Valentine’s Day may be just around the corner, but the Bulldogs have not been feeling any love from the hockey gods recently. A bruised and battered Bulldog squad will try to improve their positioning in the playoff standings when they travel to Colgate and No. 8 Cornell this weekend.
The Bulldogs (6-13-2, 5-7-2 ECAC), who are currently in a three-way tie for seventh in the ECAC, will be without winger Nick Deschenes ’03 and defenseman Bryan Freeman ’04 this weekend against Colgate (10-13-1, 7-6-1 ECAC) and Cornell (15-5-1, 11-2-1 ECAC).
With eight games remaining in a conference race where six points stand between the Elis and second place, there is no question that the stretch run is already in full swing for the Bulldogs.
“You can put a must-win label on any of these games,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “Our playoffs started last weekend and we’re 0-2.”
Before the Bulldogs can focus on stealing a win on the road, they have to exorcise the demons left from a pair of debilitating losses that included a 7-5 loss to Clarkson (11-10-5, 7-3-4 ECAC) Feb. 1.
The Elis were leading the Knights 5-3 with less than 10 minutes remaining in the period when the Knights exploded for four goals in the final five minutes. The last time the Bulldogs experienced such a devastating loss was last year in Game 2 of the ECAC playoffs against Harvard, when a 4-3 lead late in the third period melted into a 7-4 defeat and first round dismissal.
“The number of tough losses we’ve had this year weighs on the team’s psyche,” Taylor said. “I believe this is a good team. We just have to go out and prove it.”
To get their weekend started right, the Bulldogs will have to put the brakes on a streaking Colgate squad. The Raiders are on a five-game unbeaten streak including a 5-3 win over then-No. 14 Harvard Feb. 3.
The Raiders will look to avenge a 5-0 loss suffered at Ingalls Rink Dec. 1.
“[The Bulldogs] have a lot of talent and move the puck well,” Colgate head coach Don Vaughan said. “We’re going to have to find a way to slow them down in transition.”
Without Deschenes and Freeman, Vaughan may not have as hard of a time as he thinks stifling the Elis in transition. Deschenes, who is out for four to six weeks with a deep cut in his thigh, led the team in assists before last weekend’s contests, and was a regular fixture on the power play unit. Freeman, who aggravated his high ankle sprain in the game against Clarkson, is one of the faster skaters on the team.
“They give us a lot of offense, and we can’t just look to one guy to replace all of it,” winger Nathan Murphy ’04 said. “Everyone is going to have to chip in.”
Indeed, the Elis will have a tough time generating offense against a Cornell defense that ranks first in the ECAC and second nationally. Anchoring the Big Red defense are goalies Matt Underhill and David LeNeveu, who have the top two goals-against averages in conference play at 1.48 and 1.51 respectively.
Although the Big Red sit atop the ECAC with 23 points, they are not taking this weekend’s contest lightly.
“We feel there’s some business that hasn’t been finished with Yale,” Cornell head coach Mike Schafer said. “That 1-1 tie was very disappointing for us.”
In fact, the Bulldogs’ Nov. 30 tie with the Big Red is one of only three blemishes on Cornell’s conference record.
the Elis are the only ECAC squad that has tied a Cornell squad that has only two losses in ECAC play this season.
After last weekend’s debacle, the Bulldogs will try to get themselves back in gear with a renewed commitment to the basics.
“We’ve got to get back to playing total defense,” said Taylor, who was still uncertain as to who would start in net for the Elis this weekend. “What has to be addressed is we’re not playing 60 minutes well and we’re not playing 120 minutes of good hockey over the weekend.”
All the psychoanalysis and strategic commentary aside, this weekend could make or break the Elis’ bid for home ice during the playoffs.
“We have to come out swinging,” said center Spencer Rodgers ’02. “We got to come out hard and find a way to get our energy back.”
If the Elis drop another two straight, they could find themselves a month from now without a date for the playoffs.