April 14, 2013

Yale captures first national championship in program history

By Andrew Merritt

Defenseman Gus Young (Dedham, Mass.) was plus-4 and assisted on the game-winning goal in Saturday's national championship game between Yale and Quinnipiac. (Dave Arnold Photography)

PITTSBURGH – The team that needed help just to get into the tournament helped itself to a national title.

Yale, the 15th seed and the last team to pick up a berth in the NCAA tournament, is the national champion after a 4-0 victory over Quinnipiac in a historic all-Connecticut, all-ECAC title game Saturday night at the Consol Energy Center.

Jeff Malcolm, the senior goaltender whose profile ahead of the tournament paled in comparison to Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell, compiled the fifth shutout in the history of the national championship, stopping all 36 of the Bobcats’ shots in a tour de force performance on his 24th birthday.

On the other end of the ice, the Bulldogs (22-12-3) got the game-winning goal from Clinton Bourbonais, who tipped a Gus Young wrister past Hartzell (27 saves) with just 3.5 seconds to go in the second period. Charles Orzetti, a freshman playing on Yale’s top line, double the lead early in the third, and Andrew Miller and Jesse Root (empty net) polished off the first national title in their program’s history.

“I came back to prove that you could go to the best university in the world and compete in hockey at the highest level,” said Yale coach Keith Allain, a 1980 alumnus who started his coaching career as an assistant for the 1984-85 season under the legendary Tim Taylor. “And this group has proven that so far this year.”

The Bobcats finished with a 30-8-5, ending a magical season that saw the little-known program from a suburb of New Haven become the No. 1-ranked team in the country and make its first-ever trip to the Frozen Four.

“We’re devastated,” said coach Rand Pecknold. “It was a great year, and this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. I’m proud of my guys. I really couldn’t ask for a better group. We weren’t perfect through two periods, but we played well enough. We had plenty of chances and we just couldn’t score.”

That was all thanks to the stellar work of Malcolm, who outplayed Hartzell, the Hobey Baker finalist.

“We had some extremely good chances in the first two periods,” said defenseman Zach Currie, who along with the rest of Quinnipiac’s seniors finished his career with an 86-55-21 record, plus this year’s regular season ECAC title. “If we capitalize on one or two of those, it's a completely different game and who knows what happens in the end. He showed up in his big moment, and he played extremely well when he needed to, made the saves he needed to. So obviously, it's frustrating when you're on the other end of that.”

The teams traded some big jabs early, but neither cashed in, despite each going on the power play twice in the first period. Yale had a particularly big opportunity late in the period, when Quinnipiac defenseman Zach Tolkinen left the ice after an awkward fall in the corner. When Mike Dalhuisen went off for tripping less than 30 seconds later, The Bulldogs suddenly had a power play opportunity against a Bobcat penalty kill that was missing two defensemen, though Tolkinen didn’t play on an earlier kill.

But the Bobcats held firm, blocking three shots on the ensuing power play and even getting a shorthanded chance when Danny Federico found Matthew Peca with a perfect outlet pass up the boards. Peca’s shot was stopped by Malcolm, who made another big save on a Jeremy Langlois net drive shortly before the period ended.

Quinnipiac continued to play survivor in the second, managing to kill off a 5-on-3 power play after a too-many-men call followed by Zach Davies’ goaltender interference with 6:35 to go. But Clinton Bourbonais, who had earlier taken a charging call after running into Hartzell, found the answer with just 3.5 seconds to go in the frame.

Bourbonais stationed himself in front of Hartzell’s net as the puck skittered up the left wing boards toward the blue line on a Quinnipiac clearing attempt. Gus Young (Dedham, Mass.) picked it off the boards and sent it toward the net, and Bourbonais reached out to his left, tipping the on-ice shot past defenseman Loren Barron and through Hartzell for a 1-0 Yale lead.

“The first goal in any game is huge and to get it that way, late in a period, can be even bigger,” said Root, a Pittsburgh native who scored the final goal of the tournament in his hometown arena. “To put a goal in and then not give [Quinnipiac] a chance to respond, it can really weigh on a team in a locker room.

Malcolm and the Bulldogs did well to withstand the Bobcats’ attempts to tie it early in the third, and Orzetti’s opportunistic goal truly put the momentum in Yale’s hands. With 3:35 gone in the third, Orzetti took a pass from Clint Bourbonais and rushed up the left wing. He fired a shot at Hartzell, who made a leg pad save that bounced right into Orzetti’s path. The freshman whipped a return shot along the ice, and it snuck under Hartzell for a 2-0 lead.

“The rebound just kind of spitted out, I took a whack at it and I think it went five hole,” Orzetti said. “I was pretty tired, I was at the end of a shift, almost too tired to get a shot on net in the first place, but I just kind of pushed it a little further and got lucky.”

The goal left a befuddled Hartzell looking down at his pads for several seconds, as if to ask them why they had betrayed him in his hour of need.

If there was an element of luck to the Bulldogs’ first two goals, the third one was all about skill. Quinnipiac defenseman Zach Davies jumped up into an offensive posture, leaving Miller, the senior captain who went on to win the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, wandering alone in the neutral zone. Kenny Agostino dug out a tailor-made pass to send Miller off to the races alone, and he deftly buried a wrist shot for a three-goal lead.

The celebration was on, although Malcolm still had some work to do to finish off the clean sheet. The senior netminder had several big saves among his collection of 36 stops, including a huge one early in the game on Matthew Peca. The explosive Quinnipiac winger made an eye-popping move to get around defenseman Gus Young and roll in on Malcolm, who hung in to make a leg save on Peca’s backhand deke.

“Jeff played great all night,” senior defenseman Colin Dueck said. “You could tell right from the start, he was feeling it. He was getting shots, and he was seeing them and moving well. In the second period, he made a pretty good short breakaway stop and I knew at that point he's just closing the door. Playing in front of him, I mean, that's huge for us because we're confident. We're just trying to get in the shot lanes. We're playing the guy and not worrying about if shots do get by because he's going to be there. I think it was solid defense, and obviously, he was really solid in that. So that was huge.

Dueck and Malcolm are part of a six-man senior class that has presided over the best four-year stretch since Yale joined the ECAC in 1961. That class also includes Miller, who said the Bulldogs path to success this year is a sign of how narrow the gap is in the sport.

“I think it's difficult to beat anyone in college hockey,” Miller said. “Night in and night out, there is so much parity. In the NCAA Tournament, anybody can beat anybody, and whoever has the hottest goalie and plays the best team game wins. I think we did that for the last four games.”

“The last four games” represent Yale’s incredible run to a national title, one that started with a little help from Notre Dame, whose win over Michigan in the CCHA final gave Yale the final at-large bid to the tournament.

It continued in the wilds of Grand Rapids, Mich., with upset wins over Minnesota and North Dakota, and then here in Pittsburgh with a thorough domination of UMass-Lowell in the national semifinals.

It ended on the Consol Energy Center ice, with white confetti rippling through the air all around the Bulldogs as they celebrated in a pile on top of Malcolm.

The team that wasn’t even supposed to be here when the tournament started, the Bulldogs were the only team left standing when it ended.

Andrew Merritt can be reached at amerritt@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.