NCAA Frozen Four: Yale taking advantage of tournament lifeline

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PITTSBURGH -- Yale head coach Keith Allain labeled it “an aberration”.

The ECAC tournament finals in Atlantic City, N.J. were a disaster for Yale (20-12-3). Entering the semifinals having won five in a row, they were shutout twice; first, 5-0 in the semifinals to Union, and then 3-0 to fellow Frozen Four participant Quinnipiac in the third place game.

Atlantic City is a place where many people find luck. For Yale, they needed to wait 24 hours after the loss to Quinnipiac to find lady luck on their side.

As the NCAA tournament bracket was being finalized the very next day, the 16th and final spot came down to either Yale or Michigan. The Bulldogs squandered their chance to play their way in, so their fortunes rested on the result of the Michigan-Notre Dame CCHA final. If the Wolverines were victors, Yale’s summer would begin earlier than anticipated.

Some members of Yale, including junior forward and Pittsburgh-born Jesse Root, got together to watch; others, like Allain, followed it online.

Then there was senior forward Andrew Miller.

“I stayed so far away from it,” Miller said after Yale's practice Wednesday afternoon at CONSOL Energy Center.

When Miller would learn of the result, there would be a smile. Michigan fell to Notre Dame 3-1 and Yale saw a clean slate.

But their path to Pittsburgh wouldn’t be easy. The Bulldogs needed to defeat tradition in order to reach the Frozen Four.

Jesse Root's goal nine seconds into overtime gave Yale a 3-2 upset over top-ranked Minnesota in the tournament opener. The next day, after falling behind 1-0 early to North Dakota, the Bulldogs stormed back with four goals in a 6:35 in the third period to punch their ticket to Pittsburgh.

There will be a first-time champion on Saturday night in Pittsburgh. Yale is the only team of the four to have made it this far -- back in 1952. No Frozen Four in NCAA history has been played without college hockey powers Boston College, Boston University, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New Hampshire, Denver, Michigan, Maine, or North Dakota.

Standing in their way from playing for a national title is UMass Lowell. Should Yale win on Thursday, there's the possibility the championship will have a local derby flavor as Quinnipiac, who are less than 10 miles away, sit on the other side of the bracket preparing to face St. Cloud State in the nightcap.

Yale has lost three times this season to Quinnipiac, and while the players won't admit to looking past Lowell, getting revenge with a title on the line would be the perfect ending to a dream season. Before they worry about that, the Bulldogs will have to continue making waves in this tournament.

They might be considered this year’s Cinderella, but don’t go calling Yale underdogs.

“You’re in the Frozen Four and that shows you’re a good team and you can’t take anybody lightly,” said Miller.

“I think any team here can win it,” said Allain.

“I like our chances.”

Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy

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