After a clean sweep in the Capital City Classic, the No. 12 Yale men’s hockey team will take to the ice on Friday with one goal: to hand No. 7 Harvard its first defeat of the season.
The Bulldogs (2–0–0, 0–0–0 ECAC) will open their conference season this weekend with two games on the road. First on the schedule is a rivalry contest with the Crimson (2–0–0, 2–0–0), followed by an Ivy League matchup against Dartmouth (0–2–0, 0–2–0). With a flawless opening record, the Elis are seeking two conference wins to place themselves at the head of the ECAC pack.
“Our primary focus right now is the game on Friday,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “[Harvard is] a really good team. They’ve got a tremendous collection of forwards … They’re going to be a real challenge for us, but I think we know what we’re getting. It’s a team that we know pretty well.”
Like all Harvard-Yale competitions, the tensions are high, but for the Bulldogs, this time there is even more to prove. The Crimson and the Elis faced each other three times in the 2014–15 regular season, all matches resulting in Yale victories. Yet the most recent meeting between these rivals ended in a devastating loss for the Bulldogs. In the ECAC Quarterfinals, Yale dropped two of three to the Cantabs, including a 3–2 double-overtime loss in Game 3 ending the Elis’ bid for a conference title.
This time around, the Bulldogs are convinced that with new additions to the roster, a fresh slate and a strong desire to win, they can put last year’s postseason behind them.
“The playoffs aren’t a reason not to be confident,” forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “Our seniors over the years have had tremendous success against Harvard. We have all the confidence in the world … This is going to be a great game.”
One goal for the Bulldogs will be to maintain the offensive success seen during the Capital City Classic, where a trio of Elis — forwards Mike Doherty ’17, John Hayden ’17 and Joe Snively ’19 — each scored a pair of goals over the two games and contributed to the 6–1 win over UMass in the championship match. Snively was named ECAC Rookie of the Week after an impressive showing, knocking in the game-winning goal against Princeton.
Additional weapons in Yale’s arsenal include forward Chris Izmirlian ’17, defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16 and Hitchcock, who all found the net in Trenton, New Jersey. In light of the previous weekend’s offensive success, the lines will not change for the series this weekend, according to Allain.
Acknowledging the impressive scoreboards, Hayden notes that the team’s dedication to its systems was key.
“[Against Princeton], our goals didn’t come right away,” Hayden said. “We had to stick to our systems until the very end, knowing in the end they will pay off. We definitely broke out against UMass, and we will carry that offensiveness into this weekend [to hopefully] find some more success.”
On the defensive side of the ice, the main challenge will be shutting down Crimson forward Jimmy Vesey, who has five points this season in just two games. The senior from North Reading, Massachusetts led Harvard’s roster and the entire ECAC last season with 58 points and 32 goals. A 2015 CCM Hockey All-American, he was awarded ECAC Player of the Week for his performance against Dartmouth last weekend.
Up for the challenge is Yale goaltender Alex Lyon ’17, last week’s ECAC Goalie of the Week, who stopped 53 of 55 shots on goal.
On Saturday, Yale will continue its journey north to face the Big Green, which opened their season with a home-and-home series with Harvard, resulting in 7–0 and 5–2 losses at the hands of the Cantabs. While the Bulldogs are focusing foremost on the Crimson, Dartmouth is also an important contest on the path to a winning ECAC record.
“With the way this league works, as excited as we are about Friday night’s game — win, lose or draw, you’ve got to gear it up for Saturday night,” Allain said. “I expect our guys to play to 100 percent of their ability every time we play.”
The puck will drop at 7 p.m. at the Bright Hockey Center, with winning streaks on the line.