While most Yalies will be crowded around family and friends at tailgates and barbecues this weekend, the women’s ice hockey team has plans of its own. The Elis will bypass the festivities and travel to Burlington, Vt., Friday to take on Vermont (3-7-1, 0-2-2 ECAC) for Yale’s first ECAC matchup. The Bulldogs (2-2-2) then face the nationally-ranked No. 2 Dartmouth Big Green (5-0-0) to kick off their Ivy League season.

“Neither game is going to be easy,” goalkeeper Sarah Love ’06 said. “We had a couple of close games against Vermont last year, so we know we can’t take them lightly. Dartmouth will be a much tougher opponent.”

In order for the Bulldogs to emerge victorious, key players will have to step it up both offensively and defensively. Yale will depend on the play of last week’s ECAC honor roll pick, forward Deena Caplette ’06. Caplette scored both goals for the Bulldogs in last weekend’s games against No. 9 New Hampshire and No. 5 Providence, and she is the Elis’ leading scorer with five points — four goals and one assist.

Love will also need another outstanding performance similar to the one last Sunday against New Hampshire.

“Sarah Love is our key,” head coach Hilary Witt said. “We can’t ask any more from her. She plays great.”

Love, who was also honored by the ECAC with Goalie of the Week accolades, recorded 68 total saves in Yale’s games on Nov.15-16.

On the opposite side of the puck, Dartmouth hosts a barrage of talented players that the Bulldog defense will have to nullify. Forwards Gillian Apps and Cherie Piper will both pose offensive threats.

The strong play of the Eli freshman so far this season will be one force to combat the strengths of the Big Green. Rookie forwards Kristin Savard ’07 and Jenna Spring ’07 have both come on strong, making the transition to college hockey seem effortless.

“The freshman class plays important roles offensively and defensively on our team, and we count on them for a lot,” Love said. “I think they like the challenge of being key players in their first year.”

Despite the high profile of their weekend nemeses, the Bulldogs head into Friday with an air of confidence. They are playing better than they were at this point last season — they had only one win at this time in 2002 — and they feel prepared for the challenges ahead of them.

“We are going into the weekend expecting two tough games,” forward Nicole Symington ’05 said. “Even though Vermont is not ranked we realize the need to come out with our best effort. I think we can have great success against Dartmouth if we are disciplined in our systems and the game plan that the coaches have set for us.”