The No. 3 men’s hockey team is taking flight — in the national polls and on United flight 361 to Denver Friday morning.

The Bulldogs (4–0–0, 2–0–0 ECAC) travel to Colorado this weekend to play Colorado College (4–5–1) and the Air Force Academy (2–5–0). This is the Elis’ first chance to defend their third place ranking in the latest USCHO national men’s hockey poll — the highest slot ever held by a Yale hockey team and a position that makes the Blue a team to beat.

“When you’re ranked as the top team it’s going to be one of the biggest games of the year for every team we play,” said forward Denny Kearney ’11, who is tied for the team lead in goals and in points. “We have to bring our ‘A’-game every night because we know they’ll be playing us hard.”

Indeed, both Colorado College and Air Force have started their seasons with losing records, and know that a victory against one of the nation’s top teams could be a turning point in their season.

Yale enters the competitions riding a four-game win streak most recently capped by victories against Princeton and Quinnipiac. After notching 14 goals in their first weekend of competition, the Blue kept the red light flashing their second weekend out with another 10 scores.

Those two wins, coupled with a series of losses by teams at the top of the national rankings, vaulted the Elis to third place in the country in the most recent USCHO poll.

Still, captain Jimmy Martin ’11 warned against putting too much store in polls this soon in the season.

“It’s nice,” Martin said. “It’s very early though. We don’t put a lot of stock in those rankings. We still have a lot to prove to get where we want to be. Those rankings don’t matter until April when the final ones come out.”

Colorado College is unranked, but received votes in the latest USCHO poll. The Tigers have won just two of their last seven games. They split a pair against Denver last weekend, but destroyed Denver 9–2 in the second game with six power-play goals.

That dangerous power play might give Yale headaches. Although the Bulldogs rode the strong play of goalie Ryan Rondeau ’11 and allowed only a single goal against Quinnipiac in their latest game, they have struggled to kill penalties this season. Opponents have converted 25.9 percent of their chances, while the high-flying Elis have scored on 24 percent of their man advantages.

Special teams and speed will play a particularly big role against the Tigers, who play on an Olympic-sized rink. That means a bigger ice surface with more room for players to maneuver.

“We have to work to contain their speed,” Martin said of Colorado College. “From a defensive standpoint, we have to be aware of that and not get lost in a rink of that size. On the other side, they’ll have to contain our speed as well.”

Forward Jaden Schwartz leads the team with eight goals and 14 points in 10 games and was picked 14th overall in the 2010 NHL draft by the St. Louis Blues. Schwartz is the younger brother of Yale women’s hockey player Mandi Schwartz ’11, who has battled leukemia since December 2008 and will be honored by the women’s hockey team with a “White Out for Mandi” at Ingalls Rink tonight.

The other Schwartz sibiling, Rylan, is Colorado College’s second-best scorer with 11 points on two goals and nine assists. Teammates Stephen Schultz and Gabe Guentzel follow with nine points apiece.

Air Force opened its season with its only game so far against a ranked opponent. They lost to then-No. 12 Alaska-Fairbanks, 5–2, and proceeded to drop the next three games. Head coach Frank Serratore made some adjustments between the pipes and named Stephen Caple his new starting goalie. With Caple — who boasts a 2.40 goals against average and .905 save percentage — stopping shots, the Falcons are 2–1–0.

Air Force’s one loss since Caple took over was a 6–2 embarrassment at the hands of Mercyhurst. Serratore said in his weekly press conference that the team simply got outhustled. But the Falcons followed that defeat with a 4–3 comeback victory over RIT, and are looking to keep their winning ways up this weekend.

Serratore said they are especially motivated by the hockey history between Air Force and Yale. Last time the teams played, Air Force was ranked in the top 10 nationally, and Yale was unranked. The Falcons came to Ingalls Rink a night after playing UConn to take on a rested Bulldogs squad. They flew home with their national ranking hurt by a 3–2 upset. This time around, the Falcons will be the rested ones with something to prove. If they are to have a chance at an upset, they know that they have to watch out especially for the Elis’ speed.

“Boy can they skate!” Serratore exclaimed. “Boy can they go! We’re going to take on [Colorado College] on Friday and then on Saturday, we’re going to say to them ‘Wear [Yale] out. Take ‘em to overtime if you have to.’”

The Elis take on Colorado College at 9 p.m. on Saturday, before facing off against Air Force at 8:05 p.m. on Sunday.