The men’s hockey team’s upcoming ECAC quarterfinal series bears an eerie resemblance to last season’s. But last year is the one thing that the Elis do not want to worry about as they begin their hunt for the conference postseason title.
Twelve months after a surprise quarterfinal elimination at the hands of Brown, which had finished the regular season with the ECAC’s second-worst record, Yale (23–5–1, 17–4–1) will once again follow a bye week with a series against a cellar-dwelling opponent. This time, the foes will be the St. Lawrence Saints (12–20–5, 6–15–1), who finished the regular season 11th out of 12 teams in the ECAC.
“We’ve learned that you can’t take anyone lightly, especially a team like St. Lawrence that just knocked off one of the top teams in the conference,” said right winger Broc Little ’11.
Indeed, the Saints faced long odds to get even this far in the tournament. In the first round, they faced a solid Princeton team that had beaten them twice in the regular season. Princeton won again in the first game of last week’s best-of-three series, by a lopsided 4–1 score.
But as elimination loomed last weekend, the Saints fought back. They narrowly won their next two games and earned the chance to travel to New Haven and play a Yale team they have already upset once this season.
“Any team in this league can beat any other team,” left winger Denny Kearney ’11 said.
St. Lawrence has won its share of big games, and the Elis praised their upcoming opponents’ skill. Captain Jimmy Martin ’11 called the Saints an generally solid team that skates particularly well.
But the Saints cannot match Yale’s scoring depth or consistent defense. Star freshman Greg Carey’s 37 points this season would put him second on the Elis. Goaltender Matt Weninger dazzled in his team’s last two games, with 76 saves on 79 shots. But St. Lawrence has few other forwards of Carey’s caliber, and Weninger has been inconsistent all season.
Yale, on the other hand, boasts a deep lineup on which thirteen skaters have scored points in the double digits this season. Only nine Saints have done the same. Eli Goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11 has allowed four fewer goals than Weninger this season, despite playing 240 more minutes than his counterpart.
But, as the fiasco against Brown in last year’s quarterfinals attests, none of those statistics matter in the emotionally charged playoffs.
“We played nine periods of hockey against Brown,” Allain said. “I would defy anybody to tell me we didn’t dominate seven of them. But we had a little lack of intensity off the puck drop the first night.”
That lack of intensity, Allain said, may have stemmed from the off week the team had before playing Brown. But the team learned from its mistakes. It had another off week between its loss to Brown and the first game of the NCAA tournament, and trained well enough to storm into the national championships with a win over North Dakota.
The team has prepared for the St. Lawrence as it prepared for North Dakota, according to Kearney. Allain said he gave the team an extra day off, but has kept them on the ice longer in practice and scheduled extra weight lifting.
“We used this like a training camp week,” he said.
The Saints have skated through three games since Yale last played, and may be in superior game shape at the beginning of the series, but Kearney said that the extra rest has his team feeling rested, refreshed, and ready.
Yale will need that energy. Allain said that the team struggled in its last meeting with St. Lawrence because the Saints pulled a third man back on defense, neutralizing the Elis’ trademark rushes up ice. The team needs to work hard this weekend to move the puck better through the neutral zone, he added.
Martin does not think Yale is in any danger of not working hard enough.
“Having the week off has made us stay hungry,” he said. “We’re itching to go. Last year was last year. This year is this year.”