While they are far from panicking, the men’s hockey team knows the gap between them and the ECAC frontrunners is not getting any closer.
The Bulldogs (1-8, 0-6 ECACHL) look to pick up their first league win of the season when they travel to Brown (3-5-1, 2-4) on Friday before hosting No. 14 Harvard (7-4-1, 6-2) on Sunday. Though early in the season, a mild sense of urgency has settled into the Eli locker room.
“Every game we play now is a must-win situation,” Brennan Turner ’09 said. “Before we know it, February will be upon us and we’ll have only a couple more games left in the season.”
After beginning their league schedule with the top teams in the conference, the Bulldogs have a golden opportunity to get on the ECAC board when they face a struggling Brown squad on Friday. The Bears posted an impressive sweep of Clarkson and St. Lawrence earlier in the month but have been winless in the four games since. Brown has been anemic on offense with just 16 goals in eight games. This is good news for a Yale team that has had difficulty stopping opposing offenses, allowing almost six scores a night.
The Bulldogs must take care of business against Brown, because the odds of notching their first league victory takes a considerable hit when nationally ranked Harvard comes into Ingalls Rink on Sunday. This is not to say the Bulldogs are intimidated by their Cambridge rivals, though. On Nov. 18 the Elis fought hard on the road against the heavily-favored Cantabs. Though ultimately falling in overtime, 4-3, the Bulldogs showed what caliber of a team they can be when they string 60 minutes of consistent hockey together.
Despite the close contest two weeks ago, the ancient rivals are heading in opposite directions. While Yale is continuing to falter, Harvard has rebounded from a slow start, going 5-1-1 in the past seven games. Even more impressive is that the Crimson are excelling against top-notch competition, beating No. 6 Boston College and No. 12 Clarkson and tying No. 20 Boston University.
But in the end, the Bulldogs know that success this weekend depends more on their own performance rather than on the status of its opponents.
“I think that we need to concentrate on putting together a solid game ourselves more than prepare specifically for a given opponent,” captain and forward Christian Jensen ’06 said. “Neither Brown nor Harvard do anything particularly unusual, so we need to make sure we put complete games together against each of them.”
Though the record does not show it, the Elis have made great strides in their competitiveness from last year’s campaign. But what has kept the Bulldogs from translating this improvement on the ice into an improvement in the standings is their inconsistency between games.
After putting up an emotional effort against Harvard, the Bulldogs came out the next night laying an egg against an average Dartmouth squad. Similarly, the Elis could not carry momentum from their Nov. 22 win against Mercyhurst into last weekend’s doubleheader with Minnesota-Duluth. The Bulldogs came out flat in those two contests and were manhandled by a combined score of 14-2.
This inconsistency seems to be coming from several sources. Though led by strong senior leadership at the top, the Elis are still a young team trying to find the right mix of players early on in the season. Yale has put 29 different players on the ice so far, including all seven of the freshmen. Whether this high number reflects solid depth is unclear. What is certain is that the different units must quickly jell if the Bulldogs have any hopes of improving their consistency.
But Turner said that ultimately a lack of consistency falls on the shoulders of the players themselves.
“Each person has to dig down deeper when it’s really needed,” Turner said. “When everyone is playing on the same level, it results in 60 minutes of good hockey and a chance for us to win. [But] if even one guy doesn’t have this type of mentality, that means that everyone isn’t on the same page.”
Yale head coach Tim Taylor said that once the young players get a small taste of success, things may begin to fall in place.
“The biggest stumbling block to consistent play is a [lack of confidence],” Taylor said. “We … have to have the expectation to succeed. The inconsistency comes from the fact that we haven’t had too many confidence-building moments so far this year. But I think it could snowball. I think a little success can go a long way for this team.”