The seniors on the men’s hockey team will play their final two regular season games at Ingalls Rink this weekend, but the Elis in the Class of 2002 are hoping that these contests will not be their last in a Bulldog jersey.
Yale (8-17-2, 7-11-2 ECAC) is tied with St. Lawrence for the 10th and final playoff spot in the ECAC, one point behind Union and two points behind Princeton. The Bulldogs will have to go through Harvard (11-12-4, 10-7-3 ECAC) tonight and Brown (14-11-2, 10-8-2 ECAC) Saturday night if they are to continue their upward climb into the playoff picture.
After three years of postseason play, the team’s seniors are not ready to exit New Haven without one last shot at the playoffs.
“I’m not thinking about these games as my last two games,” said winger Spencer Rodgers ’02, who had two goals against the Vermont Feb. 22. “I’m thinking about it as two more playoff games. I am confident we will win.”
Should the Bulldogs come out of the weekend tied for the final playoff spot, the team with the better record in head-to-head play will get the playoff spot. If their records are the same, the next tiebreaker would reward the team that has a better record against the top five teams in the ECAC.
With six of the top seven teams within two points of each other, and Yale remaining just two points behind eighth place Princeton, the Bulldogs’ playoff scenarios are anything but solidified.
“The goal is simple,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “We need to make the playoffs.”
Before the Elis can claw their way into the postseason, they will need to continue their upward climb from last weekend’s pair of 4-2 victories over Vermont and Dartmouth. The Bulldogs prefaced their best weekend of the season, a two-game sweep, with their worst losing stretch of the season, a six-game losing streak.
In their victories last weekend, the rejuvenated play of captain Luke Earl ’02, goalie Dan Lombard ’02 and winger Chris Higgins ’05 galvanized the Bulldogs’ winning efforts. Higgins and Earl combined for five points against Dartmouth Feb. 23, while Lombard saved 63 of 67 shots over the weekend en route to earning ECAC Goalie of the Week honors.
At the other end of the ice, the Crimson will counter with forwards Dominic Moore, Brent Nowak and Tyler Kolarik. The three Cantabs are all among the top 20 scorers in the ECAC. In between the pipes, the Crimson have nearly as many options and will choose between Dov Grumet-Morris and Will Crothers in net. Morris was named ECAC Rookie of the Week for his 51 save performance over the weekend in Harvard’s wins over Cornell and Rensselaer.
The Bulldogs’ path into the postseason becomes more challenging when they face the streaking Bears and net minder Yann Danis Saturday. Brown has won 10 of its last 13 games since falling to the Bulldogs 5-2 in Providence Jan. 11. Danis leads the ECAC with a 1.67 goals-against average, good enough for second among Division I net minders.
With two of the top 10 goalies in the ECAC on the ice both nights, the Elis will have a difficult time finding the back of the net.
“They’re going to be low scoring games,” Taylor said. “As long as we are alert on defense, we’ll have a chance to win those games.”
Although the final scores may be low, tensions will run high between a desperate Bulldog squad and the physical play of Harvard and Brown.
“The first couple shifts will be pure emotion,” winger Jason Noe’02 said.
The emotional ride continues without defenseman Brian Freeman ’04 and winger Nick Deschenes ’03. Freeman is still nursing a high ankle sprain and Deschenes is recovering from a deep cut in his thigh.
This weekend might hold more emotional significance for Taylor, who graduated from Harvard in 1963, but his focus lies elsewhere.
“I’m not playing the game and the kids have a feel for the rivalry,” Taylor said. “With the frustration and adversity we’ve faced this year, for me as a coach, it would have added significance if we get into the playoffs.”