Members of the men’s hockey team like to say that they’re taking this season one game at a time. But this weekend’s slate might make that more difficult than usual.
The Bulldogs (14–1, 8–0 ECAC) take on Brown (5–6–4, 3–4–1) twice this weekend, once in New Haven and once in Providence. The two teams have met once already this season, when Yale outgunned the Bears 7–4 in the season-opening, non-conference Ivy Shootout. But the schools’ more memorable recent contest was the quarterfinals of last season’s ECAC Tournament.
“It’s tough to beat a team in this league once, let alone beat them twice in a row, so that’s the big thing,” captain Jimmy Martin ’11 said, adding that back-to-back games against the same squad are uncommon in college hockey. “It’s a very difficult thing to do.”
Losses to an improved Brown squad could badly damage the Elis’ national ranking. Yale’s spot at the top of the polls has received criticism from writers who question the level of the play in the ECAC. No ECAC team has won the national championship since Harvard took the title in 1989.
Last year, Brown finished the regular season with the second-to-worst record in the ECAC while Yale finished at the top of the conference and was ranked No. 6 in the nation. The Elis had won both regular season tilts against the Bears, but in the ECAC Tournament, Brown goalie Mike Clemente got hot. He let in just two Yale goals in the first game of the best-of-three series. He shut them out at Ingalls Rink in the decisive third game. Yale had to spend the week licking its wounds and hoping for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“This is just another game, but our memory isn’t that short,” said backup goaltender Nick Maricic ’13. “We do remember that game, but we’ll prepare the same way.”
Yale has ascended to the top of the rankings because it has so consistently beaten its foes. No other team in the country has less than three losses. The next best record belongs to No. 4 New Hampshire, which has been defeated three times, and tied four. The Elis hold the longest unbeaten streak in the nation with nine wins — followed only by No. 2 North Dakota, which has eight wins and a tie to show for its last nine games.
Brown’s upset attempt this time around will again rely on Clemente, though the goalie has not been playing this season like he did in the series against Yale. His .884 save percentage and 3.92 goals against average put him among the bottom 10 netminders in the country in both categories.
Partly to blame for Clemente’s struggles in net is Brown’s porous defense, which boasts some of the nation’s top-scoring defensemen but has struggled to stop opposing attacks, and ranks 52nd out of 58 Division I teams in scoring defense.
While Brown has struggled to string together complete defensive efforts, forward Jack MacLellan has helped bolster a productive Bears offense and ranks ahead even of Broc Little ’11 and Andrew Miller ’13 in points per game. In other words, Brown is by no means a team to discount, Martin said.
“I think they have some big wins this year and they’re always a tough team to play against,” Martin said. “I think they’re a good team and I think it will be a big challenge for us.”
Brown’s focus on attack means that this weekend’s games could see a reawakening of Yale’s powerhouse offense, which struggled to match its typical fireworks display in 2–1 and 4–2 wins against Dartmouth and Harvard last week, respectively. The Big Green especially were able to stonewall the Yale attack, and used a brilliant performance between the pipes by goalie James Mello to hold Yale more than three goals below its season average.
The Eli attack, however, will have to perform without the services of forwards Jesse Root ’14 and Jeff Anderson ’11. Anderson has been sidelined since before the New Year with an undisclosed leg injury and is not expected back in the near future. Root appeared to have sustained a concussion when he had trouble getting to his feet after a hard hit from behind at Harvard on Saturday. He too is expected to miss this weekend’s games.
The puck drops at 4 p.m. in New Haven Saturday, and at the same time in Providence Sunday.