PITTSBURGH — Yale captain Andrew Miller stopped a reporter when he asked what it felt like to be the final school to make the 16-team field when the NCAA hockey tournament began.
“Actually, we were the 15th seed,” Miller said.
And ultimately, the last one standing.
Miller capped his brilliant career with a breakaway goal in the third period, Jeff Malcolm stopped all 36 Quinnipiac shots and the Bulldogs won their first NCAA championship with a 4-0 victory Saturday night.
It was sweet revenge for Yale (22-12-3), which lost the three previous meetings with the top-seeded Bobcats by a combined 13-3. The nation’s oldest hockey program, however, left no doubt in the final, riding the play of Malcolm and some unlikely offensive contributions to capture a title 117 years in the making.
“Tonight was our turn,” Yale coach Keith Allain said.
The Bulldogs have been playing hockey since 1896 but had only made the tournament twice before Allain took over in 2006.
The Yale graduate accepted the job with the promise from his bosses the school would do what it takes to be competitive. In seven seasons, he guided the Bulldogs all the way to the top.
“I came back to prove you could go to the best university in the world and prove you can play hockey at the highest level,” Allain said.
Yale did it throughout the tournament, knocking off three No. 1 seeds, including its Connecticut rivals from just down the street. Quinnipiac (30-8-5) — located less than 10 miles from the Yale campus — spent most of the year ranked No. 1.
The Bobcats (30-8-5) hardly looked like it after Yale’s Clint Bourbonais redirected a shot between goalie Eric Hartzell’s legs with 4 seconds left in the second period and freshman Charles Orzetti scored his first goal in four months 3:35 into the third to make it 2-0.
Miller, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, then broke loose and flipped a backhand by Hartzell for his 18th goal of the season.
Pittsburgh native Jesse Root added an empty netter to set the coronation in motion.
“You’ve got to play your game,” Miller said. “We had some great players on our team. A lot of guys that don’t get noticed, they’re our heroes.”
Including sophomore Anthony Day. The St. Francis product and two-way forward played his usual gritty game Saturday even though he didn’t get on the scoresheet. Still, he contributed to the Bulldogs’ run by willingly blocking shots, and notching two assists in their regional final triumph over North Dakota two weeks ago.
Hartzell stopped 27 shots, but the Hobey Baker finalist let in a couple of soft goals that gave Yale all the momentum it would need.
“I thought we were the best team in college hockey for the season,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t prove it tonight.”
The Bobcats dominated the season series, sweeping all three meetings. Quinnipiac trailed for all of 18 minutes in the three games combined and Hartzell allowed only one goal in the previous eight periods against Yale.
On the biggest stage, the Bulldogs finally put it together behind Malcolm.
The senior celebrated his 24th birthday by keeping the tournament’s highest-scoring team at bay, including a crucial 5-on-3 penalty kill in the second period that kept the game tied. The Yale fans serenaded the goaltender with “Happy Birthday” during one stoppage in play, and Malcolm responded by turning away Yale’s nemesis one breathtaking stop at a time.