As the men’s hockey team prepares for its next ECACHL battle, the Elis, accustomed to being the overlooked underdogs, find themselves playing an unfamiliar role — the favorite.
Yale (5-10-1, 4-6 ECACHL) started its current league winning streak with a victory over Brown (3-10-1, 2-6-1), and looks to extend that streak to five games when the two teams face off again on Saturday in New Haven. Though the Bulldogs easily handled the Bears in their first meeting, 5-2, Yale head coach Tim Taylor said he expects a closer battle this time around.
“We were winless coming into the last game [against Brown], and I think they took us lightly,” Taylor said. “I think it’ll be a tougher contest, but we’ve been improving and we’ll be ready for it.”
Saturday’s match-up is between two Ivy League teams moving in opposite directions. After starting the season 0-6 in league play, the Bulldogs have responded strongly and are now just two games below .500 in the ECAC. But, as the Elis slowly climb up the standings, the Bears, who were considered by many as ECAC pre-season contenders, are floundering in the league basement.
Brown’s high hopes were still intact at the beginning of the year. The Bears began the season 2-2 but then suffered a disastrous 11-game winless streak before finally downing UConn, 4-1, on Tuesday. To make things worse, Brown has yet to win a road game, and must now stave off the always hostile Ingalls Rink crowd.
The star in the first meeting was forward Jean-Francois Boucher ’08, who scored two goals against Brown goalie Adam D’Alba. Boucher, who scored Yale’s lone goal in Wednesday’s 4-1 loss to No. 12 New Hampshire, teams with forwards Brad Mills ’07 and Jeff Hristovski ’06 to make up a talented front line for the Bulldogs. Due to injuries, the unit has only played a few games together and, as Taylor said, is just beginning to gel.
“That line has been together for about three to four games now,” Taylor said. “They have terrific end zone shifts, are all dangerous scorers, and will only get better as they get more comfortable with each other.”
The key to the Dec. 2 game was special teams play. In a game riddled with penalties, Brown only converted once on eight power play chances. The Bulldogs fared much better, executing on two out of six man-advantages. Only one of the game’s seven goals was scored during 5-on-5 play. Boucher said he expects the Bears to be more aggressive with their power-play chances this time around.
Yale is coming off an inspired effort against one of the top teams in the nation. Though the Bulldogs dominated possession against the Wildcats, their 46 shots on goal only translated into one score. Yale goalie Alec Richards ’09 said the Bulldogs must do a better job capitalizing on scoring opportunities.
“I don’t think we have too many negatives about the game [against New Hampshire],” he said. “The biggest thing is that we just have to bury our chances. You usually can’t win a college game scoring just one goal.”
While Taylor did not pinpoint one specific adjustment he expects Brown to make, he said he anticipates a more intense and passionate effort from the Bears. Taylor compared Brown’s current downfall to his team’s early troubles and said the Bears’ recent struggles make them a dangerous opponent.
“Many expected them to be in the top half of the league,” Taylor said. “I think they are disappointed with how their season has gone and are trying to resurrect their season. It’s a battle between two hungry, desperate teams, which makes for an interesting game.”