It was definitely the best Saturday night bus ride home that the Yale men’s hockey team could have asked for.

The Bulldogs (5-8-0, 5-5-0 ECAC) defeated Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (8-5-2, 3-2-1) 5-4 Friday night and Union College (7-5-3, 2-3-1) 4-1 Saturday night to raise their conference record to .500 heading into their break for exams. The Elis finally put the puzzle pieces together, combining solid defense, offense and goaltending in both games.

“Obviously it’s the best results we’ve had,” captain Vin Hellemeyer ’04 said. “We played sixty minutes each night; we didn’t have any mental lapses.”

For their performance this weekend, the Elis brought home a few ECAC honors. Defenseman Joe Callahan ’05 took the ECAC Co-Player of the Week and winger Joe Zappala ’06 made it onto the ECAC Honor Roll.

ECAC Goaltender of the Week Josh Gartner ’06 gave the Elis their biggest lift, securing the victory for Yale Saturday night at Achilles Rink against Union. Gartner weathered the Dutchmen storm in the final frame, turning away 15 shots in the third period alone.

“[Gartner] really changed that game,” Callahan said. “He was playing like that last year. Everyone was really happy for him.”

Gartner struggled early in the season, posting a 4.90 goals against average entering last weekend. But if his play in New York State is any indication, he might be returning to last year’s form, when he helped lead the Elis to the ECAC quarterfinals.

“It was a big weekend for me as far as getting my confidence back,” Gartner said.

The goalie finished the game with 32 saves and only gave up three even strength goals on the weekend.

Dutchmen forward Matt Vagvolgyi made a mental error at 12:44 of the first period, shooting the puck after the whistle and giving the Elis a power-play opportunity.

Defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 took advantage of Vagvolyi’s mistake, beating Union goalie Kris Mayotte from the point. The improvement on the power play was a good sign for the Elis, who went 0-5 with the extra man the previous night against the Engineers.

After a Dutchmen goal by forward Jordan Webb in the second period, Zappala scored what proved to be the game-winner with 5:07 left in the frame after picking off a Union attempt to clear the zone.

The goal was Zappala’s team-leading ninth of the season, tying him for third in the ECAC. It was also his second game-winner in as many games.

“Zappala is definitely stepping it up,” Hellemeyer said.

The loss of goal scorers Evan Wax ’03 and Chris Higgins ’06 last year provided an opportunity for some of the lesser known Eli snipers to make a name for themselves, and Zappala has done just that, Hellemeyer said.

A shorthanded goal by Jeff Hristovski ’06 and an empty netter by Ryan Steeves ’04 gave the Bulldogs some insurance, but Gartner would not need any in the third.

On Friday night in Troy, N.Y., Zappala delivered his first goal of the game-winner, but it was Callahan’s offensive spark from the blue line that propelled Yale’s offense.

After playing Callahan the two previous games at forward to give the offense a little boost, Yale head coach Tim Taylor returned the defenseman to his usual spot.

“[Callahan is a] real stabilizing presence on the blue line,” Gartner said. “He wears down the opposing forwards.”

Strong defensive play aside, Callahan’s return to the blue line resulted in his second, third, and fourth goals of the season along with his first career hat trick.

The last Yale defensive player to notch a hat trick was Bryan Freeman ’03 during his freshman season.

“It was one of those nights where things were just going your way,” Callahan said.

The Eli blue liner put Yale up 1-0 47 seconds into the game, rifling a shot past Engineer goalkeeper Kevin Kurk, who filled in for the sick starter Nathan Marsters. Despite the early lead, the Bulldogs went into the first intermission down 2-1.

RPI and Yale traded goals in the second, but Callahan and Zappala came through in the third period to get the victory.

Callahan scored Yale’s third and fourth goals on shots from the point that Kurk had a tough time seeing.

“It was the guys in front doing the work,” Callahan said. “I just beat him high. I had plenty of time to get a good look at the net.”

After serving a penalty, Zappala jumped on the ice and put home a rebound off of a Steeves shot at 7:04.

With the road sweep behind them, Yale is now on a break until Dec. 27 when they face the University of Nebraska-Omaha in the Denver Cup in Denver, Colo.

“The bus ride back would have been pretty miserable if we didn’t get that win,” Hellemeyer said. “We come back from Christmas with a brand new start and a brand new opportunity to get things done.”

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