While the majority of Yale campus will be transplanted to Cambridge for the Harvard-Yale football game, the men’s hockey team will be road-tripping a little farther this weekend.
The Bulldogs (3-2-0, 3-1-0 ECAC, 6 pts) travel north this weekend to face Dartmouth (3-3-0, 2-2-0, 4 pts) Nov. 22 before taking on the University of Vermont (3-5-2, 1-3-0, 2 pts) Nov. 23.
Over Thanksgiving break, the Elis will also play at Princeton Nov. 26 and will host the Tigers Nov. 30.
Last weekend the Bulldogs had no problems scoring goals, finishing with 12 scores in two games, but a number of players, along with head coach Tim Taylor, agreed that the theme for the weekend will be better defense.
“Last weekend, it was pretty evident that our offense was there, but that we still need to improve defensively,” said center Ryan Steeves ’04, who contributed a goal and four assists against Union and Renesselear. “Right now, we need to focus on that part of our game if we want to be a consistent contender.”
As for now, Yale is certainly an ECAC contender. The Bulldogs are tied with No. 8 Cornell for third place in the league, while Ivy League opponents Brown and No. 15 Harvard are atop the standings. While not nationally ranked, the Elis garnered some attention in the media polls, grabbing eight votes.
Rookie forward Christian Jensen ’06 also earned some praise this week when he was named ECAC Rookie of the Week for his hat trick against Union, but he too agreed that the Bulldogs needed to be wary of substituting good defense with high goal scoring.
“So far we’ve let too many scoring chances get to [Pete] Cohen,” Jensen said. “Thankfully, he’s played well so far. He has kept us in games to a greater degree than our recent game scores have indicated.”
Cohen stopped a number of big shots last weekend, finishing with 52 saves.
Against Dartmouth and Vermont, whose defenses may be harder to crack, Yale will have to rely more on its team defense to generate offense.
“Our goal and focus this week in practice has been to tighten up and be a little bit more aware and alert defensively, knowing that the offense can take care of itself,” Taylor said. “Compared to the three teams that we played and were successful against, Dartmouth will be a much stingier team, much harder to generate offense against.”
The Big Green, coming off a huge win over Cornell, are trying to build on their own early success. With a strong defensive corps and a good goalie in Darren Gastrock, who boasts a .962 save percentage, Dartmouth will provide a challenge for the talented Eli lineup.
“They basically return all six of their starting defensemen, and their starting goalie, so they should be very good defensively,” said captain Denis Nam ’03. “Hopefully, we can just limit their chances and capitalize on our own.”
Dartmouth forward Lee Stempniak was named to the ECAC Honor Roll last week for his three goals and two assists over the weekend. He leads the Green in scoring with 11 points and is the ECAC goal leader.
In addition to Stempniak, captains Trevor Byrne and Kent Gillings are two other key players for the Big Green.
“Byrne is a guy that we look to,” said Dartmouth head coach Bob Gaudet. “He’s a big strong kid and I think he’s a legitimate All-American and he’s a guy that we really look to for leadership. He’s a very good defenseman but he also leads our team off the ice. We need him to have an excellent year.”
Dartmouth is known for shooting the puck from everywhere on the ice, and the Bulldogs will need good shot blocking and smart defensive play, in addition to using their speed against the Big Green’s size.
“Dartmouth is a hard working physical team, and we know that they will come out ready to play at their rink,” Nam said. “It will be a hard-hitting and emotional game, and Dartmouth will definitely try to establish that early in the game.”
Gaudet said that his team would have to play as well as they did in the Cornell game in order to beat what he considered a very skilled Yale lineup.
“Obviously Chris Higgins is one of the top players in all of college hockey not just in our league, but there’s a lot of guys that have great abilities on the team between Nick Deschenes and Jensen,” Gaudet said. “You go right down the list–there’s a lot of firepower. We’ve got to play hard and play very, very solid hockey in order to be competitive with them.”
Vermont, whose hockey program was suspended two years ago after a hazing incident was revealed, is a young team in a rebuilding process. But the Catamounts are coming off a solid performance against Colgate, and it will be important for Yale to stay focused.
“We can’t go in overconfident and I don’t think we will,” Jensen said. “There’s a lot of character and humility on this team and I don’t think we should have a problem with guys getting big heads.”
In addition, the Bulldogs will be playing a team that has been successful at home. Vermont is 3-2-1 in home games this season.
Vermont head coach Mike Gilligan, who worked under Taylor as an assistant coach, also took over as the interim head coach at Yale in 1983-84 when Taylor was coaching the US Olympic team.
“I used to work down there and I know what Tim does and how well he coaches,” Gilligan said. “Their special teams and preparation will be second to none. I think we’ve got good team speed and we seem to be a pretty hard-working group, we haven’t quit in any game we’ve been in.”
The Catamounts have been enjoying a breakout season from forward Jeff Miles, who has scored nine goals in Vermont’s 10 games after scoring only 13 in his previous 62 contests.
“Vermont is a team that we definitely cannot overlook,” Nam said. “We just need to continue to play well, because if we don’t show up to play, it’s a game that could possibly slip away.”
Vermont has been rotating two goalies, senior Shawn Conschafter and freshman Travis Russell, but Gilligan said that Conschafter would start Friday against Princeton and likely play through the weekend.
“Our goaltending has to be a little more consistent and obviously we don’t know if we can match up against Yale’s top line, but I think we can do pretty well against the rest of them,” Gilligan said.
For the Bulldogs, the weekend could easily be another sweep as long as they can stay focused.
“Obviously if we score 12 goals every weekend we’re going to be in a great position to win two hockey games,” said defenseman Bryan Freeman ’03. “If we’re going to come away with four points at Dartmouth and Vermont, though, I think we’re going to need to bring more intensity and more of a commitment to team defense.”