Less than two weeks ago, the Yale men’s hockey team was playing in sunny Glendale, Arizona, only two hours north of Mexico. This weekend, in the opposite corner of the country, the Bulldogs will try to stay hot during two games in the shadow of the Canadian border.
No. 12 Yale (11–4–3, 5–3–2 ECAC Hockey) visits Clarkson (10–10–2, 2–6–2) on Friday and St. Lawrence (10–10–2, 4–5–1) on Saturday in the Elis’ annual trip to the North Country of New York. The Bulldogs left with a pair of one-goal losses the last time they traveled to Potsdam and Canton but bring significant momentum to the 2016 rematches: Yale is unbeaten, starting 2016 at 4–0–1 — its only blemish a 1–1 tie to No. 17 Michigan Tech in the desert — and is coming off home victories over Brown, the Bulldogs’ first ECAC Hockey weekend sweep on the season.
“As far as [winning both games] on the weekend, that’s always our goal,” forward JM Piotrowski ’19 said. “And while it’s very tough to win in this league, we expect to win every opportunity we get.”
The Bulldogs’ first opportunity to win on the weekend will be as tough as any, as Clarkson boasts a sparkling 7–1–1 record at its home Cheel Arena in 2015–16.
Like Yale, Clarkson’s strength is largely in its defense, which is allowing just 25.9 shots on goal per game — good for seventh in the country and second in the conference.
But unlike Yale, for whom goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 has been an anchor in net, Clarkson has struggled to find its starting netminder throughout the season. The 0.912 save percentage of likely starter Greg Lewis and the 0.885 clip of Steve Perry, who has split time with Lewis this season, each ranks near the bottom of the conference and has contributed to Clarkson’s scoring defense ranking seventh in ECAC Hockey.
The Knights’ relatively young offensive attack is led by sophomore forward Sam Vigneault, whose nine goals, nine assists and 18 points all pace his squad. Following closely is junior forward A.J. Fossen with 16 points, and of Clarkson’s next six leading scorers, only one is a senior.
And though the Knights sit just a half game ahead of last-place Brown in the conference standings, they have held their own against tough competition: Clarkson tied No. 1 Quinnipiac in November and, in their most recent game, handed No. 8/9 Harvard a 5–1 drubbing in Boston.
“It’s a competitive league and we can’t afford being content,” forward John Hayden ’17 said. “These are two tough opponents, and it’s important for us to play to our identity for 120 minutes.”
After Friday’s game, the Elis will make the 11-mile trip to Appleton Arena, where on Saturday they face St. Lawrence in a battle of last year’s first- and second-team All-ECAC goalies. Sophomore Kyle Hayton, who took home 2014–15 ECAC Rookie of the Year honors, owns a goals-against average below 2.00 for the second consecutive season.
On the other side of the ice, the Saints’ offense is at its best when it spreads the wealth, as their count of nine skaters with double-digit points is second only to Quinnipiac in ECAC Hockey. Leading the team is junior defender Gavin Bayreuther, who had 17 points all of last season but now holds 14 points midway through the 2015–16 campaign.
St. Lawrence’s résumé, like Clarkson’s, includes a winning record at home and a tie with Quinnipiac. Nevertheless, although St. Lawrence opened the season 7–2–1 and was ranked as highly as No. 13 at one point, a current five-game losing streak has brought the team outside both major polls.
That slide has been characterized by a lack of scoring — St. Lawrence has two or fewer goals in each of those five contests — which has been exacerbated by an exceptionally underwhelming performance on the power play. For the 2015–16 season, the Saints’ 0.095 man-advantage efficiency ranks dead last in the country, while Yale’s 0.913 penalty kill sits second nationwide.
The Bulldogs have had their own issues finding the back of the net — their scoring offense of 2.53 goals per game this year comes in below both Clarkson’s 2.55 and St. Lawrence’s 2.73 — but received a boost this past weekend when forward Mike Doherty ’17 returned from injury.
Doherty, the Elis’ leading goal scorer in 2014–15, tallied an assist in each win over Brown.
“It was great to get back out there,” Doherty said. “It’s not fun watching from the stands, and it’s been a long wait.”
Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.
Hope Allchin contributed reporting.