The men’s hockey team has not lost this season at home. The problem is the road.
The Bulldogs (19–4, 13–3 ECAC) have lost their past three away games. They are just 5–4 overall wearing their blue visitors’ uniforms. And, clinging to a narrow one-point lead over Union in the conference standings, they play four of their last six regular season games outside of New Haven.
“What happened has happened,” said defenseman Ken Trentowski ’11. “We don’t want to look back at it.”
The first two of those four road contests are this weekend, as Yale takes on St. Lawrence (8–14–5, 4–10–1) and Clarkson (12–13–2, 6–8–1) in upstate New York. They are not only away games — they are almost in another country. Each school is less than 60 miles from the Canadian border. And more than 300 from New Haven.
The Elis broke up their seven-hour drive to St. Lawrence Thursday to practice in the Olympic Training Center in Lake Placid, New York. That skate near the spot where the American men’s hockey team upset the Russians to win the gold medal in the 1980 Winter Games has become a tradition for the Elis. As the team has risen to national prominence in recent years, that history has inspired confidence as the Elis have faced off against traditional powers like North Dakota and Boston College in the NCAA tournament.
Yale is likely to return to the NCAA tournament this year and again face schools with more illustrious hockey histories than its own. But before it can imitate the 1980 Americans as underdogs in those winner-take-all contests, the Elis must play the role of the Soviets this weekend.
Both St. Lawrence and Clarkson sit in the bottom half of the ECAC standings. Both fell to Yale at Ingalls Rink earlier this season. Both will be hungry to add a highlight to their difficult seasons by upsetting the second-ranked team in the nation.
St. Lawrence might bring bad blood along with its hunger. The Saints’ last game against Yale ended in fisticuffs after Brian O’Neill ’12 sealed Yale’s 4–1 win with an empty net goal. St. Lawrence’s Sean Flanagan knocked the Yale winger down from behind with a cheap shot immediately after the goal, and a brawl ensued as Brendan Mason ’11 and Mike Matczak ’11 raced to their teammate’s aid. By the end of the confrontation, the referees had handed out a combined 45 penalty minutes.
The Elis don’t want to let memories of the brawl dictate their Friday game. Their first priority is playing their own brand of hockey, according to blueliner Colin Dueck ’13.
“With our speed and our guys, we have to be the team that’s always setting the tempo and making the other team keep up with us,” he said. “We have to get out there and push the tempo. It’s about playing to our ability.”
Despite that focus, past infractions will still affect the Elis as they take on the middling Saints, whose greatest strength is their seventh-ranked penalty kill. After a dirty hit on Trentowski in the third period of last week’s game against Dartmouth, Nick Jaskowiak ’12 jumped to his partner aid and grabbed at his opponent’s face mask in the scuffle that followed. NCAA rules are strict concerning head protection, and Jaskowiak was ejected from the game and given an automatic one-game suspension.
With Jaskowiak unavailable, Gus Young ’14 will play for the first time since Yale’s season-opening win over Brown. The defenseman has been battling upper-body injuries for much of the season, and last weekend was the first time he has been eligible to return to the lineup, according to according to head coach Keith Allain ’80. Allain added that Young’s injury was such that he was able to stay in good shape and should be in full form against the Saints.
“We’ve been trying to find a spot for him anyway,” Allain said. “If [Jaskowiak] were eligible, he’d be in, but it will great to get Gus in the lineup.
Friday night will be the first game Jaskowiak has missed this season. When the durable defenseman returns to the ice Saturday night, he will be defending against a mediocre attack that averages almost two fewer goals a game than the Elis do.
The Elis have not, however, been playing the way their ranking as the nation’s top-scoring offense suggests. They have scored fewer than their average of 4.35 goals in all of their past five games. The last time the Yale attack scored five goals was against Clarkson and the Golden Knights’ struggling goalie, Paul Karpowich. The netminder, whose 3.48 goals against average pales in comparison to the 1.92 average of Ryan Rondeau ’11, has always had difficulty handling the Bulldogs. He was the scapegoat at school last season after he allowed three third-period goals in less than a minute and Yale took home the dramatic win in overtime, 5–4.
Yale faces off against St. Lawrence on Friday night and against Clarkson on Saturday. Both games start at 7 p.m.