It might be the second weekend series of the season, but for the men’s ice hockey team, it is the first chance to see what a full squad is capable of in back-to-back games.
The Bulldogs (1-2-0, 1-1-0 ECAC) return home to Ingalls Rink to face Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (5-5-0, 1-1-0) Friday night before facing Union (3-3-3, 1-0-1) Saturday. The games are the Elis’ first weekend conference series at home.
“Honestly, every game needs to be treated as a playoff game,” defenseman Stacey Bauman ’03 said. “Every game matters.”
After losing a tough 6-2 game to Cornell Nov. 8 while Bauman, along with three of his teammates, watched from the stands as he served a one game suspension, the Bulldogs rebounded with a decisive 6-1 victory over Colgate Nov. 9 and will have Bauman and company for both games this weekend.
Yale’s play against Colgate showed the skill and potential that the Bulldogs have in many aspects of the game, but exposed their current weakness: the power play. Against the Raiders, Yale went scoreless on six extra man opportunities, and they have only converted 2 of 16 chances so far.
“Our power play has been less than impressive and in order to win we need our power play to be productive,” defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 said. “We have spent a lot of time this week making little changes in order to increase production and be more successful in a man up situation.”
Head coach Tim Taylor agreed, noting that he worked his power play unit for a long time in this week’s practices.
“We haven’t had any success on the power play yet, but I think we’ve got the elements of a very good one,” he said.
While Yale has limited its opponents to less than 30 shots a game –which Taylor called a team goal earlier in the season — a number of the shots allowed have been quality, high percentage scoring chances. The Bulldogs are hoping that fewer shots for their opponents this weekend will also mean fewer quality scoring opportunities.
Friday, the Elis will face an RPI team that consistently finishes at the top of the ECAC standings each season.
Even in this early part of the season, the Engineers have been impressive. Blueliner Scott Basiuk was awarded ECAC Player of the Week last month, while goaltender Kevin Kurk has earned Goaltender of the Week honors twice. RPI Freshman forward Kevin Croxton is the current Rookie of the Week after scoring the game-tying and game–wining goals against St. Lawrence in a four-minute span in the third period last weekend.
“We’ve had contributions from a lot of different players in a lot of different situations so we’ve been a very solid club from a forward, defense and goalie perspective,” RPI head coach Dan Fridgen said. “We’re getting contributions from our seniors right down to our freshman.”
While the Bulldogs have struggled in extra-man situations, the Engineers have recorded at least one power play goal in nine of their ten games this season. Incidentally, RPI’s 10 games are the most played by any of the ECAC teams.
Taylor said that RPI is a very hard team to compete against because of its aggressive technique.
“RPI is an outstanding forechecking team,” he said. “Last year they gave us a lot of trouble in our own end. They play a very aggressive system which permits their defensemen to pinch down on our wings so it takes away a lot of the options on the breakout that we usually use.”
The Engineers lead the Bulldogs 44-28-5 in the all-time series between the two teams. In addition, RPI has taken the last three contests in New Haven.
“Yale always plays an up-tempo, high-speed game with a lot of team quickness so I expect to see a back-and-forth game,” Fridgen said. “We’ve had exciting matches the last couple of years down at Yale so I’m sure this will be another one.”
Saturday, the Bulldogs face off against a Union team that has had some early season ECAC success. Last weekend, the Flying Dutchmen defeated St. Lawrence and tied with Clarkson, Union’s best finish against those two opponents since 1994.
In addition, Union’s top line of captain Nathan Gillies and forwards Jordan Webb and Joel Beal have all exhibited a scoring touch this season, as the three of them are all among the ECAC’s top 10 point scorers.
“”We’re pretty excited about how we played last weekend,” head coach Kevin Sneddon said. “We played with a lot of energy and a lot of consistency, which is what we’d been lacking prior to the weekend.”
Sneddon touted his checking line of Glenn Sanders, Max Seel, and Brian Kerr, who he used effectively to combat SLU’s most skilled players and who he plans to try against Yale’s top line.
“Chris Higgins in my mind is one of the elite players in college hockey,” Sneddon said. “We have to know when he’s on the ice. I know with Nick Deschenes ’03 that line’s going to be very dynamic and we have to play good hockey. We’ll have our hands full.”
Sneddon’s plan was consistant with Taylor’s estimation that the Dutchmen, while often cast in an underdog role, are committed to playing a low-scoring, physical type of hockey that can be effective for them.
“They typically are one of the harder working teams in the league,” Taylor said.
Several players agreed that in order to come out of the weekend with four points, it would be important to capitalize on their speed, which both opposing coaches mentioned as one of Yale’s top strengths.
“I feel that if our team plays to its ability and uses our speed we will have a great chance to come out on top,” said winger Evan Wax ’03, who added a goal against Colgate Nov. 9.
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