This weekend, the Yale men’s hockey team opens its season in North Forks, N.D. with a pair of games against the University of North Dakota, which is currently ranked 2nd in NCAA Hockey by two separate polls (USCHO and USA Today).

So far, the Bulldogs have seen only one opponent — the University of Guelph. In an exhibition game at Ingalls Rink on Oct. 25, Yale dominated the Gryphons the 8-3.

But at the same time the Bulldogs realize that Guelph does not compare to the caliber of competition the Elis will be facing this weekend and for the rest of the season.

“I am worried about going into the lion’s den without better tuning,” head coach Tim Taylor said.

While the Bulldogs have only played one game against a relatively weak opponent, North Dakota has played three games against two of the top hockey schools in the nation. The Fighting Sioux opened their season on Oct. 4 with a 3-2 victory over Minnesota-Duluth and then split a two game series against Boston College, with a 6-4 come-from-behind victory in the first game and a 2-1 loss in the second game.

North Dakota has had the upper hand in their past meetings with Yale. The Fighting Sioux lead the series 3-0-0, with the most recent meeting coming last year in New Haven when North Dakota defeated the Bulldogs 7-3. The Elis were down 2-1 late in the second period when a brawl broke out. Four of Yale’s best players were handed game misconducts for their involvement.

The Fighting Sioux took advantage of Yale’s losses and netted five third-period goals while the Elis were only able to get two. Team members said they do not expects the games this weekend to play out the same way as the game last fall.

“We know that the brawl last year was not typical of college hockey, and we are not expecting anything like that again,” captain Vin Hellemeyer ’04 said. “We are just focusing on going out there and playing hard clean hockey.”

Although there are 28 players on Yale’s roster, Ivy League rules only allow Taylor to travel with 22. Though the traveling roster has not been set, Taylor plans on taking 13 forwards, 7 defensemen, and 2 goalies.

“All the players were put into situations [against Guelph] where they could succeed,” said Taylor. “On Friday I will primarily play the same lines as I did against Guelph, so I can see how the players work together against a much tougher opponent.”

After solidifying his starting spot in goal the second half of the season last year, Josh Gartner ’06 will be between the pipes for the Bulldog’s season opener. Defensively the top pairings will be, Jeff Dwyer ’04 and Matt Cohen ’07, and Joe Callahan ’05 and Mike Grobbe ’06.

North Dakota will be fielding an impressive list of scorers. The Fighting Sioux return their top four point scorers from last season: Brandon Bochenski, Zach Parise, David Lundbohm and Andy Schneider.

But the Elis will have plenty of offensive weapons of their own to call on.

“Offensively the team is different from last year,” Taylor said. “We have more balanced scoring in the lines than we did last year, where we primarily relied on our top line for points.”

The first line of forwards is composed of Ryan Steeves ’04 centering for wingers Christian Jensen ’06 and Hellemeyer, who are the top three returning point scorers from last year.

The offense will have to deal with a tough North Dakota defense, anchored by returning starting goalie Jake Brandt, who recorded four shutouts last year.

The Elis got a chance to make some adjustments in practice this week.

“This week we have been doing some extra work on our power play, which we did not have too much time to work on prior to the exhibition,” said Hellemeyer. “That part of our game should be key this whole year.”

While the Bulldogs have not played a regular season game yet, Taylor said he is pleased with what he has seen on and off the ice.

“Vinny [Hellemeyer] and the seniors have done a great job making everyone feel at home,” Taylor said. “We are leaving for this trip with good team chemistry in the making.”

Equally impressive has been the play of the rookies. Taylor expects most of the freshman to make the trip, and both Matt Cohen on defense and Brad Mills ’07 on forward will see lots of playing time.