Ivy League title on the line for Allain and m. hockey

The last time the men’s hockey team faced Harvard and Dartmouth, the football team clinched the Ivy League title the same weekend. This time around, the Bulldogs hope to secure that honor for themselves.

Although the Elis (9-13-3, 6-11-1 ECACHL) currently sit in a three-way tie for 10th place in the ECACHL, they rest atop the Ivy League standings, two points ahead of No. 18 Cornell. If they can pull off another sweep against Harvard (10-14-1, 8-9-1) and Dartmouth (12-10-3, 8-7-3) this weekend — two squads that the Bulldogs dominated in November — Yale will earn a tenth Ivy League Championship title for its hockey program.

“The team is very excited that we have the opportunity to win the Ivy League Championship,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “The title is very important to us and I would expect passionate play against two very talented opponents this weekend.”

When the Elis faced Dartmouth and Harvard on the road in November, it was arguably their best campaign of the season. Building on the momentum from their 4-1 season start, the Bulldogs skated past both squads, 4-2 and 5-2, respectively, and goalie Alec Richards ’09 earned ECACHL Goalie of the Week honors for his 46 saves. Since then, Yale has struggled to play the style of hockey with which they dominated those early games — something team members said they are looking to recapture this weekend.

“When we played them last time, we came out aggressive and we played the Yale hockey that we know we can play,” forward Mike Karwoski ’09 said. “Everyone is fired up. They are going to be really intense games and it’s going to be a great weekend.”

Both the Crimson and the Big Green have met more success than the Elis in the last three months. Since returning from Cambridge, the Yale squad has won just three games. Both Harvard and Dartmouth, on the other hand, have claimed victory eight times. The Cantabs managed an impressive win and a tie this season against No. 20 Quinnipiac, and the Big Green have lost just twice in their recent nine-game hot streak.

“Both Harvard and Dartmouth are playing at the top of their game right now,” Allain said.

The Crimson head to Ingalls on Friday night looking to avenge their dismal 5-2 loss to the Elis at home — only the second Bulldog victory in Boston since 1979. A pair of senior forwards, Kevin Du and Ryan Maki, lead the squad in scoring with 19 and 18 points, respectively, although their numbers are considerably lower than those of Yale leaders Sean Backman ’10 (26) and Mark Arcobello ’10 (21).

Freshman Kyle Richter and senior Justin Tobe split time between the pipes for Harvard. Richter, who has been in goal for seven of the Crimson’s 10 wins, has been on the top of his game recently and received ECACHL Goalie of the Week honors on Feb. 5th for his 50 saves against Union and RPI.

Following a day of rest on Saturday, the Elis will be back in action Sunday afternoon to host an energized Dartmouth squad. After struggling to get decisions earlier in the season, the Big Green have rattled off a series of wins since the beginning of January. Last weekend they pulled out a narrow 5-4 victory against Quinnipiac, although they were shut out by a less-talented Princeton squad the following night in New Jersey.

Junior forward David Jones sits far ahead of his teammates in scoring with 14 goals and 18 assists this season, the fifth-best in the ECACHL. Junior netminder Mike Devine has started 24 games this season and boasts a .911 save percentage.

“They are both pretty skilled teams,” captain Matt Cohen ’07 said. “There aren’t many holes in their games. It’s going to be a battle out there because they know what’s at stake as well.”

The Bulldogs will be on the road against Union and RPI next weekend, so these two games will also be their final homestand in the regular season. If the Elis can finish in the top eight in the ECACHL, they will secure home ice for the first round of the playoffs — but if not, this weekend will be the last at the Whale for the six seniors on the team.

This possibility — coupled with the prospect of an Ivy League championship — will contribute to the team’s excitement both in the locker room and on the ice this weekend.

“We want to fight for Yale and get the title,” Karwoski said. “That’s obviously going to add to the aggressiveness and the focus that we are going to have on the ice. There’s going to be a lot of energy this weekend.”

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