The men’s hockey team is struggling with a case of deja vu.
It seemed like just yesterday that the Bulldogs used two wins against Union and RPI to launch themselves into the top half of the ECAC. But after a rough two weeks, Yale again finds itself looking up at the two teams from upstate New York.
The Bulldogs (7-12-3, 6-8-2 ECACHL) look to move back into the upper half of the league when they travel to RPI (11-14-4, 5-7-4) and Union (13-11-6, 6-6-4) this weekend. The Elis, winless in their last three league contests, are tied with the RPI Engineers for seventh in the ECAC, two points behind sixth-place Union.
“Despite the losses, we don’t feel that we’re going backwards,” goalie Alec Richards ’09 said. “We just see it as another opportunity to prove ourselves. We’re excited for two big league games and hopefully it’ll help us get home ice [in the ECAC playoffs].”
After rattling off a seven-game league unbeaten streak in January, the Bulldogs have been slightly grounded by the class of the ECAC. A gutsy overtime loss to Colgate and tie with Cornell, both on the road Jan. 27-28, allowed the Elis to be optimistic despite the minor setback in the standings. But last weekend’s breakdown against Dartmouth at home, which continued Yale’s recent stretch of futility against the Big Green, was much harder for the Bulldogs to rationalize.
Since their last meeting in New Haven, the Dutchmen and the Elis have seemed to be moving in opposite directions. After falling to Yale, 5-4, on Jan. 20, Union has responded by going 2-1-2 in their last five games.
The Dutchmen’s recent success has been largely contingent on the resurgent play of goalie Kris Mayotte. Mayotte entered the first game against Yale as one of the hottest goalies in the league, only to be scorched by the Elis’ persistent play in front of the net. Save a 5-1 loss to Dartmouth on Jan. 27, the senior keeper from Pittsburg, PA., has honed his tools. In the four unbeaten games, Mayotte has saved 110 shots and allowed just 1.5 goals per contest.
As much as the Elis have struggled since beating Union and RPI in late January, RPI has fared even worse. The Engineers have gone 0-3-1 in the four contests since falling to Yale, 5-0, on Jan. 21. After carrying the team early in the season, the Engineers offense has failed them of late. RPI has only mustered seven goals in the past five games, due in large part to the disappearing act of forwards Kevin Croxton and Oren Eizenman. Heading into their last meeting with Yale, Croxton and Eizenman were ranked first and third in the ECAC in points, respectively. But since then, the two standouts have been less than stellar, notching just one assist each in that span.
But after missing golden opportunities to dethrone three top league teams, the Bulldogs are paying less attention to their opponents’ recent records and are focused more on improving their inconsistent play. After shoring up the mental lapses that plagued them early on in the season, the Elis have suffered a relapse lately. Most notable was their heartbreaking loss to the Big Green. The Elis not only gave up a three-goal lead from the first period but suffered a costly defensive breakdown late in the contest that allowed the Big Green to break a 4-4 tie.
Forward Joe Zappala ’06 said Yale’s failure to expand on leads has swung momentum in the opponent’s favor.
“It’s just a matter of putting teams away,” he said. “When we get a lead we tend to sit back and that is something we need to fix before the playoffs. Burying teams when we have the opportunity can do a lot to kill their confidence and boost ours. And in a game that is very mental, that can be a big advantage for us down the stretch.”