A week after a pair of devastating 5-3 losses at home to Ivy rivals Brown and Harvard, the men’s hockey team travels north, looking to right its wayward ship – fast.
Awaiting the Bulldogs will be Clarkson (8-16-2, 4-9-1 ECAC) and St. Lawrence (13-12-1, 7-7-0), two formidable yet very beatable opponents for Yale (3-17-1, 2-12-0).
The Elis are very familiar with Clarkson, this evening’s opponent, as they have faced the Golden Knights twice already — resulting in an 8-1 loss Jan. 1 in the consolation game of the Badger Hockey Showdown in Madison, Wis., and a 2-1 Yale victory a week later at Ingalls Rink.
The Bulldogs fell 6-4 at home to St. Lawrence Jan. 7, affording the Saints 10 power-play opportunities in that contest.
Yale has struggled all season to adjust to college hockey’s stricter obstruction rules and to kill the penalties it takes. Penalties did in Yale last weekend, and head coach Tim Taylor knows the team must be more disciplined in order to have any chance this time around.
“If games are going to be called like that, it’s our responsibility as a team to adhere to the rules, the way [the referee] is going to call the game,” Taylor said.
Forward Nick Shalek ’05, the Bulldogs’ captain and one of the team’s most trusted penalty killers, said many of the team’s shorthanded struggles can be attributed to adjusting to a new system.
“We’ve changed up our style and become more aggressive, especially on the half-boards,” Shalek said. “Harvard and BC do that, and they’re two good penalty-killing teams. The flipside of being more aggressive is that you have more lapses.”
The lapses Shalek was referring to were apparent against Brown and Harvard, when Yale seemed at times to be chasing the puck with no sense of defensive cohesion, leading to nine power-play goals scored against the Elis.
“When you shift to this more aggressive style, you can get yourself out of position,” Shalek said. “It is a puck-chasing type of system, but the point is to stifle them. You look for the guy to have his back to you.”
At times last weekend the Bulldogs looked extremely disoriented while shorthanded, which partly explains why they spent extra time on the penalty kill this week at practice. However, the Elis looked particularly sharp on the power play, scoring five goals with the man-advantage.
Center Brad Mills ’07, Yale’s leading scorer with 21 points, scored one of last weekend’s power-play goals. He is part of Yale’s steadily improving power-play unit, which employs four forwards — Mills, Joe Zappala ’06, Jeff Hristovski ’06, and winger Christian Jensen ’06, who drops back to the point — alongside standout defenseman Rob Page ’08.
“Our power play started clicking and we got some power-play goals,” Mills said. “We’ve been practicing together for a while now. With all the penalties this year, we’ve been getting a lot of work and I feel like we’re starting to click and get some chemistry.”
Mills and Jensen are also Yale’s top penalty killing line, working a double duty Mills admitted can be exhausting.
“It’s tough,” Mills said. “I talked to coach this week about it and with games like we had last weekend, you start logging a lot of ice time and it can wear you down. But you have to be smart about changes and be sure to keep shifts short.”
But more than anything, the Bulldogs have to be smart about obstruction and be sure to stay out of the box.