After a six-game unbeaten streak and an Ivy League title, the Yale men’s ice hockey team has positioned themselves well for an ECAC tournament run. But the road ahead will certainly prove difficult for the Bulldogs, as they face off against teams from one of the best conferences in college hockey in their quest for an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
The ECAC tournament will begin on March 6, when the eight lowest-seeded teams will take on one another in a best-of-three series to determine the four that will advance to the quarterfinals, where the Bulldogs will be waiting. The quarterfinals will then take place on March 13–15 before the final four teams advance to the conclusion of the tournament on March 20–21 in Lake Placid. After finishing third in the conference with 28 points, Yale has secured a first-round bye and home-ice advantage in the quarterfinals.
As players like defender Rob O’Gara ’16 noted, the team hopes to utilize the bye week to gain a leg up on potential opponents.
“Having home ice is always nice to have because you have the crowd on your side and of course we are excited to have that one more weekend this year,” O’Gara said. “Having the week off is beneficial, not having to travel is nice and being able to keep our home-game routine one more weekend in the playoffs can definitely be seen as an advantage for us.”
Head Coach Keith Allain ’80 also explained that home-ice advantage is especially crucial because it provides Yale with the advantage of the last change of skaters during the game. This way, the Bulldogs are able to ensure that they can effectively match lines with the opposing team’s skaters.
The Elis will need every advantage they can get as they go up against some of the most dominant squads in Division I this season. The last two winners of the men’s ice hockey NCAA tournament have come from the ECAC — Yale and Union — and the conference has combined for nearly 100 Frozen Four appearances since the inception of the tournament in 1948.
An Eli defense that has been stellar all season, averaging a nation-best 1.55 goals per game, could face some serious threats from offensive powerhouses in the conference. Goaltender Alex Lyon ’17, who finished the regular season with the nation’s best save percentage, 0.940, and the highest number of shutouts, six, may face offensive threats from teams like Harvard and Union. The 2014 National Champions feature the No. 1 goal scorer in Daniel Ciampini, while the Crimson boast the No. 3 scorer in Jimmy Vesey.
Meanwhile, Yale’s offense, which has been spotty at points throughout the season, will need to enter the tournament in top form if the Bulldogs hope to reclaim the title for the first time since 2011. The Elis currently sit at No. 35 out of 59 teams in Division I in terms of offensive production, averaging 2.69 goals per game, behind five other ECAC competitors including conference rival Quinnipiac.
But as forward Trent Ruffolo ’15 noted, the team has not altered its practice plans for the postseason.
“We are treating our practices leading up to the ECAC tournament like any other normal week,” Ruffolo said. “Our offense hasn’t been preparing any differently than we do under any other circumstances. We consistently try to get better with each and every practice, and that includes trying to improve our offense.”
Last year, Yale was eliminated from the ECAC tournament by the Bobcats in the quarterfinals after besting Harvard in the first round. The year before that, Yale finished in fourth behind Qunnipiac. If the first round goes off without a single upset and the seeding remains the same, the Bulldogs will once again face the Crimson at Ingalls.
If the Elis can clinch victory in Lake Placid, they will be assured one of the six automatic bids to the NCAA tournament. If not, the other 10 at-large bids will be filled based on the highest PairWise-ranked teams and the Bulldogs currently sit at No. 12 in the rankings along with the Bobcats.
Players noted that the team is doing everything to ensure that they are prepared for the fierce competition.
“Right now we are trying to improve in all aspects and continue to grow as a team both on and off the ice,” forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “We’re treating this bye week as if it were a training camp and using each day as a weapon.”
Yale will face off against the second-highest seeded team emerging from the first round of the ECAC tournament on March 13–15 at Ingalls.