The No. 26 Yale women’s hockey team began its 2016–17 season in dominant fashion, with two convincing wins against Rochester Institute of Technology last weekend. However, the Elis face a sizeable challenge in continuing their season’s success as they begin ECAC competition against a pair of top-ranked opponents.

The Bulldogs (2–0–0, 0–0–0 ECAC Hockey) will make their conference debut on Friday against No. 17 Quinnipiac (5–2–1, 0–0–0) before turning to face No. 11 Princeton (2–0–0, 0–0–0) the following afternoon. Spurred by strong overall team play — eight players have scored goals and 11 have dished out assists so far this season — Yale looks to continue sharing the puck and build on their +9 goal differential in hopes of picking up wins in their opening weekend of ECAC play.

“We really have to focus on our speed for these big upcoming games,” defender Saroya Tinker ’20 said. “[Quinnipiac and Princeton] are both very fast compared to the teams we’ve played so far, but I know if we play up to the pace we’re capable of [then] we’ll be ready to go.”

Quinnipiac promises to be a formidable foe, coming off a record-breaking 30–3–5 season and its second consecutive NCAA tournament berth in March. Returning head coach Cassandra Turner, who set the record last year for most wins by a first-year college hockey coach, will oversee a team with multiple returning stars from last year’s squad.

Three of the Bobcats’ five leading scorers from last season — forwards Taylar Cianfarano, Emma Woods and Melissa Samoskevich — as well as the team’s ECAC Goaltender of the Year, Sydney Rossman, will return to the ice this season. Quinnipiac started its season with four consecutive wins and reached as high as No. 2 in the national rankings before enduring a 1–2–1 stretch. The Bobcats will attempt to right their ship with a victory over the Bulldogs at Ingalls Rink.

Yale faces a very quick turnaround between its games with Quinnipiac and Ivy rival Princeton. Not only did the Tigers capture the Ancient Eight championship last year, but they also made it to the NCAA Frozen Four before being thwarted 6–2 by Minnesota, the eventual 2016 national champion. Princeton is undefeated this season and, like Yale, is eager to begin its slate against more challenging opponents.

“We scrimmaged Cornell, and that was an eye-opener in terms of things to improve upon,” Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal said. “With Yale, it’s always a battle. They’re deep, talented and well-coached. Whenever we play them, home or away, it’s emotional and exciting.”

The Tigers graduated five seniors after last year, but senior forward Kelsey Koelzer — the first overall pick in the 2016 Women’s National Hockey League draft — will return to the ice along with six freshmen, who all boast impressive resumes.

Kampersal emphasized the opportunities for his freshmen to contribute playing time this season and to learn from their seven returning seniors.

For the five Yale seniors, a trip to the playoffs would be the third of their college careers, having only missed out on postseason play last season. The Bulldogs finished 9–11–2 in the ECAC, just one point away from clinching a berth in the eight-team tournament.

This weekend’s doubleheader will be an early barometer for the success the Elis can achieve this year, and the team is setting its sights high. Both Yale’s sixth-year head coach, Joakim Flygh, and team members like forward Phoebe Staenz ’17 have previously stated that the Bulldogs’ primary goal this season is to win the National Championship.

To do so, they could face either the Bobcats or the Tigers in postseason competition. Emerging from the weekend with one or more wins could validate the Elis’ cup ambitions as they work toward this goal.

“We’re looking to focus more this week in practice,” Flygh said. “[Facing Quinnipiac and Princeton] will be a new challenge for us, but something we look forward to.”

Yale won only one of four games against Quinnipiac and lost both to Princeton last season. Friday’s game against the Bobcats will start at 6 p.m., with the puck dropping against Princeton on Saturday at 3 p.m.