This time three weeks ago, it might as well have been called “The Impossible Dream”.
The Yale Bulldogs, who nearly missed getting into the NCAA Tournament, completed their improbable run to become the 2013 NCAA National Champions on Saturday night after defeating their in-state rival, the Quinnipiac Bobcats, 4-0 at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, PA. Yale became the first-ever 15th-seeded team entering the NCAA Tournament to win a National Championship, which was the first in the program’s long, storied history.
“It’s just so surreal right now,” freshman Stu Wilson said of winning the National Championship. “It hasn’t sunk in yet.”
“Focus is so important”, freshman defenseman Rob O’Gara said in describing what has made the team National Champions. “We just stuck to our system and once things started clicking the way it did, I think it helped us become more confident.”
“We knew that we could win the National Championship,” added junior defenseman Gus Young. “We know that we’re the hardest working team and we’ve shown that in the NCAA Tournament.”
And they accomplished it in just their second Frozen Four appearance and first in 61 years thanks in large part to the brilliant goaltending of senior Jeff Malcolm, who stopped all 36 shots he faced to earn his third shutout of the season.
“He was unbelievable” O’Gara said of Malcolm. “For him to go out like this is so well-deserved.”
“Jeff picked the best day to have the greatest game of his life,” senior netminder Nick Maricic said of his goaltending partner. “He was seeing the puck so well out there. As a goalie, you can just see the little details and know when another goalie is on (his game). Jeff has just been unbelievable all year.”
Dubbed as the “Whitney War” because of the street that runs between the two schools, the National Championship game between the two rivals lived up to its billing for nearly all of the first two periods. The entertaining first period saw lots of hits and lots of penalties. Both teams were excellent on the penalty kill and tested the goaltenders often. But Malcolm and Quinnipiac senior Eric Hartzell were very sharp in the opening period.
One of the best scoring chances of the period came around the 16-minute mark. With Yale on the power play, Quinnipiac sophomore Matthew Peca was able to gain puck possession and burst up the ice on a shorthanded breakaway opportunity.
About a minute earlier, Yale freshman Charles Orzetti delivered what was probably the check of the game when he leveled Quinnipiac junior defenseman, Zach Tolkinen.
Both teams played the period fairly evenly, with Quinnipiac outshooting Yale 11-9.
The second period continued to be evenly played by both teams. Each team was handed a two-man advantage on the power-play and effectively killed them off. But with the second period about to expire, the game's turning point happened.
At the 19:57 mark, junior Clinton Bourbonais deflected Young’s shot from the top of the circle that snuck in behind Hartzell to give Yale the first goal of the game. The goal would eventually become the National Championship winner.
“Since there was less than ten seconds left in the period, I knew that I could take my chances that I probably wouldn’t otherwise take in any other situation,” Young said in describing how he set up Bourbonais’ goal. “The shot got wrapped around, so I knew that I would be able to get it in there. So I got in there and just threw it on net. Clint was able to get a stick on it and it went in.”
Quinnipiac came out with some early jump and a sense of urgency to open the third period, but it would be short-lived. The Bobcats tested Malcolm early, but he would be more than up to the task of shutting the door.
The Bulldogs would get several quality chances on Hartzell early and their hard work would pay off at the 3:35 mark, when Orzetti extended Yale’s lead to 2-0 off a rebound. Orzetti’s shot beat Hartzell between his arm and body for the score. Bourbonais and senior Antoine Laganiere were credited with the assists.
Orzetti’s goal clearly put momentum on Yale’s side. The Bulldogs would continue to challenge the Bobcats defense, bringing their attack in waves.
Yale edged closer to the National Championship after extending their lead to 3-0 at the 9:06 mark. Senior Andrew Miller received a beautiful feed from junior Kenny Agostino and proceeded to skate in on a breakaway, beating Hartzell five-hole for the score.
At the 11:37 mark, Laganiere and Quinnipiac freshman Travis St. Denis were sent off with matching minors for slashing. With a four-on-four situation about to begin, Bobcats head coach Rand Pecknold opted to pull Hartzell for the extra attacker in hopes of finally getting his team on the board.
But instead, it would be the Bulldogs that scored. Junior and Pittsburgh-area resident Jesse Root put the frosting on the cake at the 13:02 mark when he fired a wrist shot into the open net to make it 4-0 Yale and sealing Quinnipiac’s fate.
The only remaining question would be if Malcolm, who was celebrating his birthday on Saturday, would be able to get the shutout. While the Bobcats would test Malcolm several more times before the final buzzer, the team in front of him would do an outstanding job in stifling any sustained pressure that Quinnipiac tried to generate, helping to preserve the shutout bid for Malcolm.
Senior and team captain Andrew Miller, who posted a goal and an assist in the game and four points (two goals, two assists) overall in the Frozen Four, was named the Most Outstanding Performer. Miller was joined on the All-Tournament Team by teammates Malcolm, Young and Bourbonais, as well as Quinnipiac senior defenseman Zach Davies and junior winger Jordan Samuels-Thomas.
Follow DJ Powers on Twitter via @DJPowersHF