This past weekend aside, the men’s hockey team could not ask for a better start to 2008.

The Bulldogs (7-6-3, 4-4-3 ECAC) compiled a 3-3 record during their winter-break campaign, garnering some key non-conference wins and hoisting themselves into fifth place in the ECAC with a win over Brown (1-11-4, 1-6-3) last week. Despite dropping games to conference leaders Princeton (10-8-0, 8-4-0) and Quinnipiac (13-5-3, 6-3-3), — a team that has not lost a game since Nov. 30 — this past weekend, the Elis appear to be in good shape as they prepare for the second half of their ECAC schedule, captain Will Engasser ’08 said.

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“We look forward to the challenging ECAC games that remain this season,” he said. “Our goal is to continue improving every day so that when playoff time comes around we can be at our best.”

Much of the squad’s success can be attributed to contributions from players across the roster, with breakout performances coming from several unexpected sources.

Rookie forwards Broc Little ’11 and Denny Kearney ’11 had four of Yale’s six goals in their first contest of the break, a 6-3 trouncing of Nebraska-Omaha (9-12-3) on Dec. 28. After Kearney tied the game at 3-3, Little propelled the Bulldogs to a win with his first collegiate hat trick, earning him ECAC Rookie of the Week honors for his performance.

“[That] was an unbelievable, gutsy effort in a tough place to play,” associate head coach C.J. Marottolo said. Marottolo was filling in for head coach Keith Allain ’80, who was in the Czech Republic coaching the U.S. Junior National team to a fourth-place finish in the World Championships.

Following the win over Nebraska-Omaha, however, the Elis faltered, dropping a 4-1 decision to Minnesota State (9-8-4) before heading back to New Haven for the new year. But the Bulldogs rebounded for their first win in 2008 just three days later, notching nine goals against UConn (6-13-1) in the familiar confines of Ingalls Rink.

The Elis got their start that night from an unexpected source —­ forward Pat Brosnihan ’09, who had not tallied a point all season, scored back-to-back goals to give Yale a 2-0 edge heading into the first break. Seven different Elis contributed to the scoring deluge, but the squad celebrated most loudly when seniors Blair Yaworski ’08 and David Germain ’08 put up their first goals of the season to put the game far out of the Huskies’ reach.

“The scoring outbursts against UConn and Nebraska-Omaha were bound to happen because our team is very offensive throughout all four lines,” Engasser said.

Although they got help from some unexpected sources, the Bulldogs also relied on some of the regulars they have looked to all season. Saturday’s 3-0 loss to the Bobcats ended a six-game scoring streak for leading scorer Sean Backman ’10, who has nine goals on the season. Backman and forward Mark Arcobello ’10 have topped the Elis’ scoring chart for the second straight season. Backman, blueliner Rob Page ’08 and Engasser each contributed a goal on Jan. 5 as the Bulldogs snuck past Brown in overtime, 3-2.

Netminder Billy Blase ’10, who had 21 saves that night, said the Bears were a strong defensive team but that the Bulldogs managed to get bounces when they needed them to secure the win.

The Bulldogs did not get as many bounces on Friday night, however, when Princeton staged a three-goal comeback in the third period to pull out a narrow 4-3 win at Ingalls. The first-place Tigers managed to hold on to a one-goal lead, thanks to the stellar play of netminder Zane Kalemba, who stopped 33 shots and prevented the Elis from getting the equalizer in the final seconds of the game.

In the Elis’ goal, Blase spent the most time between the pipes, earning all three of the Bulldogs’ wins and racking up 87 saves over the break. But veteran Alec Richards ’09, who struggled with injuries early in the season, also saw action, making his first start of the season on Saturday. Ryan Rondeau ’11 got a start against Minnesota State.

The Bulldogs will travel to Alabama-Huntsville (2-12-2) this weekend for two non-conference games before they resume league play at Colgate and Cornell.