The traditional Toad’s rivalry will be fought out a day early by the men’s hockey team this weekend — and with much more on the line than usual.

The Bulldogs (10-7-4, 6-4-4 ECAC) will make the reverse commute to Hamden tonight to take on No. 16 Quinnipiac (15-7-4, 7-3-4), an ECAC powerhouse in recent seasons. Coming off a big win over Dartmouth and three straight league contests without a loss, the Elis will be looking to make a statement that they can finish out the regular season among the top teams in the conference.

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Besting its crosstown rival will not be easy, however, as Yale has dropped the last four consecutive games to Quinnipiac. Sophomore forward Brandon Wong — who shared ECAC Rookie of the Year honors with Sean Backman ’10 last year — currently leads the Bobcats in scoring, with seven goals and 19 assists, and three of his teammates are already in the double digits in goal-scoring this season.

When the two squads met in early January, the Bulldogs were dealt a tough 3-0 loss by the hungry Bobcats, who have not lost an ECAC game since November. It will take a solid effort from all four lines — particularly the line of Matthew Thomey ’08, Denny Kearney ’11 and Broc Little ’11, which stepped up in scoring for the Elis of late — to eke out a win.

And the Bulldogs’ challenge does not end in Hamden. On the heels of what is sure to be a tough battle in Bobcat territory, the Bulldogs will head south to face another top competitor, No. 19 Princeton (12-9-0, 9-5-0). The two squads have already faced off twice this season — both times in New Haven — and the Tigers have come out ahead each time.

And the Bulldogs are arguably more prepared than ever at this point in the season. Forward David Germain ’08 said the Elis played well against Dartmouth last weekend and are continuing to work hard in preparation for the last stretch of ECAC games.

“Everyone has been skating well, and the team is coming into its own,” he concluded.