Coach of the Year.
Bulldog Bites: The No. 4 seed Air Force blanked No. 1 Michigan 2-0 in the first semifinal... The first year Yale went to the NCAAs was 1952 when the top two from the East met the top pair from the West (the Elis lost to Colorado College before beating St. Lawrence). The other appearance was the last in 1998 with Yale among 12 qualifiers after winning the ECAC regular season... The third-period goal against UVM was Yale's first in NCAA tournament play since 1952... The Elis arrived at Harbor Yard for the first time when they skated on Thursday at 3:45 p.m., which followed some ESPNU interviews and preceded the official NCAA press conference... The Bulldogs were on the ice again for their pre-game skate in the morning... Yale sold everyone one of its allotted tickets and others not used by Air Force... The sellout crowd of 8,478 was the largest hockey attendance in the arena's history.
Report filed by Steve Conn, Yale Associate AD & Sports Publicity Director
Video by David Dikranian