Coming off its best conference weekend of the year against two talented opponents, the Yale men’s hockey team looks to carry over those performances away from home.
The Elis (7–7–3, 3–5–2 ECAC Hockey) embark on their first road trip of the New Year, heading first to Hanover to face off against Dartmouth (7–8–3, 4–5–2), before travelling to Cambridge for a titanic clash with archrival No. 6 Harvard (11–5–1, 7–4–1).
“I thought that we showed a fair amount of mental toughness and resiliency … to come away with three points against two very good hockey teams, but I still would like to see us playing better,” coach Keith Allain ’80 said.
Last week, the Bulldogs defeated Clarkson 2–1 on a dramatic last-minute winner from forward and captain John Hayden ’17, before watching an early lead slip away in a hard-fought 2–2 draw with second-place St. Lawrence.
The Elis start off against Dartmouth, who sits just above Yale at seventh in the ECAC standings. The Big Green is coming off a two game win streak against other conference opponents, shellacking Harvard 8–4 on Tuesday and defeating cellar-dwelling Rensselaer 4–2.
The Dartmouth offense has been firing on all cylinders in recent weeks, notching a combined 12 goals in their last two games. The contributions have been spread throughout the depth chart, with no player on the team averaging more than one point a game over the season. The leading scorer for the Big Green is forward Troy Crema, who has 10 goals and 16 points in 18 games.
The hot Dartmouth attack poses a challenge for an improving Yale defense that has raised its level of performance since the holidays. The Elis have conceded just eight goals in their last four games, backstopped by both Patrick Spano ’17 and Sam Tucker ’19, who have shared the minutes in net.
“There are a lot of details that still need to be worked out,” defender Adam Larkin ’18 said. “I think our communication could be a little bit better back there, but it comes with comfortability and confidence out there, and I think that’s certainly come a long way from the beginning of the season. If you look at our goals against since coming back from break, it’s been down, and a lot of that has to do with the play of our goaltenders.”
Dartmouth’s main weakness comes on special teams, which overall are the second-worst in the country. The Big Green has a bottom-10 power play, a boon for a Yale penalty kill that has shipped power-play goals in five consecutive games. They also roll out the nation’s third-worst penalty kill, which will provide an opening for a Bulldog unit that has converted almost 20 percent of its player-advantage chances, led by eight tallies from Hayden.
However, the Bulldogs will be without the team’s leading assister, forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18, who broke his leg in the tie against St. Lawrence, ending his season. Hitchcock has contributed three goals and 16 assists offensively while logging significant minutes on special teams, leaving a substantial hole across all phases of the game. A number of Eli skaters will be expected to step up to the plate in Hitchcock’s absence, including freshmen centers Robbie DeMontis ’20 and Will D’Orsi ’20 as well as JM Piotrowski ’19, who just returned to the ice from offseason knee surgery.
“I don’t think it’s a matter of replacing what it is [Hitchcock] can do, because certainly the things that he can do, not many other guys can replicate,” D’Orsi said. “It’s really just a matter of each individual guy stepping up to his own strengths. You can’t find another guy to fill the unique role that he had for us and the skillset that he had, but if each one of us gives it a little extra, which I think we have in us, then we should be alright.”
Meanwhile, Harvard started off the season as one of the best teams in the country, but has dropped its last three contests, including a 4–0 humiliation against Rensselaer to slip from No. 2 to No. 6. The Crimson play a struggling Brown on Friday night and will have an opportunity to halt its skid before Yale comes to town. Harvard, which boasts the nation’s top power play unit, will provide a bigger test for the Yale penalty kill, especially given that the Crimson’s strength lies in its offense, which is third in the nation overall.
Harvard wields a couple of offensive weapons who sit near the top of the national offensive rankings. Forward Alex Kerfoot currently ranks fifth in the nation in scoring with 26 points in 17 games, while defenderAlex Fox leads all defenders in the country in points per game. The dynamic Harvard attack, which has scored four or more goals on 12 occasions this season, will test the Yale backline and netminders.
The Harvard blueline has been porous on occasion this year, conceding 14 goals in their last three games. Even without Hitchcock, Yale has enough offensive muscle to sustain significant pressure on the Harvard cage, as it looks to continue its strong displays from last weekend.
The Bulldogs face off against Dartmouth at 7:05 p.m. on Friday before traveling to Cambridge to play the Crimson.