The women’s hockey team hopes that winning the Nutmeg Classic will become an annual tradition.

In the inaugural tournament this weekend, the Bulldogs open their regular season with games against two cross-state rivals. Yale will travel to North Branford Friday to take on Quinnipiac University, and Saturday the Elis host the University of Connecticut at Ingalls Rink. The Bulldogs are coming off of two strong preseason showings last weekend, a 4-4 tie against Princeton and a 4-3 win against McGill.

The newly established tournament has invited only Connecticut universities, fueling the vicious rivalries that exist between teams in the Constitution State.

“Every time we play another team from Connecticut the competition is strong,” All-Ivy goaltender Sarah Love ’06 said. “And this weekend should be no different.”

Yale’s first opponent, Quinnipiac, started their season competition 3-4. In their most recent game, the Bobcats lost to Northeastern 3-0. As for the Yale-Quinnipiac rivalry, it dates back to the 2001-2002 season. The Bulldogs hold a 4-2 series advantage over Quinnipiac. Last year, the Elis downed the Bobcats in both their meetings, 5-1 and 6-0.

“Our competition is pretty stiff,” Yale head coach Hilary Witt said. “[But] we’ve been pretty successful with Quinnipiac over the years.”

The Elis expect more difficult competition from UConn (0-3). The Huskies made a strong preseason showing in a win over the Bluewater Junior Hawks from Ontario, but have since dropped their first three regular season games. Their most recent defeat came at the hands of No. 7 New Hampshire last week. In their last meeting with the Huskies, the Bulldogs fell 4-1.

“Last year, we played really poorly against UConn,” Eli captain Erin Duggan ’05 said. “So, we’d like to do better than that this year.”

Yale hopes returning a strong squad from last season will help it break the program records set last year — eight conference wins and 12 overall wins. The Elis lost just three players to graduation, only one of whom played in all 31 games.

Duggan is one of the Bulldogs’ key returning defenders. She is tied for third in the Yale record book for career assists (45), and was fourth in scoring among defenders in the ECAC last season.

A pair of sophomore forwards, Kristin Savard and Jenna Spring, led the Elis last year in points, with 22 and 20, respectively.

Love, who is unquestionably one of the strongest goaltenders in the conference, is also among the top returning players. Last season, she led the ECAC and was fifth nationally with a .931 save percentage — an impressive stat which also earned her the school record. She allowed just 64 goals in 29 games, and was ranked fourth nationally in shutouts with five.

“Our goaltender is outstanding,” Witt said. “Our defense is stronger than it has been in the past. Our offense isn’t new — they should be more comfortable with putting the puck in the goal. Overall, we’re just a much better team than we were last year.”

In preparation for this weekend’s tournament, the Elis focused on practicing their special teams. In conference play last season, the Bulldogs earned a .931 penalty-kill percentage and a .149 power-play percentage.

Yale seeks to continue the strong efforts it made during preseason play against the tough competition in the Nutmeg Classic.

“Quinnipiac and UConn are going to have strong teams, and we need to be ready for that,” Love said. “We’re looking to continue to score goals and take the game to the opposition like we did in the preseason.”