Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- The best season in the history of the Yale hockey program came to an end in a 5-3 loss to Minnesota Duluth in the championship game of the 2011 NCAA East Regional before 7,816 at Webster Bank's Arena at Harbor Yard.
UMD (24-10-6) used three power-play goals, including a pair on the most controversial call (major) of the regional, to jump out to a 5-1 lead and then hold on in the third period to advance to the April 7-9 Frozen Four at St. Paul, Minn. Five different Bulldog skaters found the net over the first 40 minutes and Kenny Reiter stopped 30 of 33 shots on the way to the tournament's most outstanding player honors.
The Bulldogs (28-7-1), the top seed in the 16-team field, fell a game short of the Frozen Four for the second straight year despite going 3-for-8 on the advantage. Brian O'Neill, who was tossed from the game after a misconduct call, Broc Little and Denny Kearney scored over the last 30 minutes for an Eli team that had its win streak end at five games.
Even the nation's top defensive team had trouble preventing four second-period goals (3 on the power play) when facing seven penalties. Yale still managed to outshoot UMD 33-26 which was a testament to its hard work and puck movement.
Rieter, who blanked Yale in the first, got UMD headed for St. Paul with his great work in the opening frame. Midway through the first he squeezed a hard snapshot from Kevin Limbert between his pads and then came up big a few minutes later when Yale had consecutive advantages and three grade-A chances.
The junior goalie from the WCHA also had to stop a Little mini-breakaway after the Eli stole the puck from Justin Faulk and came in alone on the UMD goal down a man. That was one of the many goalie highlights during a period that had Yale outshooting the visiting team 14-6.
UMD jumped all over a power-play miscue to take a 1-0 lead with two minutes left in the first. Little carried the puck in the high slot and was simultaneously tripped and stripped. It quickly became a 2-on-1 and Justin Fontaine waited until he got into the right circle. He moved it over to Mike Connolly who put it top shelf for his 27th of the year. That goal put Yale behind for the first time in five games.
The Bulldogs from Minnesota, trying to reach a Frozen Four in their home state, made it 2-0 on a blast from the point by Wade Bergman, who said the puck bounced off a defender to get into the net just 2:58 into the second period.
Whatever momentum was left for UMD to swipe was taken in a cruel twist of events for Yale. Chris Cahill went flying toward the goal with the puck and had his shot blocked by the defense. His momentum, with help from the defense, carried him toward the left post where he bumped into Rieter. It appeared to be an innocuous situation that turned into a Duluth power-play goal after the nearest referee called Cahill for roughing the goalie. Most people in the building probably assumed it was going to end up as a Yale power play.
Twenty-two seconds later Jack Connolly's one-timer from the right circle made it 3-0, and the Yale fans were looking for a glimmer of hope to get them fired up. They got it two minutes later and then had it ripped away again.
Little picked off a clearing attempt along the boards and turned on the circle before sending it across to O'Neill, who was coiled and ready to blast a shot under the cross bar for his 20th. That was the last opportunity Yale's leading scorer would have to find the net this season. Eight seconds later, following the ensuing faceoff, the junior forward was called for a five-minute major (contact to the head) and game misconduct for a hit on Jake Hendrickson near center ice. Many folks watching the replay in the pressbox expressed their disbelief with the severity of the call.
Not only did the Blue lose their top scorer on a highly questionable call down a pair of goals, it lost that glimpse of momentum from the O'Neill goal. The two (Mike Seidel, Fontaine) power-play goals that followed were the turning of the knife as the largest deficit Yale had faced all year.
"In hindsight, the game was over then," said Keith Allain '80, Yale's Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach of Hockey. "We don't feel that way in the middle of the game because we're fighting our tails off until the final buzzer. You look back on it, and I think we had momentum. They took one of our top players out of the game and put them on the power play for five minutes. That's a huge moment."
It certainly was not Ryan Rondeau's fault Yale was down by four heading to the third. He made 11 stops in the second, but Nick Maricic still came on to finish the game for the senior who had his long scoreless streak snapped the night before against Air Force and finished with 16 saves tonight.
In the third, Little (19th) brought a slight twinkle to the eye of the Yale fan on the power play when he took a feed from Kearney at the point, deked a defender and the goalie before tucking the puck behind Reiter with 11:32 left to make it 5-2.
The twinkle in the eye preceded the shrugging of the shoulders, wondering if a miracle comeback could be possible. That's because Jimmy Martin's blast from the high slot was saved and then banged home by Kearney (16th) off the edge of the crease along the right post on another power play at 15:05 to cut the lead to 5-3.
Yale so dominated most of the third period that UMD's first shot on Maricic came with 6:38 left, and it was a good chance, from point-blank-range, the sophomore grabbed with his pads.
"I don't think we ever thought we were out of it," said Martin, the Yale captain. "We've come back from four goals down at least once in my career."
The Bulldogs continued to fight to the end but ran out of time and chances.
"I thought that it was a disappointing game. I was actually pleased with the way we played the first period. I thought the game got taken away from us a bit in the second. But true to form, our guys did not quit," said Allain.
NCAA East Regional All-Tournament Squad
F – Jack Connolly, UMD
F- Mike Connolly, UMD
F- Chad Ziegler, Yale
D – Justin Faulk, UMD
D – Nick Jaskowiak, Yale
G – Kenny Reiter, UMD
MOP – Kenny Reiter, UMD