PITTSBURGH — Of all the goaltenders at the Frozen Four, Jeff Malcolm wasn’t even close to the biggest name. There was Quinnipiac’s Eric Hartzell, one of the Hobey Baker finalists. There was UMass-Lowell’s Connor Hellebuyck, one of the hottest goalies in the tournament. And then there was Malcolm.
He didn’t have the Q rating. Or the statistics. But with Saturday night’s shutout of Quinnipiac, a 4-0 win at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, Malcolm now has the national title.
“That’s the best I’ve ever seen him play,’’ Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said of the Yale goalie. “He’s been kind of streaky in his career there. He gets on runs.
“You’ve got to give the kid credit. It’s the biggest game of his career, and he pitches a shutout.’’
On his 24th birthday, too.
“You could tell right from the start, he was feeling it,’’ senior defenseman Colin Dueck said. “He was getting shots, and he was seeing them and moving well. In the second period, he made a pretty good short breakaway stop, and I knew at that point he’s just closing the door.’’
That was on Jordan Samuels-Thomas, who netted a goal and had an assist against St. Cloud State on Thursday. But Malcolm wasn’t foiled on the chance; as Samuels-Thomas bore down, Malcolm stood tall. And that wasn’t the only time the Bobcats nearly scored.
As Quinnipiac’s Zack Currie said, “If we capitalize on one or two of those [chances], it’s a completely different game, and who knows what happens in the end. He showed up in his big moment, and he played extremely well when he needed to, made the saves he needed to.’’
Despite Malcolm’s under-the-radar status, his importance to Yale was clear. After Malcolm was injured in a collision with a Princeton player on Feb. 1, the Bulldogs lost each of their next five games without their starting goalie. He returned three weeks later, and Yale reeled off five straight wins.
Not that he was interested in discussing his brilliance after the game, pushing most of the praise toward his teammates. As coach Keith Allain noted, “Jeff is quiet. He’s a quiet, hard-working individual, and he’s a great team guy.’’
There were points in Saturday night’s game, though, when it seemed that Malcolm simply could not continue to keep the Bobcats out of the net. They pounded him with pucks, continually pushing the action toward the Yale goal — and still, nothing.
The pressure was all on Malcolm.
“We had a ton of grade-A [chances] in the first two periods, and we just couldn’t finish,’’ Pecknold said. “Sometimes the puck just won’t go in the net for you.’’
Credit Malcolm. He had 36 saves, 15 in the pivotal second period, which included the first goal of the game, scored with 3.5 seconds to go before the break. That goal turned out to be the winner, as Malcolm shut the door.
“They had a couple of chances early, and it [told] me on the bench that Jeff was sharp,’’ Allain said. “But to me what epitomized it was [after] we get the goal late in the second period. They come out, and they’re really pushing. In the first three or four minutes of the third period they were getting chance after chance, and he held the fort for us.
“He did what great goaltenders do. He gave us a chance to win.’’
The opposing goalie, meanwhile, allowed three goals. That was Hartzell, who had lost out on college hockey’s top award the evening before, but still had his coach saying that his goaltender was “the best player in college hockey.’’
That didn’t matter on Saturday. Because in the national title game, it wasn’t Hartzell who was at the top of his game, allowing two soft goals as Yale went up, 2-0. Instead, it was the unheralded Malcolm who was “the best player on the ice,’’ according to Pecknold.
And that was what mattered, ultimately.
“In the NCAA Tournament, anybody can beat anybody, and whoever has the hottest goalie and plays the best team game wins,’’ said Andrew Miller, the tournament’s most outstanding player. “I think we did that for the last four games.’’