After a pair of back-to-back come-from-behind games in its three-point weekend, the No. 8/10 Yale men’s hockey team is preparing for another round of ECAC Hockey competition — and this time, the Bulldogs are looking to take control of the game from the opening faceoff.
The Elis (3–0–1, 1–0–1 ECAC) returned from the second of three straight road campaigns without a loss on their record, tying with No. 6/7 Harvard last Friday night before besting Dartmouth on Saturday despite trailing for significant portions of each matchup. Although the games were characterized by top-notch goal-tending from two-time defending ECAC Goalie of the Week Alex Lyon ’17 and timely offensive fireworks, the slow starts of last weekend are a problem the team needs to address as it once again hits the road to face Rensselaer (4–4–1, 3–0–1) and Union (3–4–3, 1–3–0).
“We’re not pleased with the way we’re starting games right now, but we’ll correct that here this week,” captain and defenseman Mitch Witek ’16 said. “Our mental toughness to handle adversity and comeback is a good sign and shows that we’re never out of games. But we need to consistently find a way to play a full 60 minutes.”
On Friday night, Yale will take to the ice against the Engineers, who have not lost a game since their Oct. 24 defeat at the hands of then-No. 11 Michigan. RPI has one of the lowest-scoring offenses in the conference, having scored just 2.56 goals per contest, well behind the third-place Bulldogs’ 3.75 average. While the Engineers have not put up the most impressive offensive numbers, they have been productive on the penalty kill — RPI’s three shorthanded goals lead the conference, as only one other team has more than one. Forward Milos Bubela has two such goals on his own.
Thanks to three ECAC wins, RPI is currently tied at the top of the conference with Harvard, far exceeding the preseason coaches’ poll prediction of a 10th-place finish, though it is still very early in the season.
The Elis have had a successful recent history against RPI, not dropping a game against the Engineers since the 2012–13 season. Yale won the last three contests between the two schools by a margin of three goals or more.
While RPI has gotten off to a quick start in conference play, Union has stumbled thus far in its conference campaign. The Dutchmen lost their first three games in league play and are currently sporting a losing record after 10 games for the first time since 2007. However, the Dutchmen snapped their winless stretch in league play last weekend, trumping Clarkson 4–1 at home on Saturday.
Sophomore forward Ryan Scarfo leads the Dutchmen in goals this season, tied with RPI’s Riley Bourbonnais as the second-highest scorer in the ECAC. They have each lit the lamp five times. Limiting Scarfo, a consistent point-earner, will be key for Yale, which has lost five of its last six meetings against Union.
“We are sticking to our normal routine in practice,” forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “We know we control our own destiny and as long as we’re working as hard as we possibly can and push each other in practice that will carry over nicely into this weekend. We know that RPI and Union are going to be great tests.”
While last weekend’s matches demonstrated the early-season resiliency of the Elis, including an overtime tie with their biggest rivals, Yale’s first period play left a lot to be desired. Of the team’s 15 goals to date, only three have been scored in the first period, all of which were from the Capital City Classic in the opening weekend.
Although Yale ultimately came away with satisfying results despite the slow starts and being outshot 66–56 over the weekend, the team recognizes it cannot afford to continue that trend.
“I think we’ve got to fix that,” forward Mike Doherty ’17 said of the team’s first-period struggles after the Harvard game. “We came out slow [in] every game this year so far, so I think that’s an area we’ll look at. Maybe some jitters — [it was our] first real huge game of the year.”
After this upcoming road weekend, Yale will return to Ingalls Rink for its home opener on Nov. 20 against Cornell.