After its first midseason off weekend since Nov. 16–17, 2012, the Yale men’s hockey team returns to action to face two familiar league opponents: Rensselaer and No. 15 Union.
The Bulldogs (3–4–2, 1–4–1 ECAC Hockey) have started their league slate slowly according to their high standards, dropping four of their first six conference matchups, including a 5–2 loss to the Dutchmen (10–3–2, 6–1–1) in New York earlier in the season. The Elis’ only conference victory came in dramatic comeback fashion against the Engineers (3–14–1, 1–7–0) the following night as they drew level with a goal 19 seconds left in the game and won in overtime.
“We’ve done a pretty good job of getting back to the fundamentals and figuring out what we need to do better as a team — all of the little things,” forward Chris Izmirlian ’17 said. “Having the extra practice this past week really helped us out too, to fine tune our game. I think we’re heading in the right direction and we’re all starting to buy in more and more everyday. It’s coming together on the ice and hopefully this weekend it’ll come to fruition.”
Yale produced a couple of strong performances over Thanksgiving break, with a hard-fought tie against ECAC rival Clarkson in the first round of the Shillelagh Tournament before a win against Holy Cross in its second game of the tourney. However, according to Yale head coach Keith Allain ’80, the Bulldogs have yet to play a full 60 minutes of quality hockey this season.
RPI has struggled so far this season, winning just three of its 18 games, and only one of its eight ECAC matchups, consigning the Engineers to the basement alongside Brown. The Troy, New York, squad has leaked 66 goals this year, with neither of the two goaltenders splitting time able to stem the bleeding. Meanwhile, the Bulldog offense has scored multiple goals in all but one game this year — and has grown in confidence as Allain has tinkered with the composition of the first two lines — so it could provide the shaky Engineer blue line with considerable adversity.
“We need to get more pucks to the net,” Izmirlian said. “The past couple weeks in practice we’ve harped on that. One part of the game we’ve been working on is getting in front of the net when our [defenders] have the puck at the point, screening the goalie and getting in front of his eyes. That will help us get more scoring chances and hopefully that’ll lead to more goals.”
RPI has also been far from impressive on the attack, scoring just 38 times at a clip of just 2.11 per game. The fulcrum of its offense is forward Evan Tironese, who has laid on 16 assists this season — including one against Yale on Nov. 5 — and leads the team with 20 points. Defender Dan Wilson and forward Riley Bourbonnais have spearheaded the Engineer scoring thus far, with eight and seven goals, respectively.
The Eli defense has undergone some injury-necessitated changes in recent weeks. The absence of defender Anthony Walsh ’19 has been mitigated by the reassignment of forward Henry Hart ’18 to the blue line. Hart earned praise from his teammates for his performance at the new position, where he partners defender Billy Sweezey ’20. Yale has conceded just six goals in its last three games after ceding 15 in the previous three.
“We always try to be able to know everybody’s responsibilities so you can come in and play,” Hart said. “We’re expected to be able to play defense no matter where we are on the ice. The biggest transition is more with the puck, having the time at the point. … I like having the puck on my stick and [on defense] you have a little more time and can make some good plays on the back end.”
Union will provide a much stiffer test for the Elis. The Dutchmen lie second in the ECAC standings, just a point off leader St. Lawrence, and feature the NCAA’s leading scorer in senior forward Mike Vecchione. Vecchione leads the nation in goals and points, with 16 and 31 respectively, and torched the Elis for a hat trick in the last matchup between the two teams.
In total, the Union offense is the fourth best in the country with 4.00 goals per game. Forward Spencer Foo leads the nation in assists with 19 to go along with seven goals. Forward Sebastian Vidmar and defender Jeff Taylor have also played key roles in the Union attack with 21 points and 14 points, respectively, in 15 games.
Senior Alex Sakellaropoulos will tend goal for Union after stealing a win against Quinnipiac last weekend. The Tinley Park, Illinois, native made 52 saves against the Bobcats last weekend to lift his team to a 5–2 victory despite a 54–17 shot deficit. Forward and captain John Hayden ’17 and forward Joe Snively ’19, who are tied for the team lead with 11 points, will look to crack Sakellaropoulos after neither scored against the Dutchmen in their last meeting.
“Every year I’ve been here, the games before break have always been a big momentum shifter for us,” forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “Last year, the win against [Boston University] last year was the biggest win of the year. The nonconference games are so important for [our rankings]. We know going into these games [you have] the leave it all out there mentality; there’s nothing to save going into break because you have time to recover.”
The Elis face off at 7 p.m. both Friday and Saturday at Ingalls Rink in their first home competitions since Nov. 12.