For Keith Allain, coach of the Yale Bulldogs, the end couldn’t have been more fitting.
“To me, right now, that’s probably the biggest goal in the history of Yale hockey,” Allain said of the one scored by his captain, senior forward Andrew Miller, who notched his 17th goal of the season at 6:59 of overtime to give the Bulldogs a 3-2 win over the UMass Lowell River Hawks.
“Andrew’s been a great player for us all four years, and he’s made a remarkable transformation into a leadership role this year, assuming the captaincy, and he’s done it by including the entire senior class,” Allain said. “He does such a great job with our group, not just on the ice but he monitors them off the ice, making sure they’re going to class, doing the right thing all the time and they’re prepared to play. I couldn’t ask for a better captain.”
On the other side of the postgame handshake line, things couldn’t have been more different for UMass Lowell’s captain, senior forward Riley Wetmore.
“I think these guys have a great future. They’ve got great leadership in the locker room for the next couple of years,” said Wetmore, visibly choking up during the postgame press conference. “For me, it’s just disappointing that it’s over. I just can’t put it into words … it’s just tough right now.”
It could have been over much sooner. Yale more than doubled up UMass Lowell in shots, 40-18, with the third period being the most lopsided at 16-3 in favor of the Bulldogs.
“I almost thought it was going to swing our way for that exact reason,” said UMass Lowell coach Norm Bazin. “I thought they carried the play but, in overtime, it’s usually a greasy goal that gets scored. It’s usually a boggled puck or a broken play. I stayed positive with the guys. I said we couldn’t have possibly played worse than we did in the third period, and I thought we were due.”
But it was Yale who cashed in on the momentum they carried for most of the game as Miller drove wide of the UMass Lowell defender, going to his backhand and sliding the puck through the five-hole of freshman goaltender Conner Hellebuyck.
“That was our plan going in, just to take shots and get rebounds and, going through traffic in the end, it all paid off for us,” Miller said. “It was a good bouncing puck. I think we stopped them in transition a bit, came across, and I think it caught a defenseman flat-footed. They have a really good goaltender, and he played a really good game, but we were able to put one past them. It’s a great team goal.”
Yale built up a 2-0 lead over the second half of the first period and relinquished momentum only briefly, when UMass Lowell’s Wetmore and Joe Pendenza scored 14 seconds apart – the sixth-fastest two goals by one team in Frozen Four history – late in the second period to improbably tie the game, 2-2. But the tide didn’t turn for long.
“They have excellent team speed and they post a lot of guys in the neutral zone and, usually, we can adjust to that,” Bazin said. “However, we had no response. They got pucks in deep. We turned pucks over in the neutral zone, which is not like us. And, despite coming back and making it a 2-2 game, the momentum didn’t swing. Usually, it does. I don’t think we had enough puck possession to be a threat tonight and, usually, that’s our forte, so credit to them.”
“One thing we preached all year, and especially in the playoffs, is that there are going to be ups and downs,” said Yale junior defenseman Gus Young. “They’re going to score some goals; we’re going to score some goals. They’re going to give up chances; we’re going to give up chances. We just stuck to the game, kept bodies to the net. We kept our discipline, kept our shapes and we were able to wear them down and get going in the third and overtime.”
Now the Bulldogs will have a day off on Friday to prepare to face the winner of St. Cloud State and Quinnipiac, while the River Hawks try to find a way to appreciate the accomplishments of their season and making it to their first Frozen Four.
“We’re going to take a look at ourselves and see what we did right and what we did wrong,” Miller said. “We’ll spend some time getting ready, relaxing, getting our legs back under us. I don’t think you need more motivation to play in the National Championship Game.”
“This is going to sting for a while. I’m proud of this group for the season but, tonight, we certainly didn’t have it,” Bazin said. “We’ve been down quite a few times and came back to win, so I definitely think there was some magic in that room. I believed until the very end. But they got the goal that counted, and that’s the way it went tonight.”