The men’s hockey team has proved it can win with victories against Princeton and Clarkson, and proved it can play with the top teams in the country by tying No. 5 Wisconsin Dec. 31 and almost knocking off No. 2 Boston College in a tough 1-0 loss Tuesday.
Now the Bulldogs (2-14-1, 2-10-0 ECAC) must prove that they can maintain their high level of play for more than one game when they visit No. 6 New Hampshire (14-5-2) Saturday. For two and three-period spurts throughout the season, the Elis have played with some of the top teams in the nation. The key for Yale on Saturday will be avoiding complacency following a near-tie in one of its toughest games of the season.
After the Boston College game, goalie Matt Modelski ’07, who has emerged as Yale’s brightest star since securing the starting position a few weeks ago, seemed to be salivating at the prospect of facing New Hampshire.
“BC’s a great opponent,” said Modelski, who made a career-high 49 saves against the Eagles. “But a loss is a loss. We can’t settle for close games.”
Defenseman Rob Page ’08 was happy with the team’s performance Tuesday night, but he said he knows the Elis cannot afford to take any steps backward.
“I felt we could’ve boxed out more,” Page said of the team defense against BC. “Fifty is a lot of shots. That shows we’re not playing them early, letting them get in the zone. But I still think we played pretty well. If we give up shots from way outside we don’t really care that much. But 50 is still too many.”
As well as Modelski has played recently, Page still knows that he cannot be asked to stop everything, especially on Saturday. UNH features a high-powered offense which has scored 82 goals this season — fifth most in the nation — and forwards Preston Callander, Sean Collins and Brett Hemingway sit one-two-three atop the Hockey East scoring list.
The key to neutralizing the Wildcats’ attack, said head coach Tim Taylor, is to use a strong forecheck in the offensive zone, something Dartmouth executed perfectly in the Big Green’s 9-8 loss to UNH Wednesday.
“We need to create pressure in their end,” Taylor said. “I know how Dartmouth plays. They’re a very good forechecking team. We’ll try to take page out of their book and put some pressure on the New Hampshire defensemen, their weakest link. They have an average corps of defenseman.”
Much of that forechecking will be the responsibility of Yale’s energetic freshman forwards. Forward Jean-Francois Boucher ’08, who along with winger Blair Yaworski ’08 and Page is one of three freshmen to garner consistent ice time this season, has shown an eagerness to throw his body around in the offensive zone. Forwards Will Engasser ’08, David Germain ’08 and Matt Thomey ’08 have been playing on a line together since the freshmen began receiving more playing time recently. Thomey, who was inserted into the lineup for good after winger Zach Mayer ’06 suffered a separated shoulder, also believes that forechecking will be the key component of Yale’s attack this weekend.
“We’ve been practicing [forechecking] a lot,” Thomey said. “At the beginning of the year we were very lackluster. After Christmas we’ve been practicing real hard. Going into New Hampshire, they’ve got one of the biggest ice surfaces in the league, so if we get that down pat, it’s really going to help us.”
Aside from an 8-1 hiccup to Clarkson on New Year’s Day, the Bulldogs have consistently played well since winter recess. Thomey has recently noticed a different atmosphere in the locker room, and he expects the team to maintain its newfound intensity when it plays an elite New Hampshire team in a very hostile environment.
“Our team had a goal to get things together after the break,” Thomey said. “We had a pretty good time up in Wisconsin and obviously we’ve been playing pretty well. Guys are starting to get sick of losing. Nobody likes having the record that we have. I think we want it more now.”