Saturday, February 27, 2016

Elis Lay Waste to Hockey Night in Jersey

Blue Wave Invades Baker Rink
Friday night began as a festive senior night at ancient Hobey Baker Memorial Rink, with septuagenarian Tiger hockey heroes Mo Cheston (1959) and John Cook (1963) conducting ceremonial faceoffs, Senator and former treasury secretary Nick Brady holding court in the south end zone, and half a dozen local Delbarton prep alums looking to leave their mark for both participants, Yale and Princeton. And then the Bulldogs killed the buzz. Dour Eli taskmaster Keith Allain relegated his two Delbarton players to the stands in street clothes and then turned his Bulldogs loose to torch Tigers goalie Colton Phinney (Chatham, N.J.) for four first period goals, dousing the party at Ol Nassau before it started.

This night belonged to Allain's men in blue: in a fitting pre-game a navy and white flag was hoisted in the parking lot accompanied by cigars and red wine. Ivy League tailgating in sub-freezing temps was somehow justified for the followers of this hockey juggernaut, Yale dismantled their orange rivals 6-0, the equivalent of it a tennis-set "bagel" to clinch a share of the Ivy League hockey title.

For the third time in six years the humorless Allain has assembled a national contender: four lines of
Allain: Testy Taskmaster
urgent forwards, a troika of elite senior defensemen, and the best goalie in the land between the pipes. Alex Lyon is the statistical king of NCAA hockey goalies with his .943 save pct and 1.46 GAA. Undrafted and enjoying a magnificent two-year run, Lyon has created an NHL feeding frenzy for his services, with an estimated 20 NHL clubs eager to sign the 23 year old Baudette, Minnesota, native as soon as his season ends. It may be a long wait. Three members of the Philadelphia Flyers brain trust, led by general manager Ron Hextall, jumped on I-95 for the hour drive Princeton to see Lyon in person for the second time. Hexi liked what he saw. "Nice skills, his size is okay," said Hextall after Lyon held off Princeton's only surge early in the first period. Did Hextall mind that Lyon only plays on weekends, and his season is shortened by Ivy League restrictions? "It depends on the student you are, but for some it's a fine way to go." The ECAC playoffs start next week, and Yale has a bye. The NCAA's start three weeks after that, and if Yale wins their regional, they have another two week wait for the Frozen Four. Lyon might make his suitors wait until April 9, and that's IF he chooses to forego his senior year and that world-class Yale sheepskin. He won't say, but insiders think he'll jump. Allain knows more than anyone that Alex the Great is Yale hockey's one indispensable man.

"Alex has been great all year long and I attribute it to hard work," said Allain. "He's really conscientious about preparing on a day-to-day, week-to-week basis, he's got athleticism, he's smart, he approaches things like a pro." The ultimate endorsement coming from a former NHL goaltending coach. The demand for Lyon will never be as high as it is now, and his chance to grab the NCAA brass ring is peaking as well. This all adds up to win now for Yale, because the odds are good that Lyon is playing his final month of hockey in New Haven.

The War on Whitney Avenue: The Rivalry That Isn't

Ever since Quinnipiac joined the ECAC in the 2005-06 campaign, the hockey community in New Haven county rejoiced. "It's the greatest," said New Haven Register beat writer Chip Malafronte. The only guy who won't give the rivalry any love is Allain. "We share a league and we share geography, but the programs are very, very different," said Allain in a New York Times story earlier this season. He then pointed out that they recruit different players, and that Yale does not offer athletic scholarships like Quinnipiac. In his mind, Friday's win versus Princeton had greater significance than the Saturday showdown of ECAC superpowers. "We had an opportunity to share the Ivy League championship tonight," said Allain in the post game media scrum, referring to the fact that this final Ivy victory gave Yale a 7-1-2 record versus Ivy opponents, the same as Harvard, giving them both a share of the crown. "It's a very, very important game." And how about the following night
against first place Quinnipiac? "Two points in the standings." He would not utter another word about the game or the rivalry. Yale has not beaten Quinnipiac in nearly four years, since the NCAA title bout of 2013. 
Eli Glory Daze of 2013
This is the absolute best chance for Yale to knock off the team that has been at the top of the national polls for the past seven weeks. After Quinnipiac shut out the Bulldogs 3-0 at the Yale Whale back in December, Allain had a long list of team flaws that needed correcting: quickness to the puck; more efficiency on scoring opportunities, strength on sticks, and a faltering power play. Had these issues been addressed in the past 10 weeks? "We'll see," said Allain. "If we do those things well we'll be successful." 

Late in the game an injured Yale senior texted that this year's Yale club is better than the 2013 NCAA champs. All-American defenseman Rob O'Gara said the two teams are very similar in all aspects but one: "Our senior class has that experience (of winning it all), and that's something we didn't have freshman year." O'Gara fired home his 13th career goal in the first period and is playing like a colt.

"It's the end of the year, it's exciting," said junior power forward John Hayden, team leader with 15 goals. "I feel good, I feel fresh, I feel confident."

Connecticut's answer to BU-BC, less history, but more intensity. Cats and Dogs. Puck drop 7 pm.

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