Men’s hockey looks to halt Big Green streak

Yale isn’t used to being behind Dartmouth in anything. Whether it’s sports, academics or social life, Yalies have become accustomed to besting their counterparts at Hanover. But if that’s the case, someone needs to remind the Dartmouth men’s hockey team, because they haven’t gotten the memo.

The Bulldogs (7-11-3, 6-7-2 ECACHL) hope to restore order in the Ivy League when they face off against Dartmouth (10-10-1, 8-5-1) at Ingalls Rink on Friday. Though the Elis host inter-state rivals UConn (7-17-1 the next night, the focus is on a Big Green squad that has dominated the Bulldogs as of late.

“We haven’t beaten Dartmouth in the regular season since I have been here,” forward Joe Zappala ’06 said. “We know we owe this team from the beginning of the year, and the guys are focused to grab two big points.”

To say Dartmouth has had the Elis’ number the past few years would be something of an understatement. The Bulldogs have lost seven straight regular season games to the Big Green, last winning on Feb. 23, 2001. To make matters worse, Dartmouth eliminated Yale in the first round of the ECACHL playoffs last year, winning the series two games to one. And though the Elis did eke out a 5-4 overtime win in the second game of the series, the Big Green reasserted their dominance by outscoring Yale 12-3 in the other two games.

But to say things have changed in the Yale hockey program since then would be an even bigger understatement. The Elis are not even the same team that fell to Dartmouth 9-4 in the third game of this season back on Nov. 19. When they lost to Dartmouth in November, the Bulldogs were in the midst of a six-game losing streak. Now, the Elis are 6-1-2 in their last nine outings.

Forward Nate Jackson ’06 said the Big Green should not expect the same old Bulldogs.

“This time around we’re definitely expecting an offensive battle, but the deciding factors are going to be defense and goaltending,” he said. “Dartmouth has yet to see what we’re capable of in both of those departments, and I think they’re gonna see a completely different Yale team than they’re used to playing. I expect us to play like we have something to prove and ultimately gain two points on them in the standings.”

As Jackson said, the biggest test for the Bulldogs will be to slow down a high-powered Big Green offense that is just kicking into gear. Dartmouth is led by senior forward Mike Ouellette, who is third in the ECAC in points (25).

More troubling for Yale is the fact that Dartmouth has yet to lose a game when entering the third period with a lead. Much of the credit for that accomplishment should go to goalie Mike Devine, who is third in the league in goals against average (2.40) and fifth in save percentage, stopping 91 percent of shots that come his way.

Defender Brennan Turner ’09 said the Bulldogs look to slow down the Dartmouth offense by controlling the puck and setting up counterattacks.

“We’ve been working on our forechecks a lot — trying to maintain pressure in the offensive zone,” Turner said. “We’ve also been working on quick transition and moving the puck up quick.”

A quick attack will be even more effective against a struggling UConn team that has been plagued by goaltending problems. The Huskies, in the midst of a 10-game losing streak, have been juggling three goalies all season with less than inspiring results. Though Jon Anderson has the most games, Brad Smith has the best goals against average (2.84) and Scott Tomes has the best save percentage (.891). The fact that no single goalie leads the team in more than one statistical category illustrates an inconsistency that damages the team’s prospects for victory.

The Bulldogs foresee no mental letdown against UConn, and the focus this weekend is squarely on the game against Dartmouth. The Elis are well aware that no team since 2001 has dominated them more than Dartmouth. But more is at stake in this game than just saving face. Yale, currently sixth in the ECAC, is three points behind fourth-place Dartmouth and is vying with the Big Green and Harvard for home-ice advantage in the first round of the league playoffs. With just seven conference games left in the season, and only three at home, the Bulldogs know they have to make the most of their chances in New Haven.

Zappala said while the team never wants to look ahead, standings become more and more relevant as the season winds down.

“You definitely want to know where you are, and every weekend can present an opportunity to jump up in the standings drastically,” Zappala said. “The parity in this league is wild every week, so any and all points we can pick up make a big difference when all is said and done.”

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