In its past four games, the No. 8 Yale men’s hockey team has faced three ranked teams and defeated each one. This weekend, the Bulldogs will host two more top-20 squads at Ingalls Rink as the fight for conference and NCAA Tournament positioning continues.
The Elis (16–5–4, 11–4–3 ECAC Hockey) welcome a pair of strikingly similar teams — right down to those opponents’ overall records — to New Haven on Friday and Saturday in their final regular-season homestand of the season. No. 18 St. Lawrence (16–11–3, 10–6–2) opens the weekend at Yale, while No. 20 Clarkson (16–11–3, 8–7–3) closes out the Bulldogs’ 2015–16 home slate.
A welcome boost to Yale’s lineup will come in the form of All-American defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16, who will play after missing the Elis’ past two contests at Colgate and No. 16 Cornell due to a suspension. And while the Bulldogs have won five in a row, the team knows it cannot afford to let up on its level of play with the postseason on the horizon.
“The last five games have been kind of like a growing point,” captain and defenseman Mitch Witek ’16 said. “You can see the transformation for our forecheck, and the way that it kind of suffocates teams … that’s the bread and butter of this team.”
On Friday night, Yale will match up with SLU, whose unbeaten streak of six games includes a 4–3 overtime defeat of No. 1 Quinnipiac — the Bobcats’ first ECAC loss of the season. Now just three points behind the Elis in the ECAC standings at fourth place, the Saints boast the third-best goals per game average in the ECAC with 2.97 per contest, compared to 2.64 for Yale.
Despite the impressive run, the third-longest unbeaten streak in the country, SLU holds an underwhelming resume on the road with only five wins in 14 games, a stark contrast to its 11–5–0 home record.
In addition, the status of standout SLU goaltender Kyle Hayton is unclear after the sophomore was injured in the Quinnipiac upset last Friday. Hayton, a major asset for the Saints, ranks fourth in the nation with a 0.937 save percentage, slightly below Yale’s Alex Lyon ’17, who claims the top spot with a 0.944 mark. With freshman Arthur Brey in net on Saturday, SLU still managed to win 4–1 over Princeton, the bottom team in the ECAC standings.
The Saints are the lone team in the conference whose biggest offensive contributor is a defenseman, as blueliner Gavin Bayreuther leads the team with 23 points and nine goals. The remainder of scoring is widespread among the team, as 14 players for St. Lawrence have tallied 10 or more points this season. On Yale’s roster, just six players have reached that mark.
“Our focus is to have the best game of the year on Friday night,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “And, no matter what happens, to have a better game on Saturday.”
The Bulldogs will have a tough task as they try to better themselves in the second game of the weekend, which will see Yale square off with Clarkson for the Elis’ final regular season home contest of the season. The Knights had won six in a row before falling in overtime to Quinnipiac last Saturday, and their 0.731 winning percentage in the 2016 calendar year is second in the conference, only behind the 0.846 clip of Yale.
But as is the case with SLU, Clarkson’s home-road splits are eye-catching. The Knights are 11–2–2 at home, but just 5–7–1 away from their familiar confines of Cheel Arena. Nevertheless, though travelling from Potsdam, New York may take its toll on the Knights, they do seem to adjust after some time: Clarkson is 0–4–1 in the first game of back-to-backs outside of the Empire State but 3–2–0 on the tail end of those trips, including a decisive 5–1 win at No. 12/13 Harvard.
Clarkson also boasts its own formidable goaltender, as senior netminder Greg Lewis ranks ninth in the country with a 1.91 goals-against average. On the other end of the ice, the Knights’ offensive attack is spearheaded by sophomore forward Sam Vigneault, whose 10 goals and 12 assists both pace his squad.
The two matchups mark another tough weekend for the Elis, who, after Saturday, will have played then-ranked teams in five or their previous six contests. But the Bulldogs can find motivation in a fast approaching postseason, as the ECAC Tournament begins just two weeks from Friday. And a solid performance this weekend — with some help — could clinch a top-four ECAC finish for the team, which would lock up a first-round playoff bye and an invaluable extra week of healing for a battered Bulldog squad.
“We’ve got to make sure we have good last ECAC weekends,” forward Cody Learned ’16 said. “We’ve been doing well and I think we’re heading in the right direction, but we still have some more work to do.”
Both games of Yale’s Senior Weekend are scheduled for 7 p.m.