Although Ivy League schools make up only six of the 12 ECAC teams, they currently find themselves occupying five of the top six slots.
The nationally ranked No. 15 Bulldogs (6-3-0, 6-2-0 ECAC, 12 points) will host Brown (4-4-1, 4-4-1, 9 points) Friday night and league-leading nationally ranked No. 12 Harvard (7-3-0, 7-2-0, 14 points) Saturday at Ingalls Rink.
“Historically, the Ivy League has always had strong hockey teams,” said winger Evan Wax ’03, who leads Yale in scoring “The difference is that this year, almost all of the Ivy League teams are in position to win the ECAC, as opposed to just a couple.”
With Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Brown and Dartmouth the top five teams in the league, only Princeton University is a cellar-dweller. The Tigers are tied with St. Lawrence University for last place.
The Elis are only two points behind Harvard, but only three points above Brown, making the weekend all the more important.
“We’ll see two of the stronger teams in the league and two of the teams that were predicted early in the season to be home ice playoff teams,” said head coach Tim Taylor, who could earn his 300th career win against Harvard if the Elis sweep the weekend. “We’ve got a big challenge coming up.”
But the opposition will have a big challenge on their hands, as well. Yale ranked 15th in the USA Today-American Hockey Magazine men’s hockey poll this week.
In addition, center Chris Higgins ’05 was named to the ECAC Weekly Honor Roll this week, and more importantly, was selected Thursday for his second season on the United States National Junior Team.
Higgins will compete for the second year in a row at the International Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, held this year in Novia Scotia. Last year, Higgins was the national team’s leading scorer in the tournament, which was in Slovakia. He is the only ECAC player to be selected, although Cornell goaltender Dave LeNeveu has been invited to try out for the Canadian team.
Higgins, along with Wax and center Ryan Steeves ’04, has been a key part of the Yale offense that tops the ECAC with an average of 5 goals per game. But the Bulldogs look to focus on defense this weekend.
“We’ve really played stingy defense, and that’s really been lost in all the notoriety of the offensive production we’ve been getting,” Taylor said. “It can be attributed to the gutsiness of our defense and the fact that we’ve gotten great goaltending.”
After a quick start, Brown has cooled off, plagued by an inability to score. Having won their first four games and going 0-4-1 in the most recent five, the Bears will be geared up.
“We’re a pretty solid defensive team,” Brown head coach Roger Grillo said. “From the forwards out back to our goaltender, we understand that our strength lies with our team defense, and that’s what we’ve got to get refocused on.”
Sophomore Les Haggett leads the Bears with nine points; junior Pascal Denis has scored four goals this season.
In addition to the classic rivalry, the Harvard game is a battle for first place in the league.
But beating the Crimson will be no small task. Harvard is ranked No. 12 nationally and packs an offensive punch that rivals that of the Bulldogs.
Traditionally, the advantage in Harvard-Yale games has gone to the home team. While the Bulldogs have won only once at Harvard’s Bright Center since it opened in 1979-1980, the Cantabs haven’t beaten Yale at Ingalls in 25 games.
“We know it’s going to be a very festive environment,” Harvard head coach Mark Mazzoleni said. “Yale likes to play very much of an up-tempo skating game as we do, and I think it’ll be a fun and interesting game from a fan’s perspective.”
Having graduated only one key player from last year’s team that won the ECAC tournament and earned a berth in the NCAA tournament, the Crimson have been viewed by many media watchdogs as the team to beat in the ECAC this year. Forward Brett Nowak, a New Haven native, has had success in his home town in the past, and forwards Tyler Kolarik and Tim Pettit have each scored 13 points this season.
“We feel that we’re going to get our chances offensively, so we just have to continue to worry about shutting down the other team, and capitalizing on our chances,” Bulldog captain Denis Nam ’03 said. “We have to think defensively first, because that is what’s going to help us win close games.”
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