M. HOCKEY | Packed house to greet struggling Elis

The Bulldogs lead the nation with 4.52 goals per game, but they have scored an average of just 3.25 goals in their past seven games.
The Bulldogs lead the nation with 4.52 goals per game, but they have scored an average of just 3.25 goals in their past seven games. Photo by Christopher Merriman.

The men’s hockey team has lost its No. 1 ranking, but it still hasn’t lost at home.

After losing two consecutive conference games last weekend for the first time since 2008, the Bulldogs (17–4, 11–3 ECAC) will take the ice this weekend without the No. 1 ranking they held for eight weeks. More pertinent than that is that their once-dominant hold on first place in the ECAC has now been reduced to half a game.

The Elis return to the friendly confines of Ingalls Rink — where they are undefeated — this weekend for games against struggling Harvard (3–12, 4–16) and red-hot No. 17 Dartmouth (12–6–3, 8–4–2). They are looking to recover from consecutive losses last weekend at the hands of ECAC powerhouses Union and Rensselaer, which left the once-invincible Bulldogs with three losses in their last five games.

“I think the two losses have helped us regain our focus,” said right winger Brian O’Neill ’12, who shares the team lead in points. “Now that we’ve lost we’re a little extra motivated and hungry to win the games.”

If Harvard is to turn it’s recent losing skid around, the Crimson will have to accomplish something no other team this season has been able to do: defeat Yale at home.

The Bulldogs still seemed unbeatable when they rolled to a pair of victories on the road at Harvard and Dartmouth earlier this season. Since those meetings, Yale’s two Ivy League foes have followed diverging paths. The Crimson have won just one of six games since falling 4–2 to the Bulldogs, and that victory came at the expense of Colgate — the only team ranked below the Crimson in the ECAC standings. The Big Green, meanwhile, have lost just one of their seven games since last playing Yale. Their wins include a 4–1 dismantling of the same Union team that dominated Yale last week.

As tickets to the Elis’ games at Ingalls Rink have become some of the hottest commodities in New Haven, the Bulldogs have won all 12 home games this season. They are just 5–4 on the road.

Keith Allain ’80, the head coach of the now No. 2/3 men’s hockey team, is taking those road struggles in stride.

“We’ve played well,” Allain said in a Thursday interview at Ingalls Rink. “It’s a long season. We started in October and here we are in February and if you look at the games we’ve played, I would say that those two periods [against Union] Friday night are the only point we didn’t play to our expectations.”

Three of those four away losses have come in the Elis’ past three road games. Yale fell to Brown in a 3–2 upset that ended the squad’s 11-game winning streak — then the longest in the nation. The loss may have caught Yale fans by surprise, but the Bulldogs have yet to regain their dominant form from before the winter break.

In the Bulldogs’ first 14 games of the season — culminating in their 10-goal explosion over a weak Holy Cross team in their first game of 2011 — they averaged 5.29 goals per game and scored at least three times every time they took the ice. Yale has been held to two goals in half of its eight games since then and has averaged just 3.25 goals per game in the process.

The team leads the nation in goals per game by a wide margin nonetheless, and Allain said after last week’s games that he is not worried about the offensive difficulties.

Despite that optimism, last weekend’s scoresheets show that Yale failed to score an even strength goal. Broc Little ’11 was held scoreless for the fourth consecutive game.

“It’s a long season and guys will have slumps,” Allain said of the senior from New Hampshire. “Right now, he’s pressing a little.”

On Friday night, however, the Elis will face an offense that has been struggling far more than the Elis have. Despite a six-goal outburst against Colgate last weekend, Harvard’s offense ranks third to last in the country in goals per game, and its struggles are among the reasons the squad is winless in the Ivy League this season.

But the Crimson proved when they last played Yale that they can make up with brawn for what they lack in flash. A nasty Harvard hit in the third period knocked center Jesse Root ’14 out of the next four games with a concussion. Root was back on the ice for last week’s road trip, but he was a nonentity in the two games.

He and the rest of the Bulldogs will have to muster some offense to beat Dartmouth goalie James Mello, who stonewalled the Bulldogs in the two teams’ last meeting. The Elis fired 37 shots at him and converted just two.

“Dartmouth’s a very deep team,” Allain said. “Really good goaltending, strong defensively, and they play us very physical. We have to play a speedy game against them to be more successful. That’s the one area of our strength they don’t match up on.”

The Big Green sent plenty of pucks on net last time out against Yale, but netminder Ryan Rondeau ’11 stood tall and knocked all but one aside. The goalie has been hot almost all season, and convinced Allain — who last season rotated his four goalies — to make him the full-time starter. Rondeau had the worst game of his season last Saturday, when RPI beat him four times on just 12 chances before Allain yanked him in favor of backup Nick Maricic ’13. But Rondeau’s steady performance all season — his goals against average remains the eighth best in the country — means he is likely to be in net Friday night.

Harvard — whose leading scorer would rank sixth on the Bulldogs — may not pose much of a test for the senior netminder. But the scrappy, surging Big Green may be eager to improve on their narrow loss in January.

Faceoff is at 7 p.m. against Harvard on Friday and at 7 p.m. against Dartmouth on Saturday. Both games are sold out.

Eliana Dockterman contributed reporting.

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