Two weeks ago, the men’s hockey team swept Clarkson and St. Lawrence before an enthusiastic crowd at Ingalls Rink. But with both teams — and their fans — out for revenge, the Bulldogs will have their work cut out for them this weekend.
After a seven-hour bus ride up to the North Country, the Bulldogs (16-2-0, 12-6-0 ECAC, 24 pts.) face Clarkson (11-17-1, 8-9-1, 17 pts.) Friday night before playing St. Lawrence (8-18-4, 5-11-2, 12 pts.) Saturday. Both games will begin at 7 p.m., and will be broadcast on WYBC 1340-AM.
Yale has won eight of its last nine games, riding arguably its highest level of success all season, falling only to Dartmouth in that stretch. And last week, the Bulldogs proved they could pick up a sweep on the road, defeating Union and RPI to give themselves sole possession of third place in the ECAC.
“Our focus and our goal right now is to get one of those top four spots, by hook or by crook,” said head coach Tim Taylor. “This is arguably the most challenging road trip of the year, because of the distance and because these are two very good teams.”
Solid play and contributions by all four lines have helped the Elis continue to find their offensive touch, even when it comes from unlikely sources. So far this season, various lines have stepped up when others have not performed as well. After seeing enormous production out of the Evan Wax ’03-Ryan Steeves ’04-Christian Jensen ’06 line through much of the season, the Bulldogs have more recently seen a surge in scoring from the first line of Nick Deschenes ’03, Chris Higgins ’05, and Vin Hellemeyer ’04.
Over the last two weekends, Higgins has amassed 10 points, earning him ECAC Player of the Week for a five-point performance two weeks ago and a mention on the ECAC Honor Roll this past week for another five-point weekend.
In addition to Higgins’ offensive exploits, freshman goaltender Josh Gartner ’06 once again put forth a strong effort for the Elis, earning Rookie of the Week honors instead. Gartner’s 9-2 record since earning the starting job is the second-best win percentage in the nation.
“As a goaltender I try to prepare for every game the same way and even though this is a big weekend I’m just going to try to stick to my routine,” Gartner said. “The whole team has been playing great in front of me lately and have made my job pretty straightforward. They’ve been letting me see the first shot most of the time and then after that it’s my job to control the rebounds.”
Getting points this weekend will be no simple task. In New Haven, the Bulldogs swept the tandem of teams, but not without giving Yale fans a scare in both games.
Against the Saints, Yale jumped out to an early 2-goal lead before allowing the Saints to tie the game. But off a hat trick by Higgins, the Elis picked up five unanswered goals to cruise to the 7-2 victory.
“That’s a really good Yale team,” said SLU head coach Joe Marsh. “We gave up a bonehead too-many-men penalty when it was tied 2-2 and they got a great power play goal out of it. We can’t be taking penalties against a powerplay like that.”
Against the Elis, the Saints played goaltenders Mike McKenna and Tim Hall. But this weekend, it’s likely that neither goalie will see any playing time, as starting goaltender Kevin Ackley has returned from an injury and had a strong 34-save game in a 3-1 loss to Vermont. Backup Sean Knaub, who had played in only one prior game this season, could also get a chance to play after proving himself a reliable option with a 36-save performance against Princeton.
“In retrospect you think ‘geez maybe I should have got him in there before,'” Marsh said of Knaub. “But Ackley’s back and he’s our number one guy, although Sean’s stock has risen quite a bit.”
Forward Rich Peverly, who notched a goal against Yale two weeks ago, continues to be St. Lawrence’s leading scorer with 10 goals and 16 assists for 26 points. Blair Clearance is right behind, having totalled 7 goals and 16 assists for a total of 23.
While Saint Lawrence will be a good test for the Elis, Clarkson will be even tougher. The Golden Knights were on their way to a win in New Haven after having battled back to take the lead, and it took goals less than a minute apart from Deschenes and forward Joe Zappala ’06 — as well as some late-game heroics from Gartner — to give the Bulldogs their exciting, comeback 5-4 victory for their first of two sweeps.
“Learning from that game, we have to be better down low and tougher in the corners, because they got the puck in deep on us and maintained possession, generating scoring chances,” Taylor said. “If we’re gonna win, especially on the road, then we’ve got to break that dominance.”
The Golden Knights got each of their four goals from a different player last time they played the Bulldogs. Defenseman Randy Jones, who recorded three assists against Yale, leads the team in scoring with 26 points and is ninth nationally in offensive output among blueliners. In addition, Kevin O’Flaherty and Rob McFeeters, both of whom lit the lamp two weeks ago, are near the top of the Clarkson scoring list with 24 and 23 points respectively.
The Bulldogs have some breathing room in the third place slot; they are four points off a 3-way tie for fourth place, but in the volatile ECAC stretch run, wins are of the utmost importance.
“These last two weekends are obviously very important in terms of standings and momentum going into the playoffs,” Gartner said. “I go into every game expecting to win so we’re obviously aiming for two wins this weekend.”