After splitting last week’s contests against Harvard and Dartmouth, the Yale men’s hockey team looks to sweep its next two games, with just six left in the regular season.
The Bulldogs (13–7–3, 8–6–2 ECAC) travel to New York on Friday where they face the 2014 national champions, Union (14–12–2, 6–9–1). The next night, Yale will take on Rensselaer (9–20–1, 7–9–0), currently in ninth place, one spot above Union in the ECAC standings. According to forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18, both games will prove to be a significant test for a Bulldogs squad looking to improve on its current standing in a four-way tie for third place in the league.
“RPI is a team that’s seeing a lot of recent success and should be a good test for us,” Hitchcock said. “Union is the defending national champion and returned a lot of its players from last year, so they are definitely a team that’s dangerous.”
Yale was unable to handle Union earlier this year when the Dutchmen visited Ingalls, falling 3–1 in a match that snapped Yale’s season-high three-game winning streak. Despite its current positioning in 10th, Union is only five points behind the Bulldogs. Similar to the Elis, the Dutchmen split their games last weekend, falling to second place St. Lawrence but upsetting Clarkson, one of the teams currently tied with the Bulldogs for third.
To compound Yale’s worries, Union has both the second- and third-best scorers in the nation on its side. Daniel Ciampini sits just one point behind current NCAA leader Jack Eichel with 42 so far this season. Meanwhile, Mike Vecchione has 40 points on the year and is currently tied for third in the national standings.
As noted by defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16, the team has been focusing on breaking down opposing offenses in preparation for this weekend’s matchups.
“We have focused this week on finding our opponents and eliminating them from the play so they can’t get a chance,” Obuchowski said. “Eliminating guys is a big focus for us because we did a poor job of it Saturday night, and the teams we play this weekend have high-powered offenses and a lot of movement … this weekend will be a big test for our defensive zone coverage.”
When Yale faced RPI earlier in the year, the Bulldogs came away with a decisive 5–2 victory off of a strong performance by goaltender Alex Lyon ’17. The Engineers are currently on a four-game slide, most recently having lost to both Clarkson and St. Lawrence. Yet, despite its recent struggles, RPI is only four points back from the Bulldogs and were on a three-game winning streak until the last two weekends. The Engineers are led this season by a pair of senior forwards, Jacob Laliberté and Matt Neal, who currently lead the team with 16 and 15 points, respectively.
In order to remain in contention for an NCAA tournament spot, the Bulldogs must continue to work on an offense that has been showing some improvement over the last few games. At the other end of the rink, Yale has maintained stellar defense throughout this season, with both the lowest goals against average, 1.65, and penalty minute average, 6.57, in Division I hockey. The team also can rely on Lyon, the nation’s fourth-ranked netminder, to back up the Elis’ defense.
As forward and current Yale point leader John Hayden ’17 noted, the team has been striving to increase its goal-scoring opportunities this season.
“Our focuses this week have been getting back to our tight defensive play and continuing to develop our offensive game,” Hayden said. “Offensive production can improve through chemistry with linemates and continuing to work on scoring situations.”
The puck is scheduled to drop at 7 p.m. on both nights in New York.