The No. 7 Yale men’s hockey team, riding a seven-game winning streak, finishes out its 2015–16 regular season this weekend against conference opponents Princeton and No. 1 Quinnipiac — two of only five teams to hand the Bulldogs a loss this season.
Fresh off a pair of victories against No. 19 St. Lawrence and Clarkson in their last regular-season home stand, the Elis (18–5–4, 13–4–3 ECAC Hockey) appear in a much stronger position this time around to take down the Tigers (5–20–2, 3–15–2) and Bobcats (23–2–7, 14–1–5). Holding the highest poll and PairWise rankings they have boasted all season, the Bulldogs face the best and worst of ECAC Hockey, looking to somehow maintain that momentum with postseason competition just two weeks away.
“We don’t peak in hockey — we grow,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “We’re constantly improving. I think we’re better than we were two weeks ago, but two weeks from now I expect us to be a lot better than we are today.”
The difference between this Friday’s contest against Princeton and the 4–2 defeat on Dec. 5 may be the presence of goaltender Alex Lyon ’17. The Hobey Baker candidate — who leads the nation in goals-against average, 1.51, and save percentage, 0.941, suffered an injury in warm-ups prior to that December matchup that forced him to miss his only game of the season. Since that loss, Yale has gone 13–1–2, a stretch that includes the nation’s longest active winning streak, while Princeton has gone 0–12–2, suffering from a negative 1.62 scoring margin that is third-worst in Division I hockey during that timespan.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, Quinnipiac boasts arguably the most formidable roster in the league. Five Quinnipiac players — defender Devon Toews and forwards Sam Anas, Tim Clifton, Landon Smith and Travis St. Denis — have earned 25 points or higher this season to date, while only one Bulldog, reigning ECAC Rookie of the Week Joe Snively ’19, has topped that mark with 26 points.
Yale’s final regular-season contest will pit the sixth-highest scoring offense against the Eli defense, which leads the nation with just 1.63 goals allowed per game. Moreover, the matchup will feature the closest geographic rivalry in ECAC Hockey, one that only got stronger when the Bulldogs defeated the Bobcats 4–0 in the 2013 National Championship game.
“We couldn’t ask for a better game to end the regular season on,” forward John Hayden ’17 said. “They have a great team. We have a great amount of respect for them, and we’re all excited.”
Although Quinnipiac suffered a loss to St. Lawrence on Feb. 12, the defeat marks just the second of the Bobcats’ entire season. Quinnipiac is just one of two teams to hold the Eli offense — which is averaging 2.70 goals per game — scoreless for an entire game this season.
Yet Yale is currently playing its best hockey of the season, in addition to seeing a fuller bench than it has in the past few weeks. Previously injured forwards Ryan Hitchcock ’18 and Chris Izmirlian ’17 played in both games last weekend, and defender Nate Repensky ’18 also returned to see minutes over the last two weekends.
“It’s always nice to be back on the ice,” Hitchcock said. “It makes you a lot hungrier when you get out there, you cherish it … I’m just trying to come back in and keep the [team’s] success going anyway I can.”
The Bulldogs have already clinched a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey playoffs and will begin their postseason play with a best-of-three series on March 11. The Elis can finish anywhere between first and third, depending on the weekend’s results.
In addition to determining conference playoff seedings, Yale’s game against Princeton will be important for another reason: With a win over their final Ivy League opponent of the regular season, the Elis can guarantee themselves a share of the Ivy League championship, which goes to the team that posts the best record against the other five Ivy opponents in the ECAC.
No. 12 Harvard guaranteed itself at least a share with a 2–2 tie against Cornell last weekend, which gave the Crimson a 7–1–2 record against Ancient Eight opponents for the season. Yale has gone 6–1–2 through nine of its 10 such games.
The puck will drop at 7 p.m. in Princeton, New Jersey, on Friday, and at the same time in Hamden on Saturday.