Sandwiched between disappointing losses, the men’s hockey team’s home game against travel partner Brown was the highlight of the Bulldogs’ play over winter break. The Elis netted two goals in the third period of their Jan. 6 match to complete a come-from-behind 4-3 victory in front of a home crowd at Ingalls and snap a seven-game winless streak.

But before besting the Bears, the Bulldogs (8-7-2, 5-5 ECACHL) got off to a sluggish start in their first game back on the ice, falling 3-1 to a better-prepared squad from Minnesota State-Mankato (7-14-4). The Elis were not ready to play at the beginning of the game and were outworked by their opponents, captain Matt Cohen ’07 said.

Putting that loss behind them, the Bulldogs got to work against the University of Nebraska-Omaha (10-9-6), and the resulting tie kicked off a three-game unbeaten streak with hard-fought wins over Brown (7-7-3, 3-6-1) and Princeton (9-9-2, 6-7-1). Despite the fact that No. 19 Quinnipiac (11-6-4, 8-3-3) ended Yale’s streak with a 6-2 victory on Saturday night, the Bulldogs finished the break as a much more cohesive unit.

“Before we left, we weren’t really having great success at winning,” forward Mike Karwoski ’09 said. “We started off a little rough, and progressively we got a lot better throughout the break. I would say our team definitely improved, and I think we’re going to have a very successful second half of the season.”

In addition to growing as a team, the Elis received strong individual efforts from all over the roster, including contributions from several players who did not feature much in the fall.

Forwards Brad Mills ’07 and Shawn Mole ’07, who were both out for the majority of the fall, notched their first points of the season on the same play in the UNO game. After a shot hit the side of the net, Mills knocked it back in front of the goal, where Mole skated in and tapped it in to widen the Elis’ initial lead over the Mavericks.

“When we put those guys in the lineup they gave us an injection of energy, which is what you hope for when you make lineup changes,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said.

Meanwhile, the already-strong freshman class continued to come into its own. The rookies were responsible for all of the goals in two games, the loss to Minnesota State-Mankato and the 3-2 victory over Ivy League rival Princeton. Leading scorer Sean Backman ’10 contributed two and received ECACHL Rookie of the Week honors on Jan. 8 after his goal and assist in the Brown game. Defenseman Ryan Donald ’10 netted his first career goal at Princeton, and teammates Mark Arcobello ’10, Tom Dignard ’10 and Chris Cahill ’10 added points over the break as well.

“The freshman guys are very strong players, and they’ve been helping us out a lot,” Karwoski said. “As a whole, the team has great chemistry, and everyone gets along well.”

Rookie netminder Billy Blase ’10 also made his first collegiate start against UNO. Despite giving up four goals in a rocky third period, Blase, with 28 saves on the night, showed tremendous potential. Regular goalie Alec Richards ’09 performed between the pipes as well, stopping the puck a season-high 41 times against Brown and reaching his 400th save of the season against Quinnipiac Saturday night.

“I think it was great for the team and for Billy to get his feet wet and to give us 60 minutes of good hockey against a quality opponent,” Allain said.

Two Elis also had two-goal games. Forward Will Engasser ’08 netted both third period goals against Brown. Karwoski had a pair of his own in the Bulldogs’ loss to first-place Quinnipiac and was the only Eli capable of generating enough offense to score.

“I thought we got a lot of work done during the break,” Allain said. “We had good focus, and outside of that very first game, I thought we played fairly well in each of the other games. There are two ways to get confidence — to have success and to work as hard as you can. I think we had [the players] work as hard as they could and then they had some success with the wins.”