The men’s ice hockey team will return to the Empire State for the second time in two weeks, but in this go-around, the Elis will face ECAC rivals No. 15 Colgate and unranked Cornell.

After being swept off their home ice last weekend, the sixth-place Bulldogs (11-12-0, 9-7-0 ECAC) hope to rebound and jockey for a playoff-bye. During their ECAC season opening weekend Nov. 7-8, the Elis hosted the Big Red (10-7-6, 8-5-3) and Raiders (15-8-5, 10-4-2), losing to Cornell 6-2 and defeating Colgate 3-2 in overtime. A great deal has changed since then.

After a 4-2 home loss to Harvard (9-12-2, 7-8-1) Dec. 5, Colgate went on a 10-2-3 stretch, starting with a 6-1 drubbing of conference-leading No. 11 Brown (14-5-4, 12-3-1) Dec. 6. The Raiders are unbeaten over their last seven games.

“They’re a very young team,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “Their sophomore group of forwards is outstanding. They have a real balanced attack.”

Colgate leads the ECAC in goals per game with 3.25. Yale is second with 3.17.

Sophomore left winger Jon Smyth leads the Raider offense with 18 goals and 13 assists, tying him for second in the conference.

Yale will counter the group with its own trio of sophomore forwards — Joe Zappala ’06, Jeff Hristovski ’06 and Christian Jensen ’06 — who are first, second and fourth respectively on the team in scoring.

The Big Red, who made it to the Frozen Four last year, will try to put Lynah Rink — rated by American Hockey Magazine as the second toughest arena for visitors to play in — to good use.

“It’s a rink where you can really get excited to play in, even when they’re not cheering to you,” defenseman Joe Callahan ’05 said.

Despite its raucous home crowds, Cornell is only 2-5-5 in Ithaca this season.

The Big Red offense has struggled, surrendering 2.57 goals per game for fourth worst in the ECAC, but has countered with a scoring defense second only to Brown.

If Colgate’s Jan. 30 2-0 victory over Cornell is any indicator, this weekend will be a physical one. The teams combined for 92 penalty minutes in the third period of that game alone.

“We did a pretty good job along the boards and competing in the physical game [against Brown],” Taylor said. “We just have to compete as hard as possible in all these physical confrontations.”

Callahan, one of the Elis biggest players at 6 feet 3 inches, takes Taylor’s comments to heart.

“[Physicality] something we’re trying to take a lot more pride in,” he said. “I take responsibility and try and get the team to do it.”

Physical play aside, the Elis have struggled in breaking out of the zone, best highlighted by Friday night’s defensive collapse against the Crimson. Yale relinquished a 5-1 third period lead to lose 7-5.

During that contest, the Cantabs employed a 2-3 forecheck, with three men across the blue line, allowing the defensemen to pinch along the boards while the third forward slid over to cover.

“People come after Yale because they know we’re a little green on defense back there,” Taylor said. “We have to learn how to deal with it.”

The Elis will also have to limit their opponents’ scoring opportunities. Yale surrendered 58 shots in the 7-5 loss to Harvard last Friday, and the score would have been much worse if not for goalie Josh Gartner’s ’06 sensational play.

“We’ve struggled defensively this season and that’s just one of the factors why we’re struggling,” said Ryan Steeves ’04, Yale’s third-leading scorer.

The Bulldogs have the worst scoring defense in the conference, allowing over 4.5 goals per game.

“Down the stretch, the key is going to be whether or not we can shore up our defense,” Taylor said. “Our continuing challenge is to be a good enough defensive team to allow our offense to win games.”

With six games left in the regular season and the playoffs looming, the Bulldogs will need to meet that challenge as soon as possible.

News and Notes: The Gridiron Club of Greater Boston named Zappala one of 14 finalists for the Walter Brown Award, presented annually to the best American-born college hockey player in New England. Zappala tops the Elis in scoring with 17 goals and 10 assists and leads the nation with eight game-winning goals — Bulldogs defenseman Jeff Dwyer ’04 was named to the ECAC Honor Roll for his performance last weekend. Dwyer, who has the 13 points this season for ninth best in the league, registered three assists in the two losses — In the AHL All-Star game Feb. 9, Yale’s all-time leading scorer Jeff Hamilton ’01 tallied a goal and an assist in a losing effort. The PlanetUSA AHL All-Stars fell to Canadian AHL All-Stars 9-5.

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