It’s not everyday in sports, or in life in general, that the past, present and future merge as neatly as they will for the Yale hockey team this weekend.
With major records on the line for their coach and several players, and the ECAC stretch run on the horizon, the Bulldogs have plenty of reasons to be distracted this weekend against Notre Dame. But someone forgot to tell them about all that.
Once the puck drops Saturday, the Elis will be far more interested in watching for the red light and listening for the whistle than in entertaining visions of the future or heeding the echoes of history.
The Bulldogs (8-8-0, 6-6-0 ECAC) will tangle with the storied Fighting Irish (5-18-5) in a rare home doubleheader this weekend, including a game Saturday at the New Haven Coliseum at 4 p.m. (WYBC-AM 1340).
The Elis last played at the Coliseum in 1984, when they battled Harvard to a 1-1 tie in front of 6,169 fans.
“We’re very excited about playing in the Coliseum,” Eli goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 said. “This is an opportunity to showcase ourselves to the community and to the students. It could be an electric place to play.”
The Elis have certainly had the electricity charged to its maximum voltage over those last three games, outscoring their opponents 15-3 and ascending to third place in the ECAC standings.
“We knew we needed to get on a roll during our five games at home,” Lombard said. “We’re at a point now where we feel good about where we’re headed.”
While Lombard and the Bulldogs look forward to the ECAC race’s final leg, two wins this weekend would have the Bulldogs headed toward the record books in several ways.
It would mark the Elis’ first five-game winning streak since Taylor’s only ECAC Championship season, 1997-98. With a pair of victories, head coach Tim Taylor would also have 279 career wins, which would eclipse the 35-year old record of Murray Murdoch as the winningest coach in Yale history.
“It would be an honor to help him with that,” Lombard said. “He’s given us so much, we’d just like to give him something in return.”
To do that, the Bulldogs must contend with a Notre Dame team coming to New Haven mired in a severe skid, having claimed only one win in their last nine contests. In their last contest, they suffered a 9-0 waxing at the hands of No. 7 Michigan.
Two different Wolverines registered hat tricks against a pair of Irish goaltenders, and Notre Dame was outshot 51-21.
“It’s the same team as [the past two weeks],” Notre Dame head coach Dave Poulin said. “I hope it’s an aberration.”
Taylor is certainly preparing his team to play like it was.
“They are one of the best teams with a losing record in their conference,” Taylor said. “Things just haven’t gone their way. I’m worried that people perceive them as something that they’re not.”
Notre Dame’s strength lies in its intimidating size physical style of play, a style that has been used successfully by several teams against the Bulldogs this season.
“Coach Taylor keeps calling them a football team in hockey pads,” Lombard said. “They just try to run you out of the building.”
Senior forwards Dan Carlson (10-17-27) and Ryan Dolder (12-13-25) lead the Irish offensive attack, while three different goaltenders split time between the pipes.
On Wednesday, Poulin said he would likely start Tony Zasowski against the Bulldogs Saturday. The sophomore currently carries a 2-8-2 record with a .875 save percentage and 3.82 GAA.
Zasowski and the Irish defense will have their hands full with a Yale offense that has turned red hot in its last three contests. Hobey Baker candidate Jeff Hamilton ’01 has led the Eli onslaught, recording seven points in the winning streak, and he has 18 points at home this season.
The highlight of the senior’s season came last Saturday against Holy Cross when he picked up his third career hat trick. Hamilton, who currently ranks fifth in the nation in points per game, is now just 13 points behind Mark Kaufmann ’93 atop the all-time Yale scoring list.
Hamilton and his linemates — Eli captain Ben Stafford ’01 and Nick Deschenes ’03 — have been successful in getting the Bulldogs off to a quick start, which is essential to gaining momentum and getting the crowd involved in the game.
“We’ve had a three-game winning streak because of the jump we’ve had on teams in those three games,” Taylor said.
For everything the Elis have done on the offensive end of the ice, equal credit must be given to the unyielding Yale defense and the resolute Lombard between the pipes.
Lombard, who last week earned his second ECAC Goalie of the Week honors of the season, has saved 67 of 70 shots during the Bulldogs’ run.
“This is the first time all year that I’ve actually felt like I’m in a groove,” the junior said. “And that’s a great place for a goalie to be.”
Indeed, that groove is right where Lombard and the Bulldogs want to stay. If not for this weekend, they’ll need to be there for the critical road trip to Clarkson and St. Lawrence a week from today.
Tickets for both games this weekend are still available at the Yale Bookstore.
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”20862″ ]