A season ago, the closest geographic rivalry in ECAC men’s hockey got closer. Two games saw Yale and Quinnipiac score four goals apiece and collect 56 shots, as well as pick up two ties. On Friday night, the teams will renew acquaintances when they face off in their first meeting of the new season.
The No. 10 Bulldogs (5–2–2, 3–1–2 ECAC Hockey) will hit their home ice against the undefeated No. 2/3 Bobcats (13–0–2, 4–0–2) for their first conference game in two weeks. In what will be their third top-10 matchup already, the Elis have a chance to bounce back from last weekend’s loss at No. 1 Providence and grab their first major win of the 2015–16 slate. On Saturday, Yale will then host Princeton (2–8–0, 1–5–0) to close out its pre-New Year’s conference schedule.
“I think [the balance of Yale and Quinnipiac] starts from the top — great coaching, great teams, and then whenever we come to play each other, we just hold a battle,” forward Frankie DiChiara ’17 said. “It’s high-tempo, high-paced and that’s the game you want to play.”
Fresh off a home-and-home nonconference sweep of Massachusetts last weekend, the Bobcats make the short trip south from Hamden looking every bit worthy of their prominent ranking. Quinnipiac’s 13 wins lead the country, and after winning the ECAC Hockey regular season title a year ago, the Bobcats rank in the top 10 nationally in scoring offense, scoring defense and power-play efficiency.
Quinnipiac junior forward Sam Anas, a 2014–15 second-team All-American, has led his team in scoring each of his first two seasons and is currently pacing all ECAC Hockey players with nine goals and 18 points in 2015–16. Goaltender Michael Garteig, honored with a third-team All-ECAC selection a year ago, ranks in the top five nationwide in goals against average and save percentage.
But the program that Yale defeated in the 2013 NCAA Tournament final has also looked relatively vulnerable in recent ECAC Hockey games. In their last two conference contests, both in Hamden, Quinnipiac needed a third-period goal to tie Clarkson, which is winless in ECAC Hockey play, before failing to light the lamp in a goalless draw against No. 13 St. Lawrence.
And the Bulldogs — who have not defeated the Bobcats since that national championship — recognize the opportunity in front of them.
“We don’t like those guys, they don’t like us,” forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “We see them a lot. We’re both competing to be the best team in the conference, the best team in Connecticut, so there’s definitely some bad blood there. But it’s going to be really good hockey and we’ll be ready to go.”
The next night, Princeton will arrive in New Haven following a Friday contest with Brown. Saturday will mark Yale’s first rematch against any opponent during the current season, as the Bulldogs faced the Tigers in each team’s season opener as part of the Capital City Classic in Trenton, New Jersey.
In that game, both Princeton and Yale scored in the first 90 seconds before the teams held each other scoreless for the next 55 minutes of play. Although the Elis did break through late in the third period and would end up winning 3–1, their difficulties in overcoming the Tigers — projected to finish at the bottom of ECAC Hockey in both the coaches’ and media preseason polls — did not go unnoticed by the team.
“[Princeton has] a little bit more depth in their lineup than they’ve had the last two years,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “So that makes them more dangerous. And then their goaltender [Colton Phinney] is the key to that team. It’s another good goalie … So you’re going to have to work to score against them, and while you’re working to score, you better be playing good defense, because if you let down, they could score on you.”
The Bulldogs’ immediate focus, however, is on the first challenge of the weekend against their foes from nine miles north. In their two games last season, Yale and Quinnipiac not only tied 2–2 both times, but had identical shot totals in each contest.
This has taken the rivalry to new heights — not that it needed more fuel for its fire.
“I’m not sure what the student ticket sale is at right now, but I know I have a lot of friends asking for tickets, so that’s definitely a lot of motivation for us,” forward Carson Cooper ’16 said. “Every night at the Whale is pretty special, but Qpac will be intense.”
Puck drop is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Friday and 7 p.m. on Saturday.