NEW HAVEN, Conn.— Raphael Girard stepped into the crease with confidence. The last time he had started against the Yale in the ECAC Tournament, he led his team to a come-from-behind series win. On Saturday night, “Raph” was prepared to do it again—or at least extend his collegiate career to one more game.
Through 50 minutes, the Bulldogs barraged Girard with shots but could not break through on even strength while the Crimson clung to a one goal lead. Yet the game would prove to be the senior netminder’s last stand.
The No. 16/15 Yale men’s hockey team skated to a 2-1 win to complete its series sweep of Harvard (10-17-4, 6-12-4 ECAC) in Game Two of first round ECAC Tournament play Saturday night at Ingalls Rink. The Bulldogs (17-9-5, 10-8-4) ended the Crimson’s season with a come-from-behind win on the back of two man-up goals 38 seconds apart off a boarding minor from sophomore forward Brian Hart in the third period.
“I thought Raph was outstanding,” said Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91. “The penalty was tough, because, quite frankly, he didn’t look like he was going to give up a goal five-on-five.”
After Hart gave the Crimson a one-goal lead with a power play strike late in the first period, officials charged the sophomore forward with a delayed boarding minor midway through the final frame of regulation. On the delay, the Bulldogs pulled freshman goaltender Alex Lyon for an extra attacker, and sophomore center Stu Wilson elevated the puck through a scrum in front of the Harvard net for the tying goal.
On the ensuing power play, senior forward Kenny Agostino pulled the hosts ahead with his 14th goal of the season. Classmate center Jesse Root assisted on the go-ahead goal from the right faceoff circle with an outside wrist shot that clipped Agostino’s shin guard before skimming over Girard’s right leg pad.
Following Friday’s 4-0 loss to the Bulldogs, Donato called on his squad for better execution, and he got it on Saturday.
“The kids played really hard,” Donato said. “I thought the effort was outstanding.”
While the Crimson struggled to transition out of its own zone, Girard received good net support on defense as Harvard skaters kept most of Yale’s opportunities to the outside.
“Obviously, I had to play a good game, but it helps a lot when you see guys diving to block shots and taking hits just to get the puck out of your zone,” Girard said.
Despite the Bulldogs’ dominance on the possession, a power play strike from Hart put the Crimson on the board first at 16:42 in the opening frame. After a close-angle shot from freshman linemate Sean Malone clipped the shoulder of Lyon, Hart tapped in a dribbling rebound on the far side of the crease with Lyon out of position.
The Crimson would get precious few fortunate bounces after that. In the middle frame, Yale limited the Crimson to four shots on goal for the second straight night. In the third, Harvard did not register a shot on goal until the 12-minute mark. With the win, Yale became the first team to sweep Harvard in the first round of the ECAC Tournament since Brown shut out the Crimson on back-to-back nights in 2009.
While Donato brushed aside concerns about personnel issues on Friday, he acknowledged the team’s limitations on offense on Saturday. Freshman center Alex Kerfoot, who left Game One with a shoulder injury, was the latest addition to the team’s disabled list. In all, Saturday’s Harvard line-up was missing nine players with whom the squad started the season in October.
“[The season] at times was frustrating, a little bit up and down,” Donato said. “We certainly were devastated there with injuries.”
In Kerfoot’s absence, Donato called up junior Mike Seward to fill out the Crimson’s fourth line at center. Seward, who was added to the team’s roster just three weeks ago, played for Harvard last year but made his 2014 debut in the team’s final game of the season.
Friday night was a difficult send-off for Girard, who finished with 37 saves and made a series of acrobatic stops in the third period before Yale broke through. The Quebec native hopes to continue his playing career after graduation.
“It’s been great playing for the Crimson these four years,” Girard said. “It definitely hurts. Maybe tomorrow my leg or my knee is going to hurt, but there’s nothing more that hurts than knowing my career is over here.”
As for the team’s non-graduating players, the Crimson has something to look forward to this offseason. The young team may return up to 22 of its 26 roster spots next season.
“I thought there was a great deal of improvement [this year],” Donato said. “I think we in general laid the foundation for what will be a more positive future.”
—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @MDLedecky.