After a tiring road campaign over Thanksgiving break, the men’s hockey team returns home this weekend to face tough competition in back-to-back ECACHL contests.

The No. 16 Bulldogs, currently 6-2-1, will play Clarkson (8-5-1, 2-2 ECACHL) and St. Lawrence (7-4, 4-0) at the Whale after going 2-1-1 as a visitor last week. With two impressive wins against favored opponents No. 17 Dartmouth and Harvard and a narrow overtime loss to No. 9 Boston University, the squad proved that this year’s Elis may be the best the league has seen since their only regular season ECACHL championship season in 1997-’98.

Even so, this weekend will be a tough one for Yale, which has not produced a win against either St. Lawrence or Clarkson since early 2005. Both opponents are predicted to be top finishers in the league this season, so the outcome of these contests may be an early indicator of whether or not Yale will be a contender as well.

“The team should feel good about the progress we have made thus far, but it is only November, and we have a long way to go before we can feel any sense of accomplishment,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said.

Clarkson comes to Ingalls after two consecutive wins at home over Bowling Green, 5-0, and Miami, 4-2. They are currently .500 in the ECACHL, with wins over Harvard and Dartmouth and losses to Princeton and Quinnipiac.

The Golden Knights boast a strong lineup, having returned seven of their top eight scorers from the 2005-’06 squad that swept Yale. Junior forward Steve Zalewski leads his team in scoring with 10 goals and seven assists, and junior captain Nick Dodge — one of the pre-season favorites for this year’s ECACHL Player of the Year — has contributed five goals and seven assists.

On the other end of the ice, the experienced Clarkson defense and penalty kill units have also done a solid job shutting down their opponents. Junior David Leggio, with 336 saves, has done the majority of the work between the pipes, anchoring the Golden Knights in seven of their eight wins this season.

But the true test for the Elis may come Saturday night, when they face off against St. Lawrence, the lone team undefeated in ECACHL play. The Saints head in to the game having won six of their last seven, including victories over league foes Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton and Quinnipiac.

“St. Lawrence is a very strong team,” forward Blair Yaworski ’08 said. “They are a quick team, [but] if we can out-skate them and use our physical ability to out-muscle them, we’ll be able to take it to them.”

Although the Saints have performed well so far, they are a dramatically different team today than the one that shut out Yale, 3-0, in their last meeting. Having lost four of its top five point producers to graduation, the squad has had to rely on number of younger players to help propel the current team to victory in seven of its first 11 games. Like Yale, whose current leading scorer is forward Sean Backman ’10, the Saints have looked to freshman forward Mike McKenzie to lead the team in points with three goals and eight assists.

Last week’s ECACHL Goalie of the Week Alec Richards ’09 and the Eli blueliners will have to work hard to prevent the Saints — who have won all but one of the games in which they have scored first — from getting on the board early in the game. If the Bulldogs can turn in as consistent a performance as they have in recent games, they should be able to shut down the St. Lawrence offense for a win.

Putting aside their struggle to find wins against both squads in the recent past, executing on offense and staying out of penalty trouble will be crucial to the Elis’ success. As the games approach, the squad will adopt the same mentality that it always does — focusing on its own style of play, not the other team’s.

“We take every team pretty much the same way,” forward Mark Arcobello ’10 said. “We worry about our own team and how we are going to play. We consider every game a big game.”

Returning to Ingalls after four games on the road should also help bolster the Elis’ confidence. As more and more students come out to support the squad each weekend, the energy in the stands may help the Bulldogs improve their home record to 5-1.

“I think it will be a big help for us, playing at home,” Yaworski said. “The school is stepping in behind us and supporting us, along with other people who have had doubts in our organization in the past few years. Being at home will help us settle down, and maybe that will help us generate some offense and get some wins.”