PITTSBURGH — For the last few weeks, people have been calling Yale “giant killers’’ because the Bulldogs knocked off perennial powerhouses Minnesota and North Dakota in the NCAA West Regional.
They continued to roll along, eliminating Hockey East titan UMass-Lowell in overtime on Thursday in the Frozen Four to advance to the final. On Saturday night, they added the most important honor to their Cinderella season — the program’s first NCAA hockey title after beating Quinnipiac, 4-0, at the Consol Energy Center.
In what was billed as the Battle of Connecticut, and more specifically the Battle of Whitney Avenue, Yale prevailed after losing to Quinnipiac three times this season.
Yale is the first ECAC team to win the NCAA title since Harvard in 1989, beating the No. 1 seed as the No. 15 seed. The Bulldogs are also the first team in NCAA history to beat three No. 1 seeds on the way to the crown.
“I came back to prove you could go to the best university in the world and compete in hockey at the highest level,’’ said Yale coach Keith Allain, who was a goaltender at Yale from 1976-80. “And this group has proven that so far this year.’’
The first two periods were crazy. There were no goals in the first 39 minutes, 56.5 seconds although both teams had a multitude of chances, including each having a two-man advantage for longer than a minute but yielding nothing.
The play was physical and the emotions were running high as the teams tried to break through to win their first title.
It looked as if both teams would be heading to the locker rooms with no score through two periods in the NCAA title game for the first time since 1968. But Yale changed that in the final seconds.
Bobcats goalie Eric Hartzell fired the puck up the boards but there was no winger on the wall as there normally would be. Instead, with 3.5 seconds left, Yale defenseman Gus Young collected the puck along the left-wing boards and fired it toward the net where center Clinton Bourbonais redirected it past Hartzell to make it 1-0.
Yale doubled its lead at 3:35 of the third period. Bourbonais dished a pass up for freshman Charles Orzetti, who fired a shot from the left circle that Hartzell stopped. But Orzetti was allowed to roam free when defenseman Zack Currie turned the wrong way. Orzetti pounced on his own rebound and beat Hartzell on a shot from a tough angle to make it 2-0.
Yale secured the victory and championship at 9:06 when right wing Andrew Miller, who scored the overtime winner against UMass-Lowell, beat Hartzell (27 saves) on a breakaway to make it a three-goal lead. Miller was named the tournament’s most outstanding player.
Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold made the bold decision to pull Hartzell with 7:19 left but Pittsburgh native Jesse Root foiled that plan when he took a pass from Miller and made it a 4-0 game with the empty-netter at 13:02.
Both teams had plenty of chances to score in the first two periods.
About three minutes into the second, Bobcats left wing Matthew Peca made a terrific inside move, cutting into the slot from the left circle and leaving Young behind. He went to his backhand and tested goaltender Jeff Malcolm (36 saves) but couldn’t find an opening.
At 4:26, Quinnipiac’s Bryce Van Babrant fired a shot from high atop the right circle through a screen but Malcolm made a glove save.
About 45 seconds later, Quinnipiac tried again. This time it was right wing Jordan Samuels-Thomas, one of the heroes of the semifinal game against St. Cloud State. Samuels-Thomas had a point blanker from in front but the puck caromed off the blocker of Malcolm. It proved to be just one of those nights for the Bobcats’ offense.
At 7:17, senior center Jeremy Langlois was called for roughing and Yale went to work on the power play. The Bulldogs put pressure on Hartzell but couldn’t break through.
Quinnipiac had a two-man advantage for 1:03 beginning at 11:35 but failed to convert.
Yale had a five-on-three advantage for 1:13 beginning at 13:25. What followed was a tremendous shot-blocking clinic by the Bobcats and the Bulldogs’ threat was nullified.
Malcolm, celebrating his 24th birthday, earned the fifth shutout in NCAA championship history.
Pecknold said after the season the Bobcats had, the loss was a tough pill to swallow.
“We’re devastated,’’ he said. “It was a great year, and this wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. I’m proud of my guys. We had plenty of chances and we just couldn’t score. I think we were the best team in college hockey and for the season and unfortunately, we couldn’t prove it tonight. You’ve got to give Yale credit for that.’’