Yale’s Chris Higgins showed Union why he is one of the top players in the ECAC, and why the Montreal Canadiens chose him in the first round of last summer’s NHL draft.
The sophomore forward scored two goals and assisted on a third Friday, leading the Bulldogs to a 5-1 victory over the Dutchmen at Achilles Rink.
“He’s an elite player in our league, and certainly one of the best players in college hockey,” Union coach Kevin Sneddon said after the team’s second straight loss. “We’ll all be watching him on the television in the very near future.”
The Dutchmen (8-7-2 ECAC, 12-13-4 overall) fell into a three-way tie for fourth place — the final first-round bye slot — with Brown and Dartmouth. Brown tied Cornell, 2-2, while Dartmouth beat St. Lawrence, 5-3.
Union played the game without forwards Nathan Gillies and Scott Seney, and defenseman Jason Kean. All three were suspended after receiving fighting majors and game disqualifications in last Friday’s game against Brown. Even if they were in the lineup, that may not have been enough to stop Higgins, last season’s ECAC Rookie of the Year.
“We didn’t show up to play our game,” Union forward Kris Goodjohn said. “We maybe had a handful of guys ready to play tonight. The rest of the guys didn’t do what we needed to do.”
Higgins needed just 23 seconds into the game to give Yale a 1-0 lead.
He took a shot from the right wing that goalie Kris Mayotte stopped. The rebound popped in the air and landed in the slot. Max Seel had a chance to clear, but fanned. Higgins got the puck and fired it past Mayotte.
“We wanted to get off to a fast start playing away,” said Higgins, who has 18 goals and 14 assists this season and 32 goals and 31 assists in his career. “It’s pretty important to get on the board first. I was fortunate enough that the puck came out to me in the slot. It went off the goalie’s shoulder and went in.”
The Dutchmen tied it when Marc Neron one-timed a Joel Beal pass past goalie Josh Gartner with 4:16 left in the first period.
But 28 seconds later, Christian Jensen dug the puck out of a scrum in front of the Union net and shot it past Mayotte to give the Bulldogs (11-6, 15-9) their one-goal lead back.
Higgins, who hit the post on a breakaway with 14.5 seconds left in the second period, scored a killer goal with 2.9 seconds remaining. He was behind the net when he banked a shot off the back of Mayotte’s right leg and into the net.
“He was out front and shot it,” Mayotte said. “The rebound went behind the net. I was getting up to go back to my post, and he got the shot off before I could get back to my post.”
Higgins got his assist on Vin Hellemeyer’s goal at 6:50 of the third period, which ended Mayotte’s night. Higgins gave the puck to Hellemeyer on the left wing as they crossed the Union blue line. Hellemeyer beat Mayotte with a soft wrister from about 35 feet out.
“It was brutal,” said Mayotte, who was pulled for the first time this season. “It was a shot inside the blue line. It was an easy save to the left. It’s a save you shouldn’t have to think about, let alone worry about stopping. It was a bad goal.”
Ken Schott covers college hockey for The Daily Gazette in Schenectady, N.Y.