In its seven January games, the Yale men’s hockey team has played in five states and six arenas ranging from southern Arizona to northern New York. This weekend, the Elis finally get a chance to come back to familiar ice — and to stay for a little while, too.
The No. 11/12 Bulldogs (12–4–4, 6–3–3 ECAC Hockey) return to Ingalls Rink for the first two of four consecutive home contests, in which they will host Union (9–9–6, 2–7–3) on Friday and No. 16 Rensselaer (13–7–6, 5–1–6) on Saturday. Against the incoming New York foes, Yale will be looking to extend its eight-game unbeaten streak to double-digits, which would be the first such Eli run since the 2010–11 Bulldogs won 10 in a row.
“[Being] on the road is fun with the guys,” defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16 said, “but there’s nothing better than being home in front of the crowd.”
First on the Elis’ weekend slate are the 2014 National Champion Dutchmen, whose last 10 games have been emblematic of their up-and-down season: Union comes to New Haven trying to snap a five-game winless streak, which comes on the heels of five straight wins. At one point in November, Union followed up a 4–1 victory at Clarkson — the Knights’ only home loss of the season — with a home loss of its own against ECAC cellar-dweller Brown.
As its 0.500 record might suggest, Union ranks near the middle of the country and the conference in nearly every traditional metric, including scoring offense, scoring defense, power-play efficiency and penalty kill percentage. Nevertheless, the Dutchmen, whose top two goal-scorers are sophomore forwards Ryan Scarfo and Spencer Foo, have shown significant flashes of potential.
In addition to taking Yale to overtime before falling to the Bulldogs 2–1 in Schenectady on Nov. 14, Union’s resume also includes a convincing 5–3 victory against No. 9/10 Boston University, as well as ties against No. 6 Michigan and No. 7 Harvard. And the biggest advantage for the Dutchmen — whose style Yale head coach Keith Allain ’80 called “structured” and “disciplined” — might come from a rather subtle but crucial area.
“They’re really good on faceoffs,” Allain said. “I think they might be leading the nation or close to leading the nation in faceoff percentage, so they have possession of the puck a lot.”
In fact, Union’s Division I-leading 57.5 percent success rate on the draw eclipses that of second-best No. 5 Boston College by two percentage points, a gap that exceeds the difference between BC and the eighth-best school in the nation.
Saturday will see the Bulldogs square off against RPI, whose 3–2 overtime victory on Nov. 13 against Yale remains the Elis’ sole conference road loss. Despite a 43–19 shot advantage for the visitors in that contest, Yale could not seem to solve Engineer freshman goaltender Cam Hackett.
Hackett and fellow RPI netminder Jason Kasdorf, a senior and Buffalo Sabres draftee, have made that type of victory something of a common occurrence for the Engineers — RPI has outshot its opponents just five times in its 13 wins. Both Hackett and Kasdorf boast a save percentage that ranks in the top five in ECAC Hockey as well as in the top ten nationwide. Their performances have gone a long way toward keeping RPI in the NCAA Tournament picture despite a -4.69 shots-per-game margin, which ranks 48th of 60 teams across the country.
“They’ve won a number of games where they’ve been outshot by a lot and been able to win the game,” Allain said. “I think their goaltending is really good. They block a lot of shots, they collapse around the net.”
On the offensive end, RPI also ranks near the middle of ECAC Hockey in scoring, though the Engineers’ power-play unit sits at the very bottom of the conference, converting at just a .114 clip. Their attack is spearheaded by junior forward Riley Bourbonnais, whose team-high 13 goals and 0.213 goal-per-shot mark place him among the conference leaders in both categories.
Allain said he expects both teams to play the Bulldogs physically. But the Elis — who, according to Allain, may be without defenseman Nate Repensky ’18 and forwards Andrew Gaus ’19 and Ryan Hitchcock ’18 due to injuries — are no strangers to physical play, and the players say they are ready for the weekend ahead.
“There’s a lot of parity in this league and every night’s hard, so we have to stick to our identity and play our game,” forward John Hayden ’17 said. “We’ve had success the last two months because we’ve been playing Yale hockey, and it’s hard for teams to keep up with us for 60 minutes when we’re playing that style.”
Puck drop for both games is scheduled for 7 p.m.