The Yale men’s hockey team heads out on the road this weekend for its final two games of the regular season, looking for a season split with Quinnipiac and Princeton.
The Bulldogs (11–11–5, 7–9–4 ECAC Hockey) can clinch at least two more home games for the first round of the ECAC tournament with one win this weekend. The Elis will also look to build on a dominant 4–0 victory over Dartmouth last weekend that halted a five-game winless skid, which began three weeks ago when Yale first faced the Bobcats (17–13–2, 11–8–1) and the Tigers (11–13–3, 6–11–3).
“This whole season we’ve had the mentality of taking it game by game,” captain and forward John Hayden ’17 said. “There are a lot of positives for us to take from last weekend, and we’ve had a good week of practice, so we’re all excited for Friday. When we play a full 60-minute game, we’ve proven that we can play with any team in the country.”
The Bulldogs faced Quinnipiac three weeks ago and since that game, both teams have picked up just one win. The Bobcats have conceded 11 goals in their last three matchups, with their sole win in that span coming against Rensselaer, the second-worst team in the ECAC.
Much like Yale, the Quinnipiac squad has been marred by inconsistency, and the team had just one four-point weekend through 19 games in the new year.
The 5–2 loss against the Bobcats earlier in the month exemplified the struggles that held the Elis to just one point in their following three games, with ill-timed penalties proving costly and only the top line being able to produce any offense. Yale spent 18 minutes in the box when Quinnipiac came to Ingalls Rink, taking two five-minute majors and allowing its opponents to score three of their five goals on the player advantage.
“Going up against those guys, there’s a lot of emotions running through our bodies before the game,” said forward Frank DiChiara ’17, who scored Yale’s only two goals against the Bobcats in the previous matchup. “We definitely let our emotions get the best of us. They have great special teams [and] a great power play and any time you give that [unit] time to make some plays … they’re going to capitalize. It’s really focusing on limiting those opportunities for them this weekend that can make the difference.”
Princeton, which snapped Yale’s six-game point streak on Feb. 3, has been consistently below the Bulldogs in the ECAC standings and is tied with Colgate for ninth place with 15 points, three below the Elis. While the Tigers have struggled this season, they have had flashes of strong play against highly-ranked teams, highlighted by victories against No. 11 Penn State and No. 5 UMass Lowell earlier in the season. In the previous matchup with the Bulldogs, the Tigers looked better than a bottom-four team in the ECAC, outworking Yale and skating to a 4–2 victory after a dominant, two-goal third period.
Since facing the Bulldogs, Princeton beat No. 18 St. Lawrence and Clarkson but went winless last weekend, allowing eight goals in a characteristically inconsistent stretch. The Tigers have been markedly stronger on home ice, with a 6–4–2 record at Hobey Baker Memorial Rink and a 4–9–1 record when on the road. The Tigers will provide a challenge for the Bulldogs in front of the Princeton fans.
“Every game’s important from now on,” DiChiara said. “Hopefully we can just build off [the win against Dartmouth] in these games — limit our turnovers, try and possess the puck a little more, make some plays and … do a better job of getting shots on goal and getting traffic and stopping in front of the net … you never know when [a goaltender] is going to steal the show and you have to do whatever you can to get in his face and get him off his game.”
With only a three-point difference between Yale, Dartmouth, Colgate and Princeton, the matchups for the playoffs in the first weekend of March are still up in the air. If the standings remain the same after the weekend’s games, however, the Bulldogs will face off against the Tigers in the first round, which makes their last regular season game even more significant.
The Elis find themselves in a somewhat unfamiliar position this season, knowing that their only shot at an NCAA Championship is winning the ECAC tournament.
“If I reflect back on [the season], I can see a lot of growth in a lot of individuals, and I can see some areas where we’re the kind of team I want us to be,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “I guess it’s coming more slowly than I would have liked … but it’s a little too early to write the final chapter in this season just yet.”
Yale faces Quinnipiac before the team travels south to play Princeton. Puck drop for both games is at 7 p.m.
Chris Bracken contributed reporting.