In a season wrought with disappointment, perhaps the men’s hockey team can find some solace in its recent play at the Whale. After St. Cloud State visited on opening weekend and embarrassed the Bulldogs 10-0, Ingalls Rink has been a friendlier confine for the Elis. Three of the Bulldogs’ four wins on the season have come at home since Nov. 27.
This weekend Yale (4-18-1, 3-13-0 ECAC) hopes use its home-ice to its advantage, with ECAC powerhouses No. 11 Colgate (19-8-1, 11-4-1) and No. 5 Cornell (16-4-3, 12-2-2) making the trip to New Haven.
Yale’s opponents, who beat the Bulldogs the first weekend of December, both feature potent offensive attacks and solid, physical defenses. Captain Nick Shalek ’05 expects two difficult defensive struggles for Yale but insists that no one should count the Bulldogs out.
“Colgate and Cornell are very tough teams, but these are by no means unwinnable games,” Shalek said. “We expect a lot of ugly plays, grinding and battling. They’re going to be tough, low-scoring games, but they are definitely winnable.”
Jensen and the rest of the team know, however, that if the Bulldogs are to exit the weekend with a pair of upsets, they must stay out of the penalty box. Two weeks ago against Brown and Harvard — the last home weekend Yale has had — the Elis allowed 10 goals, nine of which came while shorthanded. Winger Christian Jensen ’06, one of Yale’s top penalty killers, knows that the team can ill afford to play a man down.
“We’ve made a lot of progress since we last played these guys — hopefully more than they have,” Jensen said. “Defensively we’ve made a lot of strides, particularly with our penalty kill. We’re more aggressive now. But if the penalties start to add up, we’re going to be in trouble.”
When Yale’s penalty kill has failed in recent weeks, it has often been because it has become too aggressive. Colgate and Cornell each have a speedy freshman forward capable of exploiting defenses that lose their patience. Colgate’s Tyler Burton ranks third in the ECAC in freshman scoring with 23 points (and first in goals with 13), and Cornell’s Topher Scott is not far behind with 13 points. Scott, who is 5-foot-6 on his tiptoes and a scant 155 pounds, has terrorized defensemen who cannot seem to get a piece of him.
Yale will counter with its own freshman sensation, winger Blair Yaworski ’08. With a career-high three points at St. Lawrence last Saturday, Yaworski pulled himself into a tie with Scott for eighth among freshmen and caught the attention of teammates.
“Blair’s an incredibly talented player,” Shalek said. “All of us know he’s got the potential to break out at any point. He has the ability to make defensemen look silly, and he’s got a great shot. The first goal [of his two] against St. Lawrence was pretty remarkable — how he undressed their defenseman.”
Another freshman who has opened eyes this season, winger Jean-Francois Boucher ’08, feels that, despite its poor record, when playing at even strength Yale is right in step with the upper echelon of the ECAC.
“We’re getting better every weekend,” Boucher said. “I mean, maybe the results don’t always show it, but five-on-five we can compete with any team in the league.”
Particularly against Cornell, which leads the conference in both power-play and penalty-kill efficiency, the Bulldogs must make sure the game is played at even strength. Things will be difficult enough in five-on-five situations, with Cornell employing an impenetrable neutral-zone trap and possessing an offense that scores over three goals per game. Yale must continue its home trend of raising its level of play to that of its opponent, or else face another Big Red massacre on Alumni Day.
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