Riding a three-game winning streak highlighted by a 5–1 win over Dartmouth and a 2–1 victory against No. 9 Harvard last weekend, the No. 10 Yale men’s hockey team is headed north in an attempt to add to three points the Bulldogs have already earned in games against Colgate and No. 15 Cornell.
The Elis (14–5–4, 9–4–3 ECAC Hockey), taking their first road trip in three weeks, currently sit in their best position of the season with No. 10 rankings in both major polls, a No. 10 PairWise ranking and second-place standings in both the ECAC and the Ivy League. Yale takes on Colgate (8–19–2, 4–11–2) and Cornell (12–7–4, 7–6–3), however, without a host of injured players and, most notably, without defensive stalwart and 2014–15 first-team All-American Rob O’Gara ’16. With only six games remaining in regular-season play, Yale still has obstacles to overcome in its quest for a strong final showing.
“It is what it is,” forward JM Piotrowski ’19 said of O’Gara’s absence from the lineup. “It’s just another adversity phase for us to go through and we’re still in contention to win [the] Ivy League … We know our game plan. The last few weeks have been building blocks each day, and I think we’re really on the right track.”
O’Gara, who has played for Yale in 37 consecutive games and leads a defense that currently ranks first in the nation in goals allowed per game, was called for a hit-to-the-head infraction, a major penalty, against Harvard’s Sean Malone in response to an uncalled hit on the senior. The initial one-game disqualification for the retaliatory hit was extended on Wednesday, sidelining O’Gara for the entire weekend.
The New York native will join five other regular contributors who were already on the bench with injuries during Yale’s two-win weekend against Dartmouth and Harvard, all of whom are unlikely to return on Friday night but are “all healthier than they were this time last week,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said on Wednesday.
According to Piotrowski, short shifts for the weekend will be key to keep players fresh throughout the games. As Allain only plans on dressing 10 forwards and six defensemen — two fewer skaters than are allowed in NCAA hockey — most team members will continue to see an increase in minutes.
To accommodate the shortage of players, practice this past week has been altered, including shorter practices and fewer scrimmages, Allain said.
“Due to the numbers, I think we’re doing things a little bit differently [in practice],” forward Mike Doherty ’17 said. “Probably not as high paced as usual … A lot of guys played a ton of minutes the last two weekends, so [we’re] just being smart about it.”
The weekend’s action will begin on Friday at Colgate, a team that sits at 10th in the conference standings but has seen recent offensive firepower. Last weekend against Princeton and No. 1 Quinnipiac, the Raiders scored a combined eight goals from the sticks of eight different players, the highest-scoring conference weekend for Colgate in nearly two years.
Despite the newfound offensive success, the Raiders came away from that weekend with just one win, mainly due to defensive play that has been a significant liability this season. A 6–3 loss to Quinnipiac — which included three power-play goals for the Bobcats — pushed Colgate down to 55th out of 60 teams in Division-I hockey with 3.66 goals allowed per game, the worst mark in the conference.
Saturday’s opponent, Cornell, could pose an even bigger challenge for Yale — both figuratively and literally. The Bulldogs have only defeated the Big Red — a team which lists 15 skaters weighing more than 200 pounds on its roster — once in the past five meetings, including a scoreless draw when the teams last collided in November.
Cornell, coming off a three-point weekend that featured a shutout against Princeton and a 2–2 tie with Quinnipiac, has the third-lowest goals-against average in the ECAC at 2.00 goals per game, and goaltender Mitch Gillam earned ECAC Goalie of the Week honors on Tuesday after his fifth shutout of the season.
But luckily for the Elis, goaltender Alex Lyon ’17 has edged out Gillam in every category this season, sitting in second place nationally with a 0.941 save percentage and 1.57 goals allowed per game.
Without a full lineup, the Bulldogs’ success may rely on Lyon, one of few constants on the Yale roster this season. Regardless, Allain remains confident that his battle-hardened Bulldogs are up for the conference challenge.
“Other guys will step up,” Allain said. “It’s an opportunity for us to overcome a little bit of adversity. That’s what championship teams have to do. Our guys have handled it extremely well so far and I don’t have any reason to believe we won’t continue to.”
The puck will drop inside Colgate’s Starr Arena at 7:05 p.m.