As in any sport, hockey is a numbers game. For the Yale Bulldogs, those numbers seem to be somewhere between one and 20 lately.
Broc Little and Brian O’Neill provided the goals and Alec Richards provided the 29-save goaltending last night as Yale nicked No. 15 Dartmouth 2-1 in ECAC action before 3,709 at Thompson Arena. The victory was the Bulldogs’ third in a row, by a single goal in each instance, against a top-20 squad, a run that includes home upsets of No. 17 Minnesota State and No. 11 Air Force on either side of the new year.
“I think we’re playing a little bit tighter defensively, and by that I mean in all three zones,” Yale coach Keith Allain said. “Our forecheck is better from the inside out. Our neutral-zone play is better, and our D-zone coverage is a little better. That’s the change in our game.”
Dartmouth (9-6-0 overall, 6-4-0 league) wasted a season-high 53-save effort from freshman goaltender Jody O’Neill. Little and Brian O’Neill staked Yale to a 2-0 lead by the middle of the second period; Andrew Owsiak managed Dartmouth’s only answer against Richards.
“I think that’s the most skilled team in our league,” Big Green coach Bob Gaudet said. “For whatever reason, nobody seems to quite hold them to that. That’s a very, very, very good team. I think, on a skill level, that’s the best team we played this year.”
Yale (10-4-0, 5-2-0) used that skill to amass 26 first-period shots, but Jody O’Neill’s play in the Dartmouth net nearly rendered the effort moot. Little lit the lamp at 18:20 on a two-on-one with linemate Denny Kearney, wristing a shot that the Big Green goalie appeared to catch and trap only to have the puck trickle across the goal line.
“The goaltender was good; I don’t know if that’s fortune or talent,” Allain said. “But he was very good. And they compete hard around their net. It’s not like you have a lot of time for rebounds or everything else.”
Brian O’Neill doubled the visitors’ lead at 12:13. Jody O’Neill knocked down a counterattack drive off the stick of Sean Backman from the right dot, but Brian O’Neill swept the rebound inside the left post before Dartmouth could defend.
Owsiak’s response at 13:47, a rebound of a Doug Jones shot with both teams short-handed by one, seemed to give lethargic Dartmouth a shot of life. Instead, Yale maintained pressure in the Big Green’s end of the ice and clinched the victory by killing off nearly three-and-a-half minutes of man-down time, including a half-minute five-on-three for Dartmouth, to close regulation play.
The Big Green entertains Brown tonight, while Yale looks to extend its three-win streak at Harvard.
Greg Fennell covers Dartmouth hockey for the Valley News of West Lebanon, N.H.