It couldn’t be more of a David vs. Goliath situation for the men’s hockey team when it takes the ice on Saturday evening in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Worcester, Mass.
Second-seeded North Dakota is bigger: Its top three goal scorers are 6 foot 2, 5 foot 11 and 5 foot 11. The Bulldogs are 5 foot 9, 5 foot 9 and 5 foot 8.
North Dakota is more experienced: It has been to the NCAA Tournament for eight consecutive years. The Elis are making their fourth trip in their program’s history.
And, of course, North Dakota is the favorite: The Las Vegas Hilton gives the Fighting Sioux 8-1 odds to win the entire NCAA Tournament. Yale? A distant 40-1.
The Bulldogs know all this, and they’re fine with it.
“They’re obviously the favorites,” left winger Denny Kearney ’11 said. “But we’re embracing the underdog title.”
Indeed, this year the Bulldogs have fared well against the powerhouse teams. They tied No. 5 Wisconsin 2–2 after out-shooting the Badgers 42–22 — despite having three fewer power plays. Yale also defeated No. 6 Cornell twice, including a 2–1 comeback overtime win in February on the road that saw the Bulldogs outshoot the Big Red 54–20.
But then again, this was all before star right winger Sean Backman ’10 injured his ankle.
Since the injury Yale has lost two of three — all three games being against Brown, who finished the regular season in 11th place in the ECAC.
Still, the Bulldogs’ decisive 1–0 loss did not stem from a lack of chances — Yale outshot the Bears 44–21 and had numerous grade-A opportunities.
The Elis will be looking to use their quick skating and aggressive forecheck to their advantage and catch the big, physical Fighting Sioux off-guard, much the same way that has led Yale to five straight wins over Cornell the past two years.
“I have heard that comparison a lot lately,” Kearney said. “We’ve found ourselves matching up pretty well with Cornell so that puts a positive spin on things.”
Last year — in front of its hometown crowd — Yale floundered, falling 4–1 to three-seeded Vermont in the NCAA Tournament. All year long the Bulldogs have said that this year they would be more prepared to handle the pressure of the national stage after last season’s quick exit.
As the No. 8 team in the country, the Elis may not have been expecting such a tough draw in the first round, but that doesn’t matter to them right now. Nor does the team that Yale will play on Sunday should it pull off the upset — one-seeded Boston College or four-seeded Alaska-Fairbanks.
Kearney said he and his teammates may watch a few minutes of the afternoon game, but they will be concentrating entirely on the Fighting Sioux.
“Our coaches are great at handling scouting, that’s they’re job,” Kearney said. “We’re just focused one-hundred percent on North Dakota right now.”
The puck drops Saturday at 5 p.m. at the DCU Center in Worcester. The game can be seen locally on MyTV9 and heard on WYBC-1340 and wybc.com.