PITTSBURGH — For more than three periods during the NCAA tournament men’s hockey semifinal, Yale peppered Massachusetts-Lowell goalie Connor Hellebuyck with shot after shot. The Bulldogs controlled play for all but 14 seconds of regulation and continued that trend in overtime.
Still, the score remained tied. But then Yale captain Andrew Miller found a sliver of an opportunity and pounced.
Miller scored 6 minutes, 59 seconds into overtime, sending his teammates spilling onto the ice and the Bulldogs to 3-2 victory that propelled them into their first national championship game.
Yale will play Quinnipiac, a 4-1 winner against St. Cloud State, to set up an all-Connecticut championship game Saturday night.
“It’s just an honor to send Yale University to the championship game,” Miller said. “We’ve worked hard to be here, got a good bounce. I think it was just a matter of time before we popped one.”
Yale outshot UMass-Lowell 40-18 in regulation, but only had two goals to show for it, and the two River Hawks goals 14 seconds apart in the second period sent the game, somewhat improbably, into overtime.
Even though he admitted that his team “didn’t have it,” River Hawks coach Norm Bazin was hopeful heading into the extra session.
“In overtime, it’s usually a greasy goal that gets scored, and it’s usually a bobbled puck or a broken play,” Bazin said.
“I stayed positive with the guys. I said we couldn’t have possibly played worse in the third period. I thought we were due for some good play,” he said.
The winning goal was scored on a broken play, but it was for the Bulldogs, who outshot Bazin’s team 7-0 in the extra session.
Miller won a race to a loose puck and slid it between Hellebuyck’s legs for the winner.
Yale coach Keith Allain admitted that, while he couldn’t have asked for a better effort from his team, he didn’t feel comfortable until Miller’s shot crossed the goal line.
“I’ve been with teams that have outplayed other teams and, for one reason or another, don’t get the bounce,” Allain said. “But I also believe that was the right approach for us, and, if we stuck with the plan, the odds would favor our team breaking through, and that’s what happened.
“Until you get the goal, you’re always wondering when it’s going to come, for sure.”
The Bulldogs grabbed an early 2-0 advantage. Freshman Mitch Witek opened the scoring 12:55 into the game with the first goal of his college career.
Antoine Laganiere added his 15th goal this season at 19:08, and the Bulldogs looked like they were well on their way to a spot in the championship.
Bazin noted his team had been down before and then rallied to win. In fact, the River Hawks were 7-4 this season when trailing after the first period.
True to form, Massachusetts Lowell came back in the second period, and it didn’t take long.
Riley Wetmore scored on a rebound 14:38 into the second period, and, 14 seconds later, Joseph Pendenza fired a laser from the right circle past Yale goalie Jeff Malcolm’s glove.
Even after that goal, though, Yale picked back up and carried the play for the rest of the second and throughout the third.
“They just kept kind of coming in waves,” Pendenza said. “They did what we usually do to other teams, so a little taste of our own medicine, kind of. But they just got the pucks first tonight, and they played a hell of a game.”
While the Bulldogs continued to create chances in the River Hawks’ end, they stifled Massachusetts Lowell in the neutral zone, preventing the River Hawks from mounting a transition offense.
The Bulldogs advanced to the championship game Saturday, where they will play in the biggest game of their young careers.
The Block News Alliance consists of The Blade and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Werner is a reporter for the Post-Gazette.