Last season, the men’s hockey team won the ECAC Tournament, clinched the Ivy League title in decisive fashion and set a school record with 28 wins.

But the Bulldogs’ dream of a national championship ended prematurelyin the NCAA Northeast Regional finals, falling 5–3 to eventual national champion Minnesota-Duluth. After a seven-month hiatus, the Elis are back on the ice again and will kick off their quest for the Frozen Four with two games against Ivy foes, Princeton and Dartmouth, this weekend.

“The team’s goal this season is a national championship and anything less will be a disappointment to us all,” captain Brian O’Neill ’12 said. “We had some close calls in the past, but this year we are poised to take the next step in the process.”

The Bulldogs spent eight weeks last year ranked as the No. 1 team in the country, and expectations are high for the upcoming season.

Despite not having played a game due to Ivy League restrictions, the latest USCHO poll ranked the Elis 10th while the regional media and ECAC coaches selected the Bulldogs as the preseason favorite to win the ECAC.

Known for his recruitment of undersized but quick forwards, head coach Keith Allain ’80 has fashioned Yale into one of most feared offenses in the country. The Bulldogs finished last year’s campaign averaging 4.19 goals per game, best among all Division I schools.

Yale’s high-octane attack will be anchored by O’Neill and Andrew Miller ’13, the team’s leading scorers last year. O’Neill notched 20 goals and 46 points while Miller led the team in assists with 33. However, the Elis face the difficult task of replacing Broc Little ’11 and Denny Kearney ’11, one of the best duos ever to skate in Blue and White. The pair combined for 117 goals and 273 points over its four-year career.

Also gone is Chris Cahill ’11, a physical forward who ranked fourth on the team last season with 15 goals, including four game-winners.

“Obviously you can’t completely replace those guys because they were so good for all four years,” Jesse Root ’14 said. “[But] I think we still have a lot of talent all the way around on the team that can pick up the scoring slack.”

One of the players expected to step up on the offense is Kenny Agostino ’14, who had 11 goals and 14 assists in his debut season for the Bulldogs. Agostino spent a week in August at the U.S. National Junior Evaluation Camp, leading all scorers with tenpoints and is hopeful for one of the 22 spots on the U.S. National Junior Team.

The Elis’ explosive offense was complemented by a stingy defense that led the country in scoring defense last season, surrendering just 2.06 goals a game.

The departure of starting goalie Ryan Rondeau ’11 created the biggest void for the Bulldogs’ defense. Rondeau notched six shutouts last year and is Yale’s career leader in goal allowed average and save percentage.

“It’s always tough when your goalie graduates, especially after how well Rondeau played last year,” Kevin Peel ’12 said. “But we have three very capable goaltenders this year and our whole team has confidence that any one of them could be the one that helps us win that national championship.”

Allain has yet to name a starting net minder and will probably rotate players at the spot, the same tactic he used last year before Rondeau’s breakout.

Jeff Malcolm ’13 started in the net for the Bulldogs in their 2–1 exhibition loss against the University of Waterloo while Nick Maricic ’13 finished the second period saving all 16 shots he faced. Newcomer Connor Wilson ’15 saved seven of eight shots in the final period but allowed the game-winning goal for the Warriors.

While the Elis lost only three blueliners, they have only three returning defensemen available for now. Peel broke his foot during the summer and still needs a few weeks to recover fully.

This means that the Bulldogs will have to rotate regularly their three first-year defenders on the ice every game. But players said they are confident in the freshmen’s abilities to make plays.

“Yale hockey is a team that prides itself on defensive play, and I think these new guys have learned that pretty quickly,” Agostino said. “They are in the process of making good transitions, and we are going to have to put our trust in these young players.”

Before last season began, players used the slogan “Unfinished Business” to remind themselves how close they were to the national title in the 2009-’10 season. This year, the Bulldogs’ slogan has changed to “Back for More,” an indication for their desire to build on last season’s success.

“We have gotten close to that national title, but not close enough,” Peel said. “Everyone believes we have the team that can win, and now we have some experience on our side, which is only going to help us achieve our goal.”

Yale will face off against Princeton on Friday in Hanover, N.H. as part of the Ivy Shootout. The Tigers proved to be a tough opponent last season, nearly upsetting the Bulldogs at home after jumping out to a 3–0 lead in the first period. The Elis managed to erase the deficit and walked away with a 5–4 victory.

“As good as Princeton is, we care about us and what we are doing out on the ice,” Root said. “We’d like to make them react to us and not the other way around.”

The Bulldogs will take on Dartmouth, which finished second in the Ancient Eight last season, on Saturday at 7 p.m.