Yale is third in the ECAC standings; Rensselaer and Union are 10th and 12th, respectively. At first glance, anything less than two wins from this weekend’s road trip might seem unacceptable. Look past the conference standings, however, and the weekend is anything but a cakewalk for the Bulldogs, who face the Engineers Friday night and Union Saturday night.
RPI (4-4-1, 1-1-1 ECAC) and Union (3-4-3, 0-2-1 ECAC) both have more overall points than the Elis (3-4-2, 3-3-2 ECAC). After nine games, the Engineers have a better overall record than the Bulldogs, including a 6-4 victory against No. 4 New Hampshire Oct. 20. Union is one of the more disciplined teams in the ECAC, averaging just 12 penalty minutes per game in conference play.
Rankings mean nothing now, RPI head coach Dan Fridgen said.
“You really have to wait until everyone has played an even number of games before you can really consider the rankings,” Fridgen said.
To counter RPI’s speed and Union’s grit, Taylor and the Bulldogs will look to winger Chris Higgins ’05 and goalie Dan Lombard ’02. Higgins was named ECAC Rookie of the Week for his three-goal weekend that featured the game-tying goal against No. 9 Cornell Nov. 30. Lombard made the ECAC honor roll for the second consecutive week after holding Cornell and Colgate without a goal for over 124 minutes.
Union head coach Kevin Sneddon knows that capitalizing on offensive opportunities against Lombard will be difficult.
“You’re not going to beat him clean,” Sneddon said. “Lombard’s one of the best, if not the best goalie, in the league. If he sees a shot, he’ll stop it, so we need to generate traffic in front of the net and generate more shots.”
On defense, the Bulldogs will again be without defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03, who left the first period of the Cornell game with a separated shoulder. At 6-foot-1, Bauman was an imposing presence at the blue line. Defenseman Greg Boucher ’03, who filled in for Bauman against Colgate, will be paired with defenseman Bryan Freeman ’03.
At the other end of the ice, Fridgen said he will make a game-time decision between goalie Nathan Marsters and Kevin Kurk, who have been splitting time throughout the season. Center Marc Cavosie and winger Matt Murley will lead the attack for the Engineers, who lost to Yale 6-3 in their last meeting Feb. 17. Cavosie and Murley are averaging 1.78 and 1.38 points per game respectively.
Against the Engineers, the Elis will rely on their speed to convert on power plays against the fourth best penalty-killing unit in the league.
“We just have to keep it simple,” said Murphy, who scored his first goal of the season against Colgate Dec. 1. “We have to use our speed to wear down the defensemen and generate opportunities.”
The Elis will fight fire with fire, looking to their top-ranked penalty-kill unit and their second-ranked defense to put the brakes on the Engineers’ attack.
“The key is a good defensive game first and foremost,” Taylor said. “We’ll let the offense take care of itself.”
Saturday night against Union, the Bulldogs will be looking to avenge their 5-1 loss to the Dutchmen when the two teams last tangled Feb. 16. Brandon Snee will likely be between the pipes against the Bulldogs while wingers Jeff Hutchins and Nathan Gillies will lead the offensive effort.
Although Union has dropped two of their first three ECAC games, Sneddon believes a weekend of home games should help the Dutchmen find their feet in the ECAC.
“When we step on the ice at our rink, we’re out for points against anyone,” Sneddon said.
The Bulldogs should have no trouble getting on the board against Union. The Dutchmen power play is a conference-worst 0-12. The Dutchmen’s penalty kill is no better, stopping a conference-worst 11 of 15 power plays.
This weekend’s road trip marks the start of an extended session away from the comfort of Ingalls Rink for the Bulldogs. Out of the next 10 games, only one will be played in New Haven before the Bulldogs come home for a weekend against Clarkson and St. Lawrence Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.
The Bulldogs may be without Higgins for part of their road trip. Higgins was one of two players chosen from the ECAC to compete in the International Ice Hockey Federation Junior World Championship as a member of the United States national team. The tournament lasts from Dec. 25 to Jan. 4 in the Czech Republic.
Whether Higgins travels with the national team, Taylor has confidence his Bulldogs will be successful in their extended road trip.
“I have every confidence that the team will respond to the challenge of playing in a hostile environment,” Taylor said.