With three games left in the season, the men’s ice hockey team had already secured a first place seeding for the ECAC tournament. Meanwhile head coach Tim Taylor and his Yale Bulldogs needed to run the table in their final four games if they had any chance of even qualifying for the postseason.
Thanks in part to the Red, who dropped Union in the final game of the season, and a whirlwind finale that saw them sweep four straight, the Elis have earned the 10th and final spot in the playoffs and will face Cornell at Lynah Rink for a best-of-three series beginning on Friday evening.
The Red is heavily favored, having finished the season ranked No. 9, but Yale arguably offered Cornell one of its best challenges of the season. The two teams skated to a tie in New Haven, before the Red escaped with a 3-2 win at Lynah thanks to junior Sam Paolini’s last minute heroics.
Yale’s hot streak of late combined with its solid showings against Cornell make this a less-than-typical No. 10 versus No. 1 match-up.
“We feel like we are playing our best hockey of the year,” Bulldog senior goalie Dan Lombard said. “We are excited about the challenge.”
Yale appears to relish its position as David entering the weekend poised to meet the ECAC’s Goliath.
“When you play the underdog role, there is less pressure,” freshman Eli winger Chris Higgins said.
The situation is one the team has been familiar with as the season came to a close and its postseason aspirations appeared to be fading.
“It’s just another continuation of having your back up against the wall,” Lombard offered.
For its part, the Red is downplaying the importance of being the No. 1 team.
“I don’t think that its any different than what we have been dealing with all season, freshman Mike Iggulden said.
Added junior defenseman Doug Murray: “I don’t think the mentality of a one-seed is any different. We know Yale is a good team.”
This series marks the first time since 1973 that the Red will have the top seed in the tournament. If history is any lesson, Cornell should be optimistic. The last time it found itself in this situation, it traveled all the way to the NCAA semifinals.
Since the ECAC switched to its current tournament format in 1998, the No. 1 seed has advanced to Lake Placid in all but one case. While the odds favor Cornell, the Red only need recall Clarkson’s fate last season before it packs its bags. The Golden Knights, arguably the hottest team in the league, garnered the top slot in the postseason, before bowing to No. 10 Vermont.
“The most difficult thing is not assuming anything,” Clarkson head coach Mark Morris said. “It’s a lesson we learned the hard way last year.”
History is still surely on the side of the Red. Aside from the Vermont upset last season, there have only been three times since 1962 that the top seed has fell to the bottom-ranked team; one is a 5-1 victory for Cornell over Boston College in 1980.
Asked for comment on the Yale-Cornell match-up, Morris replied, “Yale is a better than a 10th place team. If their goaltending holds up, they can skate with anyone in the league.”
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