After Tuesday night’s 4-3 overtime loss to No. 5 Boston University, Tim Taylor took some time in the hallway under the stands at Ingalls Rink to reflect on a game and a season that so far has been decided by one goal in each game.
“The game could have gone either way,” said Taylor, the men’s ice hockey head coach. “I guess that’s the way it’s going to be this season.”
Another season of ups and downs may very well be in store for the Bulldogs, who are looking to improve upon last year’s eighth place finish in the ECAC and a first round loss to Harvard in the playoffs.
With the graduation of three-time All-American Jeff Hamilton ’01, captain Ben Stafford ’01 and the rest of a senior class that produced nearly 50 percent of the squad’s offense, the Bulldogs (1-2-0, 1-1-0 ECAC) are looking to get past the first round of the ECAC playoffs for the first time in over three years. This goal comes in a competitive conference that currently features two top-15 teams, No. 11 Cornell and No. 15 Clarkson.
Unlike last year’s squad, which centered around the finesse of Hamilton and Stafford, the undersized Bulldogs’ first priority will be defense. At the other end of the ice, the Elis will rely on their speed and scrappy play in front of the net to generate scoring.
“We’re not going to win in wild shootouts or end-to-end play,” Taylor said. “We’re not going to overpower people with our offense. Forwards and defensemen alike need to play consistent defense. That should be the trademark of this team.”
Hamilton and Stafford may be gone, but Taylor believes the Bulldogs’ offense will not suffer.
“We don’t expect anyone this year to singlehandedly replace Hamilton,” Taylor said. “I am optimistic, though, that through the redefinition of roles we can look for a year where we replace Hamilton’s and Stafford’s offensive production by committee.”
So far, the Elis have lived up to Taylor’s expectations. In Tuesday night’s game against BU, seven different players had a part in Yale’s three goals. Through the first three games, only center Chris Higgins ’05 has three points. There are three Bulldogs tied for second with two points.
Although the Sons of Eli have demonstrated their depth on offense in the first three games, difficulty with breaking out of the neutral zone and a weak penalty killing unit are still areas of concern. The Bulldogs allowed BU to tie the game on a power-play goal.
“The key is making the simple play,” winger Nick Deschenes ’03 said. “All the teams we have played so far were tough and were playing a clutch and grab style. We need to be able to work through that.”
If the Bulldogs are to improve their defense, they will have to look to goalie Dan Lombard ’02, who is the Elis’ starting goalie for the second consecutive season. Through the first three games, Lombard’s goals against average (GAA) is 2.31 and his save percentage is .921, both of which are much better than last year’s 3.65 GAA and .881 save percentage.
Lombard attributes his improvement to a new, more aggressive style of play in net that he hopes will improve the Bulldogs’ penalty killing.
“Last year, I wasn’t dictating anything on the penalty kill,” Lombard said. “I need to be more aggressive, stand out on the angles. I’m not a big guy by any means, so I need to make myself look big.”
In creating this year’s lines, Taylor hopes a combination of experience and youth on each shift will be a winning formula.
Although the Elis lost 50 percent of their scoring power to graduation, the Bulldogs return captain Luke Earl ’02 and wingers Deschenes, Evan Wax ’03 and Nathan Murphy ’04, who combined for 55 goals last year.
The Bulldogs might not yet have a proven scorer, but their top line, which comprises wingers Earl and Deschenes and center Higgins lead the Bulldogs in offensive output.
Last season, Earl and Deschenes had 30 goals between them for the Bulldogs, and Taylor expects even more from the veterans this year. Deschenes, one of the larger Bulldogs at 6-foot-1 and 225 pounds, led the Elis with eight power-play scores last season in taking second-team All-Ivy honors.
With the addition of Higgins, a former member of the U-17 national team, the line has accounted for 40 percent of the Bulldogs’ output this season, capitalizing on Higgins’s raw talent and the experience of veterans Earl and Deschenes who have played in 76 and 65 games, respectively.
The trio will also anchor the top power-play line, which has converted on two of 11 man-advantages.
The second line of wingers Nathan Murphy ’04 and Ryan Trowbridge ’05 and center Ryan Steeves ’04 have added two of the Bulldogs’ 15 points this season, one of which was Trowbridge’s goal at 12:04 of the second period that gave the Bulldogs a 3-2 lead over BU.
On the third line, Taylor also expects winger Jason Noe ’02 and center Spencer Rodgers ’02 to boost their offensive output as they work with Wax. Rodgers, Noe and Wax combined for 40 points last season and should lead the Bulldogs’ forechecking efforts.
Although the checking line of wingers Mike Klima ’04 and Denis Nam ’03 and center Vin Hellemeyer ’04 have yet to register a point in a game, Taylor believes they will provide a solid defensive presence.
After making the All-ECAC rookie team and earning Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors, defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 will anchor the defense on the first line with defenseman Joe Callahan ’05. Dwyer will also be at the blue line on the power play. Last year, Dwyer led Yale defensemen with 22 points in 32 games.
Defense will be the difference between a winning and losing season for the Bulldogs. At the center of the defensive effort are Bryan Freeman ’03 and Stacey Bauman ’03, the Bulldogs’ most experienced defensemen. Freeman and Bauman played on the same line most of the past two seasons and have played a combined 113 games.
This year, however, Taylor has elected to divide the pair between the second and third lines. Freeman will join defenseman Michael Grobe ’05 on the second line, and Bauman will play along side Robert Mutter ’02 on the third line.
After losing to BU, the Elis return to ECAC competition this weekend as they host Dartmouth Saturday evening and the University of Vermont Sunday afternoon. Both games will be played at the New Haven Coliseum. Over Thanksgiving break, the Bulldogs will also travel to Princeton Nov. 20 before hosting the Tigers Nov. 24.
The Bulldogs know they have ground to make up after opening their first three games with two one-goal losses. It is just a question of getting good luck to go with good effort, Taylor said.
“I will be pleased if we put forth the same effort in our next games that we put forth in our first three games,” Taylor said. “We just need the bounces to go our way.”