For Yale's Jeff Malcolm, One Very Happy Birthday

PITTSBURGH —

Quinnipiac had the Hobey Baker finalist, ECAC player of the year and first-team All-American goalie. Quinnipiac had Eric Hartzell, who coach Rand Pecknold called the best player in the nation, even when this night was done.

Yale had Jeff Malcolm.

And because the Bulldogs did, they not only own Whitney Avenue today. With a 4-0 victory over No. 1 Quinnipiac at the CONSOL Energy Center, they own all of America.

"Outstanding, unbelievable," coach Keith Allain said after Malcolm, a 6-2 senior from Lethbridge, Alberta, had made 36 saves in a spectacular performance. "To get a shutout in the national championship is amazing."

Yale, which opened its doors in 1701, has five U.S. presidents on its resume.

Today, it also has its first NCAA hockey championship.

Taft, Ford, Bush, Clinton, Bush … Malcolm. After he stopped all 36 shots he faced in the last game of his college career, yeah, that sounds about right in the same sentence.

"Malcolm was great tonight," Pecknold said. "You've got to give the kid credit. It's the biggest game of his career and he pitches a shutout."

At the confluence of the Ohio, Allegheny and Monongahela, two teams separated by 8 miles back in Connecticut would intersect on this Saturday night at the hockey corner of Rivalry and Greatness.

And it was a delicious, delicious narrative.

Sixteen years ago on this date, April 13, 1997, the Whalers played their last game in Connecticut. The NHL was gone. There is a bitter irony in this, of course, but also a buoyant one. Sixteen years later, April 13, 2013, this would become the biggest hockey day since.

With UConn moving up to Hockey East in 2014 and with these two schools playing at the highest level, college hockey has a bright, important future on the Connecticut sports landscape. And when the game clock expired at 9:45 p.m., the Yale players would leap over the boards and engage in the biggest blue group hug in school history. Stop the presses! As he skipped onto the ice, the usually taciturn Allain also broke into a smile as he hugged his captain and the tournament's most outstanding player, Andrew Miller. Allain's face didn't crack.

"I came back to prove you could go to the best university in the world and compete at hockey at the highest level," said Allain, who has done a brilliant job since returning to his alma mater in 2006.

A scoreless game in the closing seconds of the second period would blow open by the midway point of the third. It was during that stretch that a Yale fan would hold up a big sign screaming, "We're not underdogs! We're Bulldogs!"

Indeed.

Neither rival would use the word "hate" leading into this game. Hartzell, in fact, was the only who dared use the term and that was in semi-jest when he talked about going through the handshake lines against Yale, and Miller would tell him "good game" and how he hated him for making great glove saves on him.

The rivals, in fact, didn't even use the word "dislike." There was too much on the line involving the national championship to get caught up in anything else. In the hours leading up to the final, Pecknold would say he'd play the Montreal Canadiens for all the marbles and it would be fine by him.

Well, the Bulldogs weren't the Canadiens, but they finished the NCAAs playing infinitely better than they had in the ECAC tournament when they were shut out by Union and Quinnipiac. The No. 15 overall seed in the tournament, they would stun No. 2 Minnesota in overtime, would overwhelm No. 8 North Dakota with a late third-period comeback, would outplay No. 3 overall seed UMass Lowell and ultimately would take down the No. 1 Bobcats.

How's that for a body of spring work?

After losing three times to Quinnipiac by a combined score of 13-3, Yale had an answer the fourth time. And his name is Malcolm. On his 24th birthday, he was outstanding. Serenaded by Yale fans with "Happy Birthday," it couldn't possibly have ended sweeter.

"It's tough to not get up for a national championship game," said the sparse-speaking Malcolm. "If you can't get up for that, you don't really have a heartbeat."

With some of these Yale guys, it's not always easy to tell. Among Allain, Miller and Malcolm, they don't say a lot. They only produce.

"That's the best I've ever seen Malcolm play," Pecknold said. "He's been kind of streaky in his career. He gets on runs. The game we played in Atlantic City [ECAC consolation game], we beat them 3-0. They outplayed us that game, really outplayed us. Hartzell was a stud."

Malcolm's best save came in the second period point-blank with his right pad on Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who suddenly found himself alone with the puck at the Yale net.

"I knew at that point, he's just closing the door," said Yale defenseman Colin Dueck.

Both teams would kill off 5-on-3 power-play opportunities. The play was back-and-forth. The play was entirely worthy of a national championship. No title game had gone scoreless so long since 1968. And both goalies were playing splendidly.

Suddenly it collapsed for Quinnipiac. Hartzell tried to clear the puck up the left boards. Defenseman Gus Young intercepted and sent a shot — not a hard one — that Clinton Bourbonais redirected. Hartzell was there, but he didn't seem to have his stick firmly on the ice or his pads squeezed. The puck found its way through him with only 3.5 seconds left in the second period.

"I got back to my net, I was ready," Hartzell insisted. "I didn't see the release of the shot. I saw the deflection. When I picked it up, it was going to my left pad. It was a funky bounce and it came back through my legs."

Charles Orzetti would make it 2-0 only 3:35 into the third. It was not Hartzell at his finest. He stopped Orzetti's initial wrist shot from the top of the left circle, but the rebound skidded into the lower rim of the circle and Orzetti beat Hartzell from a very bad angle.

"That was unfortunate," Hartzell said. "He shot it so hard … it couldn't have hit my pad any harder. I have no idea how it went in. It went right through the middle of my pad."

"I think obviously he'd love to have that second one back," Pecknold said. "Eric was the best player in college hockey. I still believe that. I think he's the most dominant player in college hockey. He should have won the Hobey Baker."

With 10:54 left, Kenny Agostino sent in Miller alone on a clean breakaway on Hartzell. This time he didn't challenge the Quinnipiac goalie's glove. He stashed the puck through his legs. Miller didn't tell Hartzell he hated him in the handshake line this time.

In a desperation attempt to catch up, Pecknold pulled Hartzell. Jesse Root, the Pittsburgh kid who scored the overtime goal on Minnesota and the go-ahead goal against North Dakota, scored into the empty net. It would be a joyous exclamation mark for Yale, a painful punctuation mark for Quinnipiac.

"We're devastated," Pecknold said. "It was a great year and this wasn't the way it was supposed to end. I'm proud of my guys. I think we were the best team in college hockey for the season and, unfortunately, we didn't proffer it tonight. You've got to give Yale credit. Malcolm was great. He was the best player on the ice. He won that game for them."

"It's a bummer," Hartzell said.

In a rather unique bet with himself, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had pledged to order pizza at Pepe's in New Haven if Quinnipiac won or to head over to Sally's if Yale won. Dannel, meet Sally's. This was the first time schools from one state met in the NCAA championship game since BU and BC met in 1978. This was the first ECAC champion since Harvard in 1989. This obviously would be the first Connecticut champion.

And in the end, Jeff Malcolm, all of 24, and a quiet young man, turned in a performance for the ages. He outplayed the best player in the country.

CHICAGO