After getting its season back on track with a non-conference sweep of Notre Dame last weekend, the men’s hockey team has a chance to gain more momentum in its final non-ECAC game of the season.
The Bulldogs (10-8-0, 7-5-0 ECAC, 14 points) return home to face local opponent University of Connecticut (5-14-3) Saturday at 7:00 p.m. at Ingalls Rink.
For the Elis, the game against the subpar Huskies could provide more of a mental challenge than anything else, because there is a risk of playing down to the opposition.
“I think it’s definitely a game we could overlook,” said forward Joe Zappala ’06, who was named the ECAC Rookie of the Week after scoring two goals and adding an assist last weekend. “They play in the MAAC league which is kind of a notch below the ECAC, but we just came off a strong weekend and we have ten huge league games coming up so we’re going to have to stay focused and win this game.”
Zappala was one of two Yale freshmen lauded for his play against the Fighting Irish. Goaltender Josh Gartner ’06, in his third and fourth starts for Yale, allowed only two goals over the weekend and was named ECAC Goalie of the Week for the second time in a month.
“Last weekend the whole team played well defensively and the defense and forwards did a good job clearing the front of the net to let me see the puck,” Gartner said. “They made my job a lot easier.”
Gartner’s 59 saves, combined with a solid Bulldog defense, held Notre Dame to two goals over the weekend, the Fighting Irish’s lowest total in consecutive games all season.
Forwards Nick Deschenes ’03 and Vin Hellemeyer ’04 also had strong performances for the Elis, skating to multiple-point weekends.
Despite having an offense that is ranked seventh nationally in goals per game, the Bulldogs have not had a similar level of success on the man-advantage. The Elis have converted only 12 of 82 power play opportunities, making them the second-worst man-advantage unit in the ECAC.
“We’re still trying to improve that,” said head coach Tim Taylor. “We’ve got a little bit of success lately — we got a power play goal in the first game against Notre Dame and started to show some signs against Harvard and Brown — and I think its starting to get better. If it isn’t, it’s not from lack of practice.”
In addition, the Elis will continue to use their revamped forecheck, which led to positive results in South Bend and Chicago last weekend.
“It’s a little more aggressive and it activates the defense, “Zappala said. “We’re working as a five-man unit to put on a lot of pressure and force turnovers.”
While the Huskies do not boast a very impressive record this season, a closer inspection of their schedule shows that the Bulldogs can’t rest easy on Saturday.
“Every opponent you play is a challenge,” Taylor said. “They beat Colgate this year, which is a team in our league, and they lost to New Hampshire 3-1 which is a better score than we had [with the Wildcats.]”
Connecticut’s Kurt Kamienski and DJ Miller are dangerous offensive weapons for the Huskies. Kamienski is the team’s leading points scorer with seven goals and 12 assists for 19 points, while Miller is tied for fourth in goal scoring in the MAAC, lighting the lamp nine times this season.
Goaltender Jason Carey has been steady for Connecticut, with a .895 save percentage. He has twice been named MAAC goalie of the week, and has, like his team, played extremely well in games against top opponents.
“I think UConn is a team that plays very well in big games, and this is a huge game in the state of Connecticut,” Taylor said. “It’s a game for bragging rights in the state, and I know they will be well prepared for us.”
For the Bulldogs, the biggest hurdle might be not looking past the Huskies to what will be a long and challenging 10-game ECAC stretch to end the regular season.
“Even though this weekend is a non-conference game it is very important for us to come out with our best effort so that we can go into the rest of our conference play with some momentum,” Gartner said.