Although it may be Valentine’s Day, there is certainly no love lost between the No. 13 Yale men’s ice hockey team and its archrival, No. 4 Quinnipiac. The two squads will face off tonight in a battle that holds major NCAA tournament ramifications for the Bulldogs.
Yale (12–7–4, 7–6–3 ECAC) takes on the Bobcats (20–5–5, 10–3–3) in only the teams’ second matchup since the Elis whomped Quinnipiac 4-0 in last year’s national championship game. After the Valentine’s Day showdown, Princeton (4–19–0, 3–13–0) comes to town on Saturday to seek redemption after two losses to Yale earlier in the season.
“To get a sweep this weekend, we need to play with Yale hockey speed and improve our toughness and determination,” defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16 said in an email. “If we do these things that we did not do very well last weekend, we will be a very hard team to beat this coming weekend.”
The Bobcats have hardly fallen far from last year’s national runner-up team. Despite losing leading point scorer Jeremy Langlois and first-team all-American goaltender Eric Hartzell, Quinnipiac has reloaded with freshman forward Sam Anas and sophomore goalie Michael Garteig. Anas leads the team in points while tying for second in the conference overall, and Garteig has the lowest goals against average rating in the nation among goaltenders who have played in at least 20 games.
In order to pick up two points, the Bulldogs must improve upon November’s meeting, when they skated to a 3–3 tie against Quinnipiac despite being outshot 51–20. Goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 made 48 saves, holding off ferocious Bobcat assaults in both the third period and overtime.
“We start Friday with a tough outing,” said forward John Hayden ’17. “We have a lot of respect for [Quinnipiac] … when we’ve played our best games this season, everybody’s on the same page.”
Saturday’s game against the Tigers marks the third time that Yale and Princeton have played each other this season, with the Elis winning both prior meetings. Lyon, however, did not make an appearance in either game, as fellow rookie Patrick Spano ’17 started both contests.
With just six games remaining in the regular season, every remaining contest is crucial for Yale, who still harbors hopes of making the NCAA tournament. The PairWise rankings, which determine the tournament field, have Yale tied for the 16th and final spot. It is almost guaranteed that at least one conference will have a team automatically qualify for the tournament from outside the top 16, meaning the Bulldogs would need to finish 15th or higher to qualify.
“It is the end of the season and we’re aware that we only have six games left,” Hayden said. “With all the developing and improvement we’ve had over the season, I think we’ve put ourselves in a good position to actually get the four points.”
A loss to Princeton has the potential to derail the Bulldogs’ tournament chances. This year, the PairWise rankings were modified to emphasize home losses and road wins over home wins and road losses in the win percentage category, so a home loss to a team in the ECAC cellar like the Tigers would be troublesome.
This weekend also marks the return of two very different rivalries. The Bulldogs have played Princeton a total of 248 times, with Yale holding both a 137–102–9 overall lead and a recent advantage, as the Bulldogs have won the last six meetings.
Compared to that storied history, the Elis’ rivalry with Quinnipiac is nascent, but still intense. The Bobcats lead the series 10–6–3, having won three of the teams’ four matchups last season and tying earlier this season. That tie was a sellout, with Quinnipiac fans flooding the building hours before the puck dropped. Tonight’s game is also on track to be at full capacity, as the Yale Athletics website has noted that all tickets disappeared within two days.
“I know our class wasn’t there last season, but we’re aware of the history between the two teams,” Hayden said. “College hockey is a short season, so every game there’s a very intense approach and an intense feeling. Any game like this toward the end of the season with one of the top teams in the nation, it’s going to be a little bit heated.”
Both games will start at 7:00 p.m. at Ingalls Rink.