Coming off a dominant season-opening victory at home, the No. 16 Yale men’s ice hockey team embarks on its first road trip of the season to kick off its conference slate.
The Elis (1–0–0, 0–0–0 ECAC Hockey) travel first to No. 20 Union (6–2–1, 2–0–0) on Friday night before taking on Rensselaer (1–5–1, 0–2–0) the following evening. Last year, the Bulldogs split the season series with both teams. After falling to the Engineers 3–2 in Troy, New York, an overtime winner from forward Andrew Gaus ’19 lifted Yale to a 2–1 victory over the Dutchmen on last year’s corresponding road trip.
“Our league is so competitive every single night that we expect every game to be a battle and that’s exactly what we got last year with Union and RPI,” Gaus said. “Anyone can beat anyone each night regardless of their record or ranking, so I think we know going into this weekend that we have to play our best to have a chance to win both games. We have to play a full 60 minutes in order to have success, especially on the road in this league.”
Yale started the new season well last weekend, beating nonconference foe Sacred Heart 4–1. Four different Bulldogs chipped in goals, and the defense bounced back from an early concession to stifle the Pioneer attack both in even-strength and power-play situations.
Union, the NCAA national champion in the 2013–14 season, has started the year in fine form after splitting a season-opening road series against then-No. 11 Michigan. The Dutchmen tied Sacred Heart 4–4 two weekends ago, and are off to an unbeaten conference start after sweeping RPI last weekend.
Union’s offense has been the team’s key to success, having posted 34 goals in their nine games so far this season. The Dutchmen attack is spearheaded by senior forward and captain Mike Vecchione, the defending ECAC Player of the Month, who averages more than a goal a game and leads the team with 17 points. Three other Union players — forwards Sebastian Vidmar and Spencer Foo and defender Jeff Taylor — average at least a point a game and will provide a stiff test for the young Bulldog blueline.
The one offensive aspect in which Union has not consistently found success is its power play, having converted on just 12.7 percent of its man-advantage opportunities through nine games. The strong Yale penalty kill, which held Sacred Heart scoreless on nine power player chances last Saturday, will expect continued success.
“As usual with our team, we will be very focused on team defense,” defender Adam Larkin ’18 said. “Vecchione is off to a quick start and is a player that we will have to be aware of when he is out there, but it does not alter our game plan too much. Defensively, we want to be aggressive and turn the puck over so we can get into our quick transition game. We are very aggressive with opposing team’s power plays and work in unison to anticipate and react quickly.”
The Dutchmen have not had the same level of success as Yale in keeping the puck out of their net, allowing 28 goals so far this season-—more than three per game. Senior netminder Alex Sakellaropoulos will be the presumed starter. After having split time earlier in the year, he started both games against RPI last weekend and was named ECAC Goaltender of the Week for his efforts. Despite his low 0.904 save percentage this season, Sakellaropoulous has won all five of the games he has started between the pipes.
The Engineers have struggled so far this season, winning just one of their first seven games. RPI has given up more than three goals in every single game this year, and only one of its five defeats has come by a one-goal margin. The Yale offense, which scored four goals in its only game this season, will expect to continue its success against the pliable Engineer defense.
The Bulldogs feature experience and depth at the forward position. Against Sacred Heart, the first frontline of captain John Hayden ’17, Ryan Hitchcock ’18 and Joe Snively ’19 contributed three points, while the third line of Mike Doherty ’17, Ted Hart ’19 and Chris Izmirlian ’17 one-upped them by combining for four.
“Last weekend, I thought we had a lot of success offensively because we stuck to our game plan and used our speed well,” Gaus said. “Our team speed is definitely one of our strengths and to consistently produce offensively we must use that speed and get lots of pucks to the net.”
RPI has had slightly more success on the offensive side of the puck than defensively. Sophomore forward Evan Tironese and senior forward Riley Bourbonnais have contributed 10 and eight points, respectively, in seven games, the only players on the team to put up more than four points on the season. The Engineers have converted on 14.3 percent of their power-play opportunities with six goals in 42 chances, a ratio identical to Yale’s.
Opportunities to capitalize on the man advantage will be more plentiful this season than in years past, as the NCAA has increased attention to minor infractions. In Yale’s matchup against Sacred Heart, officials whistled for 18 penalties, 10 of which were against the Bulldogs, disrupting the rhythm of play and creating numerous special-teams situations.
“We definitely have to be a little more careful with our sticks because the officials are really honing in on that,” defender Anthony Walsh ’19 said. “But think it could benefit our team because we like to play with a lot of speed in our game which should draw more penalties. The penalty kill is something we definitely take pride in here, and our coaches gave us a really good game plan … however, we need to limit our penalties and try to stay out of the box more.”
The Bulldogs face off against Union on Friday in Schenectady, New York before traveling to RPI on Saturday. Both games begin at 7 p.m.