With the Bulldogs playing their best hockey of the season, a two week break from conference play was not exactly on their wish list, but that is exactly what they got.
But this Saturday afternoon, the Elis (8-10-0, 7-5-0 ECAC) will host the University of Connecticut (5-9-4) at Ingalls Rink in an intrastate showdown. The Huskies have performed well against ECAC opponents this year, tying Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (11-8-2, 6-3-1) and losing to the University of Vermont (3-13-3, 1-7-0) in overtime. The Bulldogs, who have defeated both those teams, ride strong goaltending and a three game win streak into the contest.
Yale came out of last weekend with two huge conference victories against Clarkson (9-8-4, 4-4-1) and St. Lawrence (6-13-4, 2-6-1), but will not see any ECAC foes until Jan. 30, when it faces the Saints in Canton, N.Y.
“It’d be great [to have] a big league weekend,” goalie Josh Gartner ’06 said. “We just have to work around that and keep the momentum going.”
Winger Joe Zappala ’06 , Gartner and a dangerous second line are mainly responsible for the Elis’ recent surge, which includes a 3-2 victory over then No. 7 ranked University of New Hampshire (13-7-3) Jan. 3.
Zappala scored the game winning goals against the Golden Knights and the Saints last weekend, his fifth and six game clinchers of the year, making him the nation’s leader in that category. His play, which included two assists, also earned him ECAC Player of the Week honors and United States College Hockey Online’s Offensive Player of the Week.
“It does feel good to get recognition, but — we got the four points, [moved] into second place, got confidence, [and] that’s obviously the most important thing,” Zappala said.
The Bulldog winger leads Yale in scoring with 12 goals and eight assists.
“Obviously Joe [Zappala] is a guy we have out there a lot when the game is on the line, so he’s a player who gets those opportunities to score game-winners,” Taylor said. “To his credit he’s a tenacious player and he’s fearless in the face of adversity and confident in his ability to score goals.”
Without the play of Gartner between the pipes, however, Zappala never would have had the chance to clinch the victories. Gartner’s career-high 45 saves against Clarkson, followed up by another solid performance against the Saints, earned him ECAC Co-Goalie of the Week.
“That’s icing on the cake,” Gartner said. “The big thing is four points on the weekend.”
Gartner, after struggling in the early part of the season, is playing as well, if not better, than he did last year. He posted a .917 save percentage, the tenth best number in the country for 2002-2003.
“This is as well as I’ve played so far in my Yale career,” said Gartner, who has .908 save percentage this year. “It’s nice to see it happen.”
Despite their recent success, the Elis cannot afford to take UConn lightly. Though the Huskies have struggled away from Storrs, going 2-7-2 on the road, UConn gave Yale a run for its money last year, losing by only one goal Jan. 25, 2003.
“I hope we learn from that [close game],” Taylor said. “We’re not a team that can take anybody lightly. As soon as we start [picking] our moments to play hard and play smart and aggressively, that’s a recipe for disaster.”
Husky forward Beau McLaughin leads the team in scoring with six goals and six assists. The Huskies have struggled in their conference this season, however, sitting in seventh place in the Atlantic Hockey Association, one of the weaker conferences in Division I.
Despite its record, UConn has proved that it is fully capable of competing with non-conference opponents.
“They’re a very aggressive, very good team,” Taylor said. “They skate and play like an ECAC team. I like the style they play.”
After giving up 48 shots to Clarkson last Friday, Taylor has stressed defense this week, particularly transition and positioning in the defensive zone.
With their three game win streak, excellent goaltending and two potent forward lines, the future is much brighter for Yale than it was Dec. 1, when the team was just 3-8.
“It’s a different mentality when we go back to work in practice and you’re coming off of a successful weekend,” Taylor said. “The beginning of the year was so tough. To their credit the players never let that overcome them. Now it’s up [to us] to maintain this kind of success.”
News and Notes
In addition to Zappala and Gartner’s awards, captain Vin Hellemeyer ’04 and center Brad Mills ’07 were named to the ECAC Honor Roll. Hellemeyer had a four point weekend, while Mills netted his first career goal against Clarkson and added an assist against St. Lawrence. Both were +5 on the weekend. On Monday, Division III school presidents approved an amendment to Proposal 65, grandfathering schools that already have teams playing in Division I sports. The vote was 296-106 with 17 abstentions. The amendment will allow ECAC members St. Lawrence, Clarkson, and RPI to continue giving athletic scholarships for hockey. “I was pleased,” Taylor said. “It was a good day for our league because three of our charter members retained their status in the league. A lot of great tradition and heritage and college hockey history has [been] preserved. It was the right thing to do.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”18558″ ]