Similarities abound this weekend. The men’s hockey teams of Yale (2-15-1, 2-10-0 ECAC) and UConn (6-15-2) each have a losing record, an undermanned senior class and a hot sophomore goalie. They share special teams woes, defensive porousness and Connecticut Gov. M. Jodi Rell. And for 60 minutes tomorrow afternoon they will share the ice at Ingalls Rink.
In this tumultuous season, the Bulldogs have endured more blowouts than they would like to revisit, taken too many long, gut-checking looks into the mirror, wondering what went wrong against St. Cloud State or Vermont or New Hampshire or whomever. When the team looks into the mirror on Saturday, it will not see itself but the Huskies, a carbon copy of Yale, a young team in a malaise looking for wins and an identity. And for the Elis, who have played three top-10 teams in their last six games, the sight of a vulnerable foe is sure to be a welcome one.
Aside from UConn’s struggles in the 2004-2005 campaign, Yale can be at ease knowing that it has the historical advantage in the rivalry as well. The Bulldogs have won all four of the Nutmeg clashes, including a 16-2 lambasting in 1971, the series’ inaugural game.
Winger Will Engasser ’08, a young power forward who has opened a lot of eyes with his physical play, said that the team is pretty relaxed entering this weekend’s showdown.
“[Playing an unranked team] gives us a little more confidence,” Engasser said. “A lot of our losses have been due to us, not the other team. We’re really just focusing on ourselves and not our opponent right now.”
When asked if the team is breathing any more easily knowing that it has just one game this weekend and that the game is against a 6-15-2 team, defenseman Matt Cohen ’07 was quick to stress that Yale has not earned any days off.
“We have to respect every team we play,” Cohen said. “We have a worse record than they have. They have more Division I wins than we do. Anyone can win any game. If we can play BC 1-0, anything can happen.”
Winger Joe Zappala ’06 agreed, recalling that in last year’s game, a 6-4 Yale win, the Elis may have underestimated UConn, and it nearly cost them dearly.
“They’re not really a weaker opponent,” Zappala said. “If we go into this game taking this team lightly, then we’re putting ourselves in a position to get upset. Last year they outplayed us.”
Indeed, while UConn is not Boston College or New Hampshire, they are not to be overlooked either. Goalie Scott Tomes has been dominant since taking the starting job from Brad Smith, and sophomore center Cole Koidahl and his linemate, senior left wing Tim Olsen, are scorers on par with Yale’s duo of Brad Mills ’07 and Christian Jensen ’06.
A couple of weeks ago, Zappala moved onto the Mills-Jensen line, which logs most of the power-play minutes for Yale, and Engasser said that in practice this week things with them were looking very sharp.
“Our power-play unit is starting to click a lot more in practice,” Engasser said. “They’re really passing the puck well and moving it well. They’re going to explode in one of these games because there’s so much scoring potential on this unit.”
Engasser, Cohen and Zappala all talked about the team’s struggles on defense this season, but Zappala did not want to harp on the past. He looked to the future with a determined optimism.
“This is definitely a weekend where we only have one game, and we’re headed to the stretch run, so it’s definitely a statement game. We’ll be coming out and having a solid game in every aspect, focusing our attention on the 10-game stretch run,” Zappala said.
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