Even this early in the season, the men’s hockey team is starting to show improvement as it prepares for the 2007-’08 campaign.

The Bulldogs (1-1, 0-0 ECACHL) split games this weekend against conference foes Princeton (2-0, 0-0) and Brown (1-1, 0-0) in the opening weekend at Ingalls Rink, rebounding well with a 2-1 win on Saturday night after a rough 6-2 loss to the Tigers on Friday

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Although the matches do not officially count towards the ECACHL standings, they gave the squad an opportunity to wet its feet in league play and pinpoint some of its strengths and weaknesses as it prepares for the upcoming season.

“We got outplayed on Friday, but we switched things around and we really played better on Saturday night,” forward Matt Nelson ’09 said. “We were definitely happy with our performance on Saturday and I think we are heading in the right direction.”

Friday’s lopsided score did not accurately portray how close the game was. The two squads skated neck-and-neck in the opening frame, and rookie netminder Ryan Rondeau ’11 — who got the start in his debut in blue and white — came up with 11 saves, including on all five powerplay attempts during the period.

The Tigers took a narrow 1-0 lead when junior winger Brandan Kushniruk buried the puck in the back of the net at 5:19.

But the second period belonged to Princeton, as the Tigers put away five goals in a span of 10 minutes to take a commanding lead. Although forward Mark Arcobello ’10 — fresh off of an outstanding rookie season — scored early in the frame, the game remained tied for just three minutes before Princeton pulled ahead again.

Sophomore winger Cam MacIntyre grabbed a rebounded puck and knocked it past Rondeau’s glove at 6:01, followed almost immediately by goals by teammates Jody Pederson and Dan Bartlett in the next two minutes. MacIntyre added two more later to record a hat trick.

Despite a statistical edge — the Elis outshot the Tigers 10-9 during the second frame and had three man-up opportunities — the Bulldogs could not put the puck in the back of the net. When the ice cleared at the end of the middle period, the scoreboard registered a 6-1 Princeton lead.

Yet the Bulldogs fought back, dominating the final stanza by outshooting the Tigers 11-3 and drawing five penalties. Forward Mike Karwoski ’09 notched his first goal of the season off a feed from captain Will Engasser ’08 at 5:07 to make it 6-2.

But that would be the last gasp for the Elis, who could not seem to capitalize on their opportunities Friday night. Billy Blase ’10 replaced Rondeau for the final period, stopping all three shots that came his way, but the damage had already been done.

“I give Princeton a lot of credit for the way they played,” head coach Keith Allain said. “But we never gave up and we kept battling.”

The Bulldogs rebounded from the loss convincingly on Saturday night, recording a shutout against Brown on their way to a 2-0 victory. Yale dominated all three periods and outshot the Bears 32-18.

After a scoreless opening period, veteran Jean-Francois Boucher ’08 put the Elis ahead late in the second frame. Nelson sent the puck to Boucher, who one-timed a shot on goal, picked up his own rebound and slipped the puck past Brown goalie Dan Rosen, one of the top goaltenders in the ECACHL last year.

The Bulldogs widened their lead in the third period, when Karwoski crashed the net after a shot by rookie Mike Matczak ’11 and put the puck away for his second goal of the weekend. The Elis then spent six of the remaining 12 minutes with a one-man advantage and prevented the Bears from getting on the scoreboard at all.

“We really played a full game, and we were able to keep heavy pressure on Brown for 60 minutes,” Nelson said.

Blase stopped all 18 shots that came his way, earning his first victory in goal and his first shutout. After having played a more minor role in his rookie season, he may figure much more prominently in the lineup this year, especially after not allowing a single goal this weekend.

Alec Richards ’09, who appeared between the pipes 26 times for Yale last season, was sidelined because of an injury, as was forward Sean Backman ’10, the team’s 2006-’07 MVP and leading scorer, and the ECACHL and Ivy League Rookie of the Year.

The Elis ordinarily begin their season with a scrimmage and an exhibition match against non-conference opponents, but this year the squad opened with matches against two ECAC foes. Although both games count towards the squad’s overall record, they have no bearing on the conference standings, so the Bulldogs will face both the Tigers and the Bears two more times this season.

Yale compiled a 3-1 record against Brown and Princeton last season on its way to an Ivy League title shared with Dartmouth. The Elis finished eighth overall in the East Coast Athletic Conference Hockey League, a result they hope to improve upon as they kick off their official conference schedule next weekend at Union and Rensselaer.