It has been three weeks since the men’s ice hockey team had a weekend filled with ECAC games. Tonight at Ingalls rink, when the Bulldogs resume their conference play against Vermont, they are hoping this weekend will not be as forgettable as their last ECAC outing.
After facing the University of Vermont tonight, the Bulldogs will face Dartmouth Saturday.
“Both of these teams are going to come at us hard and be real physical with us,” said Yale winger Evan Wax ’03. “We just have to make sure we take care of the puck in our defensive zone, and don’t get forced into making bad turnovers.”
Wax earned ECAC Player of the Week honors for his four-goal performance against the University of Connecticut last Friday in Yale’s 4-3 victory.
“He’s had a hot stick, there’s no doubt about it,” said head coach Tim Taylor. “He’s very opportunistic around the goal and he’s been taking great advantage of the shots that he has. He’s done a great job and I’m real happy for him.”
Wax’s performance has been a result of his line’s productive play throughout the season.
Linemates Ryan Steeves ’04, who is tied with Wax for the team lead in scoring, and Christian Jensen ’06, who leads all freshmen in scoring, have stepped up and given the Bulldogs a dangerous second line, forcing opponents to concentrate on more than just shutting down Chris Higgins’ ’05 line.
But offense and goal-scoring has never really been a problem for the Elis this season. The Bulldogs are tied with Cornell for the ECAC’s top offense, averaging 4.05 goals a game. Less encouraging have been Yale’s defensive numbers — the team is allowing 3.63 goals a game, ninth in the league.
“We will get our chances to score, we just have to make sure that we limit their chances,” Wax said.
Since earning the starting job two weeks ago, rookie goalie Josh Gartner ’06 has been steady in the net for Yale. Gartner was named the ECAC Goalie of the Week after allowing only two goals in two games against Notre Dame.
Last time the Elis played Vermont, the Catamounts were struggling in the league, but at this point they have made a number of improvements.
After an early-season goaltending situation in which Vermont coach Mike Gilligan was rotating senior Shawn Conschafter and freshman Travis Russell, he has settled on Conschafter.
“Our goaltending has been a lot better,” said Gilligan, who coached under Taylor at Yale and was the interim head coach in 1983-84 while Taylor coached the U.S. Olympic team.
After winning only two of their first seven ECAC games, the Catamounts have rebounded to win three of their last five, including a recent 6-4 victory over Dartmouth.
One of Vermont’s most productive lines has been that of Jeff Miles, captain Jon Longo, and Ryan Miller. Miles is 3rd in the ECAC with 14 goals on the season, while Longo and Miller have combined for nine goals and 16 assists.
“I think everyone’s been playing better,” Gilligan said. “We’ve been eliminating unforced turnovers, and we’ve been a lot better up front.”
Dartmouth defeated Yale 5-4 in the two teams’ first contest in which the Green fought off several near-comebacks by the Bulldogs.
“They’ve had some terrific wins this year,” Taylor said. “They’re one of the stronger all-around clubs — they skate 3 or 4 really good lines and they have a veteran defense and a real formidable attack.”
The Green has seen excellent offensive production from its younger players, as three of the top four scorers are either first or second-year players. Sophomore Lee Stempniak and freshman Hugh Jessiman are tied for the team lead in points with 28 apiece, while freshman Mike Ouellette has added 19. Jessiman, who has been named the ECAC Rookie of the Week three times, leads all rookies in the conference in scoring.
Goalie Nick Boucher recently earned his 41st career victory making him the school’s all-time leader in wins, and with nine more games he will be the first goaltender in Dartmouth history to play 100 games. Boucher is second in the ECAC in win percentage.
The weekend could likely have large implications for the conference standings. Currently, the Elis are tied with Union for fourth place with 14 points, but Dartmouth, who is in sixth place, and the Catamounts, who stand in eighth, are only two and four points back, respectively. At the end of the season, the top five teams in the league receive home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
“Obviously these are two teams that are right with us in the standings,” Taylor said. “We’ve got to get our points at home. These are all teams that know that in the last five weekends, anything can happen.”