Courtesy of Yale Athletics
The Yale men’s hockey team faces just one foe this weekend, with a home-and-home against ECAC opponent and Ivy League rival Brown. The upcoming match-up provides the Bulldogs (8–7–4, 4–5–3 ECAC Hockey) with an opportunity to build off their two consecutive three-point weekends and extend their four-game unbeaten streak.
This weekend also gives the Elis a chance to climb further up the ECAC standings. The cellar-dwelling Bears (4–14–1, 3–9–0) currently have the second-fewest points in the conference and the third-worst winning percentage in the country, having emerging victorious in only four of their 19 contests.
“[This weekend] was a product of the hard work we put in over break,” captain and forward John Hayden ’17 said. “I commend the freshmen on stepping into big roles this year and embracing the learning curve. Everyone did a good job this weekend of stepping up and handling the adversity. If we continue to develop and learn from past games, hopefully we’ll be the team we want to be by the time ECAC playoffs come around.”
Yale continued its mid-season surge last weekend, hammering Dartmouth 7–0 before battling No. 9 Harvard to a 1–1 stalemate. The Eli offense came to life, with seven different players netting in the team’s best goalscoring weekend of the season. Forwards throughout the depth chart stepped up to contribute to the Bulldog firepower in the wake of the long-term injury suffered by the team’s leading assister, forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18.
Brown’s porous defense will grant the Yale attack plenty of opportunities, as the Bears have conceded six or more goals on six separate occasions, highlighted by a 8–8 tie with Arizona State. Rookie Gavin Nieto backstops the Brown blueline. Nieto has conceded just over four goals a game, but the defenders in front of him have been doing him few favors.
The Bulldog special teams exploited Dartmouth’s weakness in that area, and they will look to do the same to Brown. The Bears currently have the worst penalty kill in the country, conceding goals on 29.8 percent of the occasions they send a skater to the box, providing a golden opportunity for Yale’s dynamic power play.
The Eli unit converts on almost 20 percent of its power plays, spearheaded by Hayden, who has feasted on player-advantage opportunities. His nine power-play goals are second in the nation.
The power play is led by defender Charlie Curti ’19, who racked up four points against Dartmouth, using his smooth skating and silky passing to create high-quality chances. In his sophomore campaign, Curti — recruited to Yale as an offensive player — has contributed eight points, while consistently improving on the defensive side of his game.
“[Curti is] really a complete teammate,” Hayden said. “He’s great in the locker room, great on the ice, he takes any advice to heart and works on things. [Regarding] his on-ice ability, he probably has the best skill package on our team, as far as skating and puck-handling. I have all the confidence in the world in him, and I know he’ll continue to get better as the year goes on.”
Three skaters have produced the majority of Brown’s offense this year. Junior forward Sam Lafferty leads the team with 18 assists and 24 points, fellow junior forward Charlie Corcoran paces the Bears with 12 goals and a third junior attacker, Max Willman, has chipped in eight goals and nine helpers.
Brown fails to muster any bite on its power play, which ranks third-worst in the nation. Yale’s penalty kill displayed improved performances over the weekend, including shutting down No. 9 Harvard’s national-best power play, which provided a welcome respite from their six-game streak of conceding when down by a player. Led by a virtuoso display from goaltender Patrick Spano ’17 who earned ECAC Goalie of the Week for his work, Yale turned out its best defensive effort of the season and will look to expand on that foundation.
“We’re going to bring more of the same [defensively],” Curti said. “We started blocking a lot more shots and keeping shots to the outside that Spano can handle. Obviously he’s going to continue his play and he’s been playing great for us lately. We’re going to trust him, he’s going to trust us to do our jobs, and we’re going to play defense in the offensive zone — forechecking aggressively is basically playing defense 200 feet away from your own net.”
The Bears snapped a five-game losing streak that stretched back to last year with a dramatic 4–3 overtime success against Dartmouth last Saturday. Only Rensselaer lies below Brown in the ECAC standings, while the Bulldogs sit in seventh, five points ahead of the Bears with 11 points.
Looking up the table, Clarkson is the first team for Yale to target, three points ahead having played a game more, followed by a cluster of rivals — No. 14 Cornell with 16, No. 17 Quinnipiac with 17 and Harvard with 18. The two leaders, No. 16 St. Lawrence and No. 5 Union, both boast 21 points, 10 ahead of a Yale squad whose haul has been hindered by its slow start.
“Am I happy with where we’re at?” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “I would like to be 19–0, that would make me happy. But I think for the most part our guys are giving us everything they have. I also think for the most part, guys have gotten better individually and as a result we’ve gotten better as a group, so that pleases me.”