Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity
BRIDGEPORT, Conn. -- Chad Ziegler, having a career year with eight goals and 15 points, is better known for his defense and big hits. Yale hockey faithful will remember him forever for an offensive effort that put his team in the NCAA East Regional Final on Saturday. The junior forward hit the net 3:16 into overtime to give the No. 3 Bulldogs a 2-1 win over No. 20 Air Force before 7,671 at Webster Bank Arena at Harbor Yard.
There were eight shot on goal before Ziegler sent Yale (28-6-1) into the regional finale on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. against Minnesota Duluth.
Just after Yale's Ryan Rondeau stopped a shot, the Bulldogs came down a rush. Brendan Mason sent the puck over to Nick Jaskowiak, who fired it on net from the right circle. Air Force netminder Jason Torf kicked it out to the slot where Ziegler was charging. The Bulldog forward partially whiffed on his first attempt, but the puck moved to the edge of the crease. Ziegler dove and was outstretched almost on his stomach when he backhanded the puck inside the right post to set off a celebration throughout the building.
"Coach was saying to get to the net throughout the whole game. There are rebounds to be had. I just threw a shot on net. I got to put it across the line. I'm pretty happy about that," said Ziegler. "It's an amazing feeling to get that goal. It felt great, especially for the seniors we have on our team. It's something special. We're one more game away from moving on to the Frozen Four and we're focused on that now."
Neither goalie saw a ton of rubber, but both came up with huge saves in big moments.
Rondeau, who had 22 saves for the third straight game while having his shutout string end at three games, made stops on nine grade-A (quality) chances to prevent AFA (20-12-6) from registering the upset.
The Elis, seeking revenge for a loss at Colorado Springs in November, put their second lowest shot total (28) of the year on Torf. The rookie who earned his first collegiate win against the Elis a few months ago made saves on 13 grade-A chances. Without Torf, it could have been over midway through the game despite a pair of ineffective power-play units. Both teams were scoreless on three chances and they combined for three total shots on goal.
The Falcons had a slight edge in shots during the scoreless opening frame, a very balanced period that included one power play for the Bulldogs (one shot). Yale's best chance in the first was a long blast from Andrew Miller that caught pipe squarely and had the large, partisan crowd roaring.
Torf and Rondeau each had multiple scary moments but managed to survive and not lose their composure.
Yale outshot AFA 12-5 in the middle frame and had five grade-A chances. One of them was Miller dancing through the slot and putting a nasty shot on Torf that was knocked aside with his blocker five minutes in.
The Bulldogs finally broke through just short of the game's 28-minute mark on a gorgeous re-direction tally. Jaskowiak, who had two assists, intercepted a clearing attempt along the boards at the right point and looked low. O'Neill, who had just had his lazer shot stopped by Torf, went around the net and slipped between the defense and the goalie. Jaskowiak saw him open and put it on his stick. O'Neill, who has points in five straight games, turned his stick and re-directed the puck into the open side for his team-high 19th goal.
"I saw him [O'Neill] open and took a few steps toward him. I had to put something extra on it to get it past the defense," said Jaskowiak.
Casey Kleisinger gave the Elis a scare when he had an open look on the Yale net with just over two minutes left. That close call led to the Falcons' equalizer.
A great individual effort by Sean Bertsch (5th goal) ended Rondeau's school-record shutout streak at 240 minutes and 53 seconds. The Air Force center grabbed a loose puck behind the net and wrapped around a backhanded shot that went five-hole on the Yale netminder and tied that game at 1-1 with 1:26 left in the second.
Twenty-four shots through 60 minutes was 12 less than Yale's average this season, but everything was under par for the team that leads the nation in scoring. And five shots on target by each team in the third period meant a relatively sloppy 20 minutes.
It looked bad for the Blue with just over six minutes left when Air Force went on its only advantage of the period. The Bulldogs' penalty-kill did a great job of protecting its net and did not allow a puck on target. But the threat was not over.
Rondeau, nearly victimized by a Yale turnover, prevented AFA from taking it late in regulation when he stopped a mini-breakaway by Paul Weisgarber with just under two minutes left.
"Nothing goes through my mind at times like that, I just have to make the save. My mind is blank," said Rondeau. "I just have to stay mentally prepared whether I'm seeing 20 or 30 shots. I have to have the same mental approach."
The Falcons had a few great chances early in the OT before Yale won it at the other end. The nine shots on goal over three minutes and 16 seconds were one shy of the 20-minute total from the third period.
"I thought it was a terrific playoff-type hockey game. You gotta give Air Force an awful lot of credit. They defended extremely well for 60-plus minutes," said Keith Allain '80, Yale's Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach of Hockey. "They really made it hard for us to create in space offensively. So we had to work for every inch of ice we could get. They're a real good team. We had an extremely formidable opponent tonight. So we're pleased to be moving on and not have to play them again this year."
BULLDOG BITES: UMD has won five of the six meetings with Yale, the last in 2005 at Duluth… This will be Yale's second straight regional final… The NCAA record for consecutive shutouts is five (375:01) by Blaine Lacher of Lake Superior State in 1994… Brendan Mason, who had an assist on the game-winner, was back in the lineup after a three-game absence due to injury… There are 19 players on the Yale roster who had NCAA Tournament experience heading into tonight, eight of them had three games each (2009, 2010)… Yale and Fairfield are co-hosting the regional at Harbor Yard this weekend and next March... For more information on the NCAA East Regional, go to the tournament website headquarters.