The Yale men’s hockey team entertains Ivy League rivals No. 3 Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend as it looks to bounce back from a road trip that slipped agonizingly into disappointment.
The Elis (10–10–5, 6–8–4 ECAC Hockey) are fighting for a position in the ECAC standings this weekend, in addition to making a late push for the Ivy crown. After a Saturday draw with No. 12 Cornell was marred by a third-period collapse on Sunday against Colgate, the Bulldogs sit seventh in the conference standings and will look to wrap up home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs and stay in contention for an Ivy League title.
“We want to make sure this weekend we’re playing playoff hockey, which is being competitive and smart,” forward Ted Hart ’19 said. “We have Harvard [on Friday], we want to make sure we take the emotion out of the game and play the right way. We have two weeks until it’s do or die; that should be enough time to make sure we have a team that’s ready to compete for a championship.”
The Bulldogs have dropped three of their past four games and have been left in the rearview mirror by the ECAC leaders. With a nine-point chasm separating them from fourth-placed No. 17 St. Lawrence with only eight points left at stake, the Elis will turn their attention from chasing the Saints to solidifying a top-eight finish. Only two points separate Yale from Colgate and Dartmouth, who are tied for ninth place.
Head coach Keith Allain ’80 has tinkered with his lineup in the past few games in attempts to halt the Elis’ skid. Defender Dan O’Keefe ’17 has returned to the lineup in an alloyed role of both forward and defense, often switching positions on alternating shifts mid-game. With O’Keefe’s introduction, the Bulldogs have dressed seven defenders and 11 forwards, or dropped defender Henry Hart ’18 to the bench to adopt a more physical approach when Allain rolls out 12 forwards.
“I’ve been a defenseman my whole life, but my sophomore year [at Yale] I played a few games at forward,” O’Keefe said. “I haven’t played a ton of forward, but I’m willing to do whatever the team needs me to do. If that’s playing on the fourth line and trying to provide some energy and throw a hit that’s fine with me.”
Harvard’s (10–5–2, 12–4–2) streak of six consecutive victories was most recently accented by seizing its first Beanpot victory since 1993 in a 6–3 shellacking of No. 4 Boston University on Monday night at TD Garden. The Crimson power play, which ranks fifth in the country, played a vital role in the win — a worrying sight for a Yale team that has struggled to stay out of the box recently.
Harvard’s explosive offense will pose a challenging test for the Yale defense on Friday night. The Crimson boasts the third-best offense in the nation, lighting the lamp more than four times per game. The attack is led by a trio of National Hockey League prospects: Forwards Alex Kerfoot and Sean Malone have combined for 61 points this season, while freshman defender Adam Fox leads all collegiate defenders with 28. In all, just three regular Crimson skaters have registered fewer than eight points.
Meanwhile, Yale’s scoring burden has been carried by only a few skaters, as the goals have started to dry up further down the lineup. Four Eli forwards — captain John Hayden ’17, Frank DiChiara ’17, Ted Hart and Joe Snively ’19 — have netted double-digit goals, but no other forward has contributed more than four goals or eight points.
The quartet has combined for all of Yale’s tallies in its past four games and 13 of its past 17 goals. Hart grabbed three goals last weekend and scored the only Bulldog goal against the Crimson in the rivals’ 1–1 tie in January.
“I still think [Hart] is just scratching the surface,” Allain said. “We think he can become an elite player. He’s got an awful lot of tools; he has a great work ethic. He’s got the speed; he’s got the shot, which is accurate and deceptively fast. I’m not surprised he had a three-goal weekend and I wouldn’t be surprised if he had another one.”
Yale annihilated Dartmouth (9–13–3, 6–10–2) 7–0 in the first game between the two teams this year, highlighted by a four-point night from defender Charlie Curti ’19. Since the humiliation, the Big Green has improved, winning two of its past four games. Dartmouth’s two defeats in that span came against the ECAC’s two leading teams, Harvard and No. 7 Union, where the Big Green conceded a combined 13 goals.
Dartmouth’s NCAA-worst combined special teams rating has been dragged down by its putrid penalty kill. Through 25 games, the Big Green has allowed goals on 28 percent of its shorthanded situations.
The Eli power play, which has been inconsistent this season and squandered a 5-on-3 chance late in the Colgate game last weekend, will look to hop back into gear on Saturday night. Overall, Dartmouth has conceded four or more goals on 12 separate occasions this year, opening the door for Yale’s attack to strike.
Goaltender Sam Tucker ’19 has assumed more responsibility in net, starting both games last weekend for the Bulldogs. Despite suffering a hard-luck 4–2 loss against Colgate, the sophomore netminder turned away two penalty shots and has improved significantly from earlier in the season. Tucker posted a 0.842 save percentage in his first four appearances, but has boosted that mark to 0.908 in his last four games.
Fellow netminder Patrick Spano ’17 had his best weekend of the year the last time the Elis faced Harvard and Dartmouth, winning the ECAC Goalie of the Week award and allowing just one goal on 55 shots. However, Spano has started just two of the last six games Yale has played, conceding eight goals.
The Ivy League weekend represents Yale’s last regular-season competition at Ingalls Rink. Puck drop is at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday night.