The Yale men’s hockey team faces another weekend and another pair of higher-ranked opponents, but frankly, the Bulldogs don’t care.
“Basically every game is going to have to be an upset,” forward Joe Zappala ’06 said. “Every game we are going to be the underdog. No one respects us. For us to get some wins we have to prove everyone else wrong.”
The Elis (1-9, 1-7 ECAC) hit the road for two match-ups with formidable foes in upstate New York Friday and Saturday. The first contest is against No. 12 Cornell (5-2-2, 2-1-1) at Lynah Rink in Ithaca, N.Y. The Bulldogs will then get back on the bus and head to Hamilton to face No. 13 Colgate (10-4, 3-1). Although the Elis had been riding a long losing streak, with a win last weekend over Princeton they have finally gained the faith in themselves that they need if they are going to have success in the Empire State.
Zappala, who was one of the leaders in the Elis’ first victory with two goals and an assist, said the team has dug itself a big hole despite last weekend’s victory.
“We have a lot more confidence now with the win,” Zappala said. “It eases everybody’s minds. We got the first one, so lets just go play and see. Cornell and Colgate are obviously good teams — they are ranked. We can’t think too much, that’s when we get ourselves in trouble.”
But there are many things to worry about when it comes to the Big Red and the Raiders. Both squads have talented players on both offense and defense and neither can be taken lightly.
The Big Red has long been known as a defensive-minded team and not much has changed this year on that front. Allowing an average of only 1.22 goals per game, the Big Red has the number one defense in the nation. They also have a strong penalty kill with 90.4 percent of power plays stopped this season.
Besides having a number of talented skaters, the Big Red’s defensive powerhouse has been led by goalie David McKee. The sophomore has stopped 94.5 percent of opponents’ shots, allowing only 11 goals and recording two shutouts.
Coming off of the 7-1 domination of the Tigers, the Bulldogs are hoping to bring some of that offensive success to the ice in Ithaca.
“[Cornell] is always a sound defensive team,” Zappala said. “Our games with them are pretty low scoring games. We are not expecting seven [goals], but we will try to get a couple and then keep them off the score board.”
If the Bulldogs were looking for a break against the Raiders Saturday, they might be out of luck. It is unlikely that they will find any kind of a weak defense to slap some shots through against Colgate, whose 2.14 average goals allowed per game and 86 percentage of penalty kills puts them under the Big Red but still near the top of the ECACHL. The Raider defense is led by goalie Steve Silverthorn, who has nine wins, and defenseman Mike Campaner. The second-year player is more than just a good defender, as he has contributed offensively with 11 assists and one goal.
Despite these tough defenses, forward Christian Jensen ’06 said the Bulldogs need to focus on doing what they need to do and not worrying about what the other teams will or will not do.
“I think all of us, if we play well ourselves, we can do well against anyone,” Jensen said. “It’s more going into it and playing the way we should. We prepare for every game the same way.”
Jensen, another offensive leader for the Elis, was named to both the ECAC and Ivy League Weekly Honor Rolls this week for his performance against the Tigers, which included two goals.
While there are two games the Bulldogs are devoting attention to this weekend, many of the Elis are focusing first on the match-up with the Big Red. Besides being first on the schedule this weekend, the Big Red has an unusual method of forechecking that it grounds its offensive strategy on.
Defenseman Matt Cohen ’07 said that with two Big Red forwards usually in the Elis’ zone, it is very challenging to clear the puck.
“As long as we keep it out of our zone, we should do fine against [Cornell],” Cohen said.
Jensen said the Big Red’s forechecking also affects the Bulldogs’ offensive strategy.
“We have been working on some things in practice to counter that [forechecking],” Jensen said. “I think the most important thing is to not get pinned in our own end — that’s the biggest problem that teams have with Cornell. We want to at least have the puck in the offensive zone for a good amount of time.”
If the Bulldogs cannot find a way to upset the tough Big Red, Zappala said it is crucial that they not dwell on the loss and move on to the Raiders, who will present enough challenges with left wing Jon Smyth and center Kyle Wilson.
“If we come out of the first night without a win, we have to turn our attention to Colgate and try to get a ‘W’ that night,” Zappala said. “Smyth and Wilson had breakout years last year and they are continuing that pace. When they are around the net we have to have a stick on them at all times and give them no open shots and try to keep them off the scoreboard.”