College Hockey Roundup: Bulldogs earn first NCAA title; Shero bests Holmgren for Hartzell

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The Yale Bulldogs grew from harmless pups to a pugnacious power in a matter of weeks, leaving their teeth marks in the NCAA record books in the process.

For a team that couldn’t buy a goal during the March 22-23 weekend of the 2013 ECAC Tournament, to a scoring machine in the NCAA Tournament, one must wonder what kind of juiced-up puppy chow the Bulldogs ate in April.

Oddly enough, the two Connecticut colleges that faced off in the national championship were shut out in the ECAC semifinals. The top-seeded Bobcats suffered a 4-0 defeat to seventh-seed Brown. Third-seeded Yale was shut out by fourth-seeded Union, 5-0, which went on to win the 2013 ECAC championship. Yale and Quinnipiac met in the consolation game, which lacked the attention that Saturday’s game garnered. The Bobcats smothered the Bulldogs 3-0, pushing their season record against Yale to 3-0. Quinnipiac outscored Yale 13-3 in the three meetings prior to the national championship.

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However, the Bulldogs saved their best for last and won the most important meeting of the season.

Earning the program’s first national championship in just its second Frozen Four appearance, Yale has been tearing apart the record books. The ECAC knew it would crown its first national champion since 1989, given the all-ECAC title game. In addition to the conference accolades, the Bulldogs became the first team in NCAA history to beat three No. 1 seeds in an NCAA Tournament. This spunky squad snuck into the tournament under the radar as the No. 15 overall seed. Forced to face the No. 2 overall seed in Minnesota, Yale was thought by many to be an early out, but the program defied the odds and pulled a huge upset in the first game of the tournament.

A day after being traded to the Calgary Flames with Ben Hanowski and a first-round selection in the 2013 NHL Draft for Jarome Iginla, Kenny Agostino took center stage creating the game-winning goal just six seconds into overtime. He forced the play deep into the Minnesota end right off the faceoff, then stole the puck behind the net and found teammate Jesse Root for the historical dagger. After spoiling the Golden Gophers title hopes, Yale set its sights on the University of North Dakota. Trailing 1-0 after 40 minutes of play, Yale was in full-on defensive mode with its season on the line. The answer: four unanswered goals in the third period. The nail in the coffin was scored by the recently traded Morristown, NK product, which punched Yale’s ticket to the City of Bridges.

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Behind the budding talent of Agostino and an equally clutch captain in Andrew Miller, Yale eyed its next test in the form of the UMass-Lowell River Hawks. Norm Bazin’s bunch was the hottest team in the tournament and appeared to be the favorite to win it all. For the second time in three games, Yale would play bonus hockey, and just like the first time the Bulldogs would skate off victorious. Senior netminder Jeff Malcolm and UMass-Lowell’s sensational freshman Connor Hellebuyck (WPG 130th overall ’12) dueled through 66:59 of teeth-clenching action. Hellebuyck saw rubber thrown at him at all angles by the aggressive Bulldogs, saving 44 but letting in three, including Andrew Miller’s overtime winner. Miller’s heroic play throughout the tournament earned him the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award.

Seemingly the team of destiny, Yale’s confidence grew as the tournament wore on, and it was at an all-time high when the Bulldogs took the ice against their rival located just 7.7 miles up Whitney Avenue. Looking to avoid the fate they endured in the March 23 shutout loss to the Bobcats, Yale came out looking to lay the lumber. The first 20 minutes was filled with energy and massive collisions between two teams that didn’t need any time getting assimilated. Fittingly, a Connecticut native scored the game’s first goal, as Clinton Bourbonais snuck on past Quinnipiac goalie Eric Hartzell with four seconds remaining in the period. This goal broke the second-longest scoreless streak in NCAA history, set in 1968.

Conventional wisdom in hockey warns never to allow a goal in either the first or last minute of a period, and Quinnipiac’s letdown allowed Yale to seize momentum. In a desperate attempt to recover from a 3-0 deficit, the Bobcats pulled Hartzell with 7:19 remaining. The move didn’t pay off as former Mt. Lebanon High School state champion Root potted the empty-netter in front of a hometown crowd filled with family and friends.

On his 24th birthday Jeff Malcolm earned just the fifth championship-game shutout in NCAA history, saving all 36 shots he faced. I couldn’t imagine a better birthday present than piling behind the trophy with his Bulldog brothers celebrating the university’s first hockey championship.

Hats off to the Yale Bulldogs, the 2013 NCAA ice hockey champions.

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As if dominating the trade deadline wasn’t enough for Ray Shero and the Pittsburgh Penguins, they were the benefactors of a front-row seat to the best NCAA hockey players in the nation. The new CONSOL Energy Center played host to this year’s Frozen Four, allowing the Penguins’ brass to build bridges with the most-sought after college free agents.

Watching Agostino shine with the underdog Yale Bulldogs en route to a 4-0 victory in the championship game may have been bittersweet for the organization that traded him days earlier to the Calgary Flames. However, Shero didn’t weep for long as he spun his wand and worked his magic yet again, signing the runner-up Quinnipiac Bobcats’ goalie Eric Hartzell.

Hartzell set a school-record with a career 1.96 goals-against-average, which is a mind-boggling stat for any college goalie. Standing 6-foot-4, Hartzell utilizes his size well in the net, playing big even when he goes down for a save. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award as the NCAA’s top college hockey player this season after posting a 30-7-5 record, with a 1.57 GAA and a .933 save percentage.

Hartzell has already proved he can be a workhorse in net, posting 42 starts this season en route to leading the NCAA in minutes played (2522:02). The White Bear Lake, Minnesota native earned several accolades including 2013 ECAC Player of the Year, ECAC Hockey Ken Dryden Goaltender of the Year, as well as being a NCAA First-Team All-American, ECAC First-Team All-Star selection, and a spot on the All-New England All-Star team.

Hartzell was a previous attendee of the Philadelphia Flyers’ summer camp, but must not have been sold on Philly, instead signing with their cross-state rival. The one-year entry-level deal with the Pens runs through the 2013-14 season. The Flyers are at the max of 50 contracts, but you have to wonder if they couldn’t have planned ahead, knowing the top NCAA free agents will enter the open market at this time of year.

It’s hard to swallow for a team with just one goaltending prospect, and another example why the Flyers’ prospect pool ranks among the league’s worst.