This weekend’s sweep of St. Lawrence and Clarkson marked the first time the Yale men’s hockey squad has accomplished that feat since the magical 1997-98 season when the Bulldogs were crowned regular season champions of the ECAC.

While the chances of third-place Yale (20 points) overtaking both Harvard (26) and Cornell (28) are not great with six games left to play, Yale would have a first-round bye and host a second-round series in the ECAC playoffs if the season ended today. This past weekend showed that, while concerns still exist about overall team defense, Yale has what it takes to finish in the top four and hit the playoffs playing its best hockey of the year. Three themes stand out:

The re-emergence of the Elis’ top line

Yale’s top-line skaters accounted for six of the Bulldogs’ 12 goals this weekend. Chris Higgins ’05 had a hat trick and an assist Friday night and added a power-play goal Saturday evening. Nick Deschenes ’03 netted the game-tying goal late in the third period against Clarkson and had three assists on the weekend while Vin Hellemeyer ’04 also had a goal and three assists. The line had been showing steady signs of increased output for a few weeks, but finally saw its efforts manifested on the Ingalls Rink scoreboard this weekend.

Strong special teams performance

Following Yale’s 7-2 defeat of St. Lawrence, head coach Tim Taylor said a lot of statistics can be meaningless, but special teams’ numbers are truly indicative. The same Bulldog squad that earlier in the season went seven games without scoring a power play goal lit the lamp on four of six power-play attempts against St. Lawrence (3 for 5) and Clarkson (1 for 1). Further evidence that the power-play troubles have long since been solved are Yale’s eight power play goals in the last four games.

The penalty kill has come on equally strong. In Yale’s last seven games, opponents have successfully converted only three of 28 man advantages, including St. Lawrence (0 for 7) and Clarkson (0 for 2) this weekend.

Fantastic freshmen

Joe Zappala ’06 scored the game winning goal against Clarkson on an unbelievable play where he tipped a deflected shot off his skate back to his stick and shoots the puck past the Golden Knight netminder. Zappala (8 goals, 6 assists, 14 points) and linemate Zachary Mayer ’06 (2-7-9) each combined for a goal and an assist against St. Lawrence the previous night, and the two have developed a strong chemistry that anchors their line.

Yale goaltender Josh Gartner ’06 stopped 62 of the 68 shots he faced in the two games, including several key saves down the stretch against Clarkson to preserve the victory.

Add in Christian Jensen ’06, who is third in the conference in rookie scoring (7-15-22), and Jeff Hristovski ’06, center of the Elis’ third line (5-5-10), and the Bulldogs have one of the strongest freshman classes in the conference.