PITTSBURGH, PA -- It took nearly 67 minutes but the Yale Bulldogs were able to will their way to the Frozen Four Final on Saturday.
Captain Andrew Miller scored the game-winner at 6:59 of the first overtime period, bursting past a defender and slipping the puck five-hole on UMass Lowell freshman netminder Connor Hellebuyck to secure the 3-2 victory for his team.
"I think it's an honour to send Yale University to the championship game," the senior said with a grin. "I got a good bounce. I think it was just a matter of time before we popped one."
The Bulldogs absolutely dominated the play for the vast majority of the game, outshooting the RiverHawks 47-18, but they credited their defensive composure as the reason they were able to walk out of Consol Energy Center with the victory on Thursday night.
"I think we did a good job of forechecking and pressuring their (defence)," Miller said. "We made sure we applied back pressure. They're a really good offensive team ... I think we did a really good job of neutralizing them."
Calgary Flames prospect Kenny Agostino was held off the scoresheet but was buzzing all night. He registered six shots on net - second only to Antoine Laganiere amongst Yale skaters - and his line (Agostino-Root-Miller) was the most noticeable in terms of puck possession and forechecking pressure.
The Bulldogs opened the scoring at 12:55 of the first period when defenceman Mitch Witek's shot from the point squeaked past Hellebuyck. Agostino was stationed right in front of the goaltender, completely blocking out Hellebuyck's sight lines. Witek's first of the year, which came while the Bulldogs had the man advantage, was assisted by Carson Cooper and Miller.
"Obviously it's awesome to see anyone score, but to see him score his first goal is pretty surreal," Yale defenceman Gus Young said. "He's really been working hard in practice every day, being able to get a shot through traffic, get the shot off, not get it blocked by the first and second layers. Obviously, it paid off for him. It is a great thing to see for the team. It got the team going too, to get him in and get the new guy good goal scoring opportunities."
Laganiere gave Yale a two-goal cushion with his late first period marker. He shoveled Matt Killian's rebound under Hellebuyck to notch his 15th of the year. Laganiere, a senior free agent from Ile Cadieux, QC, has been through a scoring drought as of late, recording just one point in his last five games, so the tally came as a bit of a relief.
"I think every player kind of goes through that in his career. I mean, I've been aware of that, but I just kind of keep working in practice and keep working in games and finally it paid off."
The RiverHawks got themselves right back in the game with two goals just 14 seconds apart late in the second period. Riley Wetmore, who lost control of a breakaway earlier in the period, was able to backhand a bouncing puck past Yale goalie Jeff Malcom. Shortly after, Joseph Pendenza rifled a drop pass from A.J. White over top of Malcom's glove.
Yale, who controlled the play throughout the third period and outshot UMass Lowell 16-3, had excellent opportunity to notch the go-ahead goal around the 17:00 mark of the third period when they went in on a three-on-one but Clint Bourbonais, who was streaking up the left wing, couldn't handle a cross-ice pass from Agostino.
Agostino's line put on a forechecking clinic in overtime, not allowing UMass Lowell to gain possession of the puck and throwing plenty of shots on net before Miller potted the game winner.
Despite the dominance displayed by his club throughout the game, Yale head coach Keith Allain was still feeling a tad anxious as the game awaited the sudden-death goal.
"I've been with teams that have outplayed other teams and for one reason or another don't get the bounce. 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 will take on Quinnipiac for the national championship on Saturday at 5:00 PM MT.