After a two-loss weekend that caused the Bulldogs to fall five spots in the national rankings, the pressure is on for the No. 15 Yale men’s hockey team to produce a win against the opponent that ended its 2014–15 season.
The Elis (5–4–2, 3–3–2 ECAC Hockey), who dropped home games one week ago to conference powerhouse No. 2 Quinnipiac and underdog Princeton, will welcome No. 12 Boston University (8–5–3, 4–3–2 Hockey East) to Ingalls Rink Friday night. Yale has faced off against BU just once since 2006, but it was a contest no player has since forgotten: The Terriers, then ranked No. 2, knocked the Bulldogs out of the NCAA Tournament first round in a 3–2 overtime decision last March.
Riding their longest losing streak of the season and with last year’s loss still fresh in their minds, the Elis are looking to head into a two-week break on a happier note than they ended the calendar year’s ECAC Hockey play last weekend.
“We’ve had a great week of development,” forward John Hayden ’17 said. “We learned from last weekend, and our focus is now on BU. Success [Friday] would be a great way to end the first half. We’ve obviously seen BU before, and we will use that last game as extra motivation.”
Though the Bulldogs are coming off three consecutive losses, they received a boost this week in practice when goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 returned to the ice after an injury he suffered in warm-ups last Saturday night.
Backup goalie Patrick Spano ’17 came in for the start against Princeton, ending Lyon’s streak of 39 consecutive starts and stopping 27 of the 30 shots he faced. Head coach Keith Allain ’80 said Thursday, however, that he plans on sticking with the starter Lyon. The 2014–15 All-American goalie has practiced with the team everyday except for Sunday.
As of Thursday, Allain was not overly confident that forward Mike Doherty ’17 or defenseman Nate Repensky ’18, both of whom have been major offensive contributors, will play Friday after what have now been 17 combined games missed due to injury.
“As you go through a hockey season, different guys get banged up,” Allain said. “We’re in one of those stretches right now … You don’t know when they’re going to come. Ours has come a little bit early.”
Despite advancing all the way to the final game of the NCAA Frozen Four after defeating Yale last season, BU suffered a major hit to its offensive prowess over the offseason when lead-scoring forwards Jack Eichel — the 2014–15 Hobey Baker Award winner — and Evan Rodrigues moved on to professional contracts in the Buffalo Sabres organization. Eichel, who led all of Division-I hockey in points per game last year, has scored nine goals for the Sabres in 28 games this season.
Now led by senior forwards Ahti Oksanen and Danny O’Regan, the latter of whom scored the game-winner against Yale in March, the Terriers have dropped from holding the top offense in the country to now ranking 15th in scoring with 3.25 goals per game.
“They play the same style that they played last year,” Allain said. “They’re a puck-possession team, they’ve got some size and their goaltending is good. They’ve got some guys that can really burn you offensively if you give them some time and space.”
Though the Terriers’ goal scoring has seen a decrease this season, their average is still significantly higher than Yale’s 2.45 goals per game, which ranks 41st in the nation.
The Bulldogs will undoubtedly need a stronger offensive performance than they gave last weekend, when they went scoreless for five consecutive periods before tallying two goals in the third period of Saturday night’s loss.
“I think we addressed a lot of issues that we felt led to the lack of success last weekend,” Allain said. “I would be very surprised if we weren’t on our toes right from the drop of the puck.”
After Friday’s game, the Bulldogs will go on a brief holiday hiatus, taking an 18-day break from play. The team returns to Ingalls on Dec. 29 to face McGill in an exhibition game before tackling the second half of the season, which includes a winter break visit to Arizona State.
Forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 was one of 29 players named to the preliminary roster for 2016 U.S. National Junior Team. In the time off, he will attend training camp at BU Dec. 14–18, pursuing a spot on the 23-man roster and a chance to play in the 2016 International Ice Hockey Federation World Junior Championship, starting on Christmas Day.
“It was a huge honor to be selected to the camp and be given the opportunity to make a team I’ve dreamed of playing on since I was five years old,” Hitchcock said. “I’m just excited to get the chance to wear the USA crest across my chest and play to the best of my ability, as you never know when the last time you will presented this tremendous opportunity will come.”
The pucks drops Friday night at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink.