With eight of Yale’s ECACHL foes within three points of the Elis in conference standings, the results of this weekend’s contests could change everything for the men’s hockey team.

Heading into the second half of their regular-season league games, the Elis (8-8-3, 5-6-1 ECACHL) need every point they can get as they look towards the playoffs. With four on the line this weekend against Rensselaer (6-11-7, 2-6-4) and Union (11-11-2, 4-8-0), the two squads that sit at the bottom of the league, the Bulldogs should be successful if they can play their style of hockey for the full 60 minutes.

“[RPI and Union] have had less success in the league so far, but every team is tough to beat,” captain Matt Cohen ’07 said. “We are not the kind of team that can go out there and out-skill guys — we have to show up ready to play. It’s a big weekend for us to make a statement and show the league that we’re looking strong heading towards the playoffs.”

The Elis return to Ingalls after a tough road campaign in upstate New York, where they stole a 2-2 OT tie from No. 18 Cornell but were dealt a 4-1 loss by the Colgate Raiders. The Elis worked hard in both games, but several mental errors gave the Raiders a chance to sneak in some undeserved goals on Saturday night.

“I think this past weekend was valuable for us,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “Against Cornell, in a very hostile building, we stuck with our game plan … and were rewarded with the tying goal with less than two minutes remaining. The next night against Colgate, I thought we played a very good game for the most part. We broke out of our zone cleanly and passed the puck very well.”

Tonight, the Bulldogs will face off against ECACHL basement-dweller Rensselaer, a team that has garnered a meager two league wins this season. The Elis toppled the Engineers in a 5-0 blowout at Ingalls last winter, although RPI has claimed victories in every other of their last five meetings.

The Engineers are the only conference team to be lead in points by a defenseman, senior Jake Luthi, who has 22 on the season. They are an offensively weaker team than most, averaging a point-and-a-half lower per game than their conference foes, and have won only two road games this season.

But after last Saturday’s disappointing loss to Colgate, a squad that the Elis beat 2-1 in their conference opener this season, the Bulldogs know they cannot assume a win against any team.

“We have to play a complete game all the time,” Cohen said. “It’s important to go out there with the same intensity each night. Every team in this league is tough to beat, and we can’t look past anyone.”

The Elis certainly cannot forget about Union on Saturday night. And how could they forget, when their last meeting against the Dutchmen, in the opening round of the 2005-’06 ECACHL playoffs, turned out to be the longest game in NCAA history? It took the Bulldogs five overtime periods and 141 minutes to find the back of the net for a 3-2 victory and complete their upset sweep of the favored Union squad.

This time around, the Dutchmen head to New Haven fresh off a 2-1 victory over No. 10 Clarkson, in which it took them just a brief minute in overtime to end the Golden Knights’ evening and their 11-game unbeaten streak. They also took home a 4-1 victory at Dartmouth earlier this month, although they have fallen to several lesser conference teams, including Harvard, Colgate and RPI.

“We just have to make sure that we come into the game ready to play,” forward Matt Nelson ’09 said. “If we come in prepared and play our best, hopefully we’ll come away with four points. Right now we’re hovering right in the middle [of conference standings], so it would definitely help us a lot.”

Although conference standings are important, the key to success for the Elis will be to concentrate on their own play and not get caught up in rankings or records.

“Both RPI and Union are better than their records indicate, so we have to treat both games with the utmost respect,” Allain said. “As always, we will focus on our team play as we approach the weekend more than we will focus on what they are trying to do.”