From Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publicity Director:
If yesterday’s win over top-ranked Minnesota was a giant step toward a national championship, today’s come-from-behind, 4-1 NCAA West Regional Final win over North Dakota that sent the Bulldogs to their first Frozen Four is the current cornerstone for the men’s hockey program.
The Bulldogs overcame a 1-0, third-period deficit with three goals in just over five minutes to stun North Dakota, which had held off its ECAC opponent for 52 minutes.
Josh Balch broke the bubble at 12:25 for the equalizer, Jesse Root followed almost three minutes later and then Stu Wilson found the net at 17:39, finishing off one of the most famous offensive explosions in the history of the program. Kenny Agostino’s empty-netter capped a weekend sweep of WCHA teams as the No. 4 seed at the Van Andel Arena.
The Elis face UMass-Lowell, winners of the Northeast Regional, in one of the April 11 semifinals at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“We were thrilled to be able to get the win today. We were playing well throughout the game, we have such a great unit. Our team just stuck with the plan and eventually they broke through,” said Keith Allain ’80, Yale’s Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach.
It took a while for the Elis to break through, but they put the rubber on the seven-time NCAA Champions all game. In fact, Yale attempted 87 shots compared to 54 for North Dakota; it was 39-25 in shots on goal.
Jeff Malcolm, Yale’s senior netminder, was outstanding for a second straight night with 24 saves, including nine in the third period. There were a few times where he had to withstand a flurry but never lost his focus and control.
UND opened the scoring at 7:22 with a Corban Knight wrister that went top shelf. This was the second time the No. 2 seed thought it had taken a 1-0 lead. Nearly five minutes earlier, Connor Gaarder crashed the net and appeared to score a goal at 2:31, but the officials took the tally off the board following a very long video review. It was later explained that an offensive player made contact with the goalie and that is why the goal was waved off.
Knight’s goal stood through the opening frame despite Yale having a 11-8 edge in shots on target and having two pretty good looking power plays. The Elis, who won many of the battles, moved the puck well in the period and attempted 24 shots overall.
Yale came out buzzing in the second. Tommy Fallen and Root had great chances to break through for the Blue but Fallen’s blast from point-blank range sailed high and Root’s backhand shot from 10 feet away was knocked aside by Saunders, who came up with numerous quality saves to keep a hard-charging team off the board.
The Elis outshot UND 14-8 in the middle frame and used a ferocious fore-check to sustain the pressure. It may have been one of the best Yale offensive periods of the season where it did not score. The passes were on target the lower seed had the favored squad chasing for much of the period. Yale actually had 10 more attempted shots than in the first.
The Bulldogs finally broke through thanks to a great neutral zone play by Wilson and a great job by Balch to get open in the low slot. Wilson stole the puck outside the blueline, kicked it away from a UND skater to himself and went into the right circle before sending it over to Anthony Day to his right. Day, who had two assists, immediately sent it across the slot for Balch, who had broken free from the defense. The senior forward held for a moment and then wristed it inside the near post to make it 1-1.
“We’ve been close the first two years [in the NCAAs]. We’ve got a lot of will, a lot of heart. We’re going to get to work the next two weeks and we’re halfway home,” said Balch, who has two OT game winners this year and one of the most crucial goals in the team’s history.
With 6:15 left, UND’s Mark MacMillan went to the penalty box and the Bulldogs licked their chops for another chance. Andrew Miller carried in over the blueline and got to the top of the right circle. He moved the puck to the middle for Root. The junior center and West Regional MVP gathered and then flicked a wrister inside the near post.
“It’s a great accomplishment. It’s a great accomplishment for any team. We have a young team, and that helps us bounce back from a tough weekend. A little naïve which is good, but we brought it this weekend,” said Miller, Yale’s captain, whose assist brought him to within one of the school’s career record.
The Bulldogs still needed a few great stops from their goalie and a great blocker save by Malcolm with 3:10 left on Drake Caggiula was the highlight. That save helped ignite the next Yale rush.
“The guys did a great job in front of me. We just kept at it,” said Malcolm.
Day broke out of the Yale end with a 3-on-1 and held all the way into the left circle before unleashing a nasty wrister that bounced off Saunder’s blocker and in the air. Wilson, crashing the net from the other side, swiped it out of the air and into the back of the net.
All six Yale seniors were in uniform in 2010 when the Bulldogs beat UND at the Northeast Regional; UND has four players on its roster who played in that game. None of the current players scored in that semifinal… The Blue went with the same lineup as Friday… Both officiating crews sent to the West Regional were from Hockey East.