This afternoon, the women’s ice hockey team will enter the rink as underdogs — as would anyone else unlucky enough to face off against the Mercyhurst Lakers (21-1-2), who not only lead the all-time series with Yale 8-0-1 but are also coming off a 12-game unbeaten streak — and they are currently ranked No. 1 in the nation.

At 3 p.m., the puck will drop as the Bulldogs (11-9-1, 7-8-1 ECACHL) face the team that could arguably be their toughest foe yet. While the Elis have a record of 6-2-1 through their last nine games, they arrive at today’s matchup with Tuesday’s tough 6-4 fall to Brown as their most recent memory.

“The loss to Brown was a tough pill to swallow,” defender Regan Gilbride ’07 said. “But if there’s a positive to be taken from that game, it’s that we’re all the more intent on beating our next opponents, and our last two practices have been geared towards that end.”

Mercyhurst last played on Saturday, when they faced fellow ranked powerhouse UConn and proceeded to smash through the Huskies’ defenses and win with a 5-0 shutout. While their reputation is impressive, though, it does not intimidate the Bulldogs, head coach Hilary Witt said.

“They are a very good hockey team,” she said. “So we are preparing to have to battle. We’ll have to play our best hockey to beat them. They are a disciplined hockey team — we will have to match that.”

Following the matinee game, the Bulldogs will play in another afternoon matchup, this time at 2 p.m. against the Niagara Purple Eagles (6-13-5). The game marks the squad’s final match in an unusually long seven-game homestand before next weekend takes them a few miles up Whitney Avenue to face league rival Quinnipiac (7-18-1, 4-12).

The Elis are sitting at 6-6-1 at home, and will try to break above .500 this weekend. Through 22 games, the squad is actually playing a hair better on the road at 5-4. And though it’s always tough to leave behind home ice, there are advantages to traveling as well, goaltender Shivon Zilis ’08 said.

“We absolutely love our fans here, so it’s wonderful to be at home,” she said. “[But] it’s also very nice to beat teams in their own buildings.”

The Saturday game is also Youth Day at Ingalls Rink, when young fans are invited to the game to watch the Elis carve up the ice. Afterwards, players will sign autographs for the girls.

“I think it’s an opportunity for rising female hockey players to meet a group of women who are ostensibly athletic role models to them,” Gilbride said.

The games this weekend will also serve as a test for the squad’s recent firestorm of offensive power, particularly the line of Sheila Zingler ’07, Jenna Spring ’07 and Crysti Howser ’09. Both Zingler and Howser have not gone without at least goal apiece for the past four games, while Spring’s offensive prowess has shone through in the copious amount of assists she has racked up recently. She tallied three against Brown on Tuesday and four in the Jan. 19 5-1 victory over Cornell.

Freshman defenders Alyssa Clarke ’10 and Berit Johnson ’10 have also been piling on the points in the second half of the season, showcasing a combined 12 points in the last nine games in comparison to two through the first twelve games.

Now, it remains to be seen if the Bulldogs can harness their power to take down the top team in the nation. And while the defensive game and mistake-free playing will no doubt be important, the mindset of the squad won’t be one of apprehension, Zingler said.

“We’re not going to go in there timid,” she said. “We’re going to go in thinking we can win.”