A week after the Yale women’s hockey team battled Harvard in the opening round of the ECAC tournament, the men will take the ice this weekend in a best-of-three series against the Crimson. But this series carries widespread implications as the No. 16 Bulldogs look to keep their hopes of an NCAA Tournament bid alive.
The Elis (15–9–5, 10–8–4 ECAC) finished tied for fifth in the ECAC, but a tiebreaker relegated them to the sixth seed and a date with the Crimson (10–15–4, 6–12–4). But a two-point weekend, highlighted by a 5–0 victory on Senior Night against RPI, has head coach Keith Allain ’80 feeling optimistic.
“We haven’t seen the points we like to see, but the last two weekends we’ve played pretty well in both games,” Allain said. “That’s really what you want to do: You want to control and play your game. Over the course of time, we’ll get the wins.”
For the Bulldogs, there are two routes that would lead to a bid into the NCAA tournament. One is winning the ECAC conference tournament, which would ensure a bid. The other is to earn an at-large spot through finishing high enough in the PairWise rankings.
Only 16 teams will make college hockey’s version of March Madness, and right now the Elis sit in 19th. However, due to each conference receiving an automatic slot in the tournament, Yale will almost assuredly need to finish higher than 16th in order to make it.
Before the squad can start dreaming about defending its national title, it must first make it past the 11th-seeded Crimson this weekend at Ingalls Rink.
The two teams have already clashed three times on the season, with Harvard pulling out a tie in the first matchup and the Bulldogs dominating each of the last two games.
“We feel as though we have a pretty good understanding of what their game is, what their strengths are and what we have to watch out for,” Allain said.
In addition to the experience of playing the Crimson, the Bulldogs have another advantage: a lack of injuries. Allain said last Thursday’s practice was the first time all year that every player was healthy enough to skate.
A major matchup to keep an eye on is on the power play. Though the Bulldogs rank third in the conference when enjoying a man advantage, scoring on 20 of 93 opportunities in conference games, the Crimson ranks second at penalty kills, stopping 80 of 92 attempts.
“Special teams in general will be really important,” captain Jesse Root ’14 said. “If we get a chance to score some power play goals, that will help us with momentum.”
On the defensive side, the Bulldogs should have little trouble with Harvard. Yale has allowed just 2.55 goals per game in conference games, good for fifth in the ECAC. Harvard’s offense, however, is anemic, tying for last in the conference with just two goals per game.
In their three games against each other this season, Harvard put up a total of five goals, while the Elis registered five goals in each of their victories over the Crimson.
“They’re [still] a very dangerous offensive team. They have a lot of skill,” Root said. “We need to make sure we take that away, and hopefully that’ll translate into offense for us.”
Should the Bulldogs win this series, they will likely face No. 6 Quinnipiac in a rematch of last year’s national championship game.
But Allain said that the team is not looking past Harvard.
“Our focus is on Friday night’s game,” Allain said. “[For me], that’s the only game in the universe on Friday night. I see that game in a vacuum.”
The puck drops at Ingalls Rink on Friday and Saturday at 7:00 p.m. If necessary, the third game would start Sunday at 7:00 pm.