Courtesy of Yale Athletics
Last season, Dartmouth swept a heavily favored Yale team out of the playoffs at Ingalls Rink with a pair of one-goal victories after the Bulldogs had claimed both regular season games. This year, the Elis get a shot at redemption as the ninth-seeded Big Green returns to Ingalls for a first-round ECAC playoff matchup.
The Bulldogs (11–13–5 ,7–11–4 ECAC Hockey) shut out Dartmouth (10–16–3, 7–13–2) in the teams’ previous two contests this season, Yale’s only two clean sheets of the year. The Elis netted 11 goals in the two victories and will look to replicate those performances this weekend while banishing the demons of last year.
“[The postseason] is the most exciting time of the year,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “[The] guys know that if we want to continue to play together as a team, we have to be successful. It’s definitely like a new season.”
Yale enters the playoffs on a long skid, having won just one of its past eight games. The winless stretch dropped the Bulldogs down to the eighth spot in the league standings, 16 points behind champions Harvard and 13 points fewer than they accumulated a year ago.
The Elis’ sole win in their past eight games came against Dartmouth two weekends ago, a 4–0 success highlighted by goals from four different skaters. That offensive balance has proved elusive this year. Four Eli forwards — captain John Hayden ’17, Joe Snively ’19, Ted Hart ’19 and Frank DiChiara ’17 — have netted double-digit goals this season.
The quartet has 51 of Yale’s 83 goals on the season; no other forward has reached the 10-point plateau. The reliance on only a few skaters to produce offense has hampered the Bulldogs’ firepower, with the Elis netting just 17 goals in their last eight games. Only four of those goals, one of which was an empty-netter, came from a different skater.
Dartmouth has the eighth worst defense in the NCAA, allowing 3.52 goals a game, and the Big Green has conceded 27 goals in its last five games. The leaky defense is complemented by an atrocious penalty kill, the second worst in the country. The player-down unit has only prevented goals on 73.4 percent of its kills, a boon for a sputtering Yale power play.
The Bulldogs have netted just two power-play goals on 33 opportunities in their last eight games, for a 6 percent conversion rate. The engine of the Eli player-up unit has been Hayden, who has potted 10 of Yale’s 24 power-play goals, and his lack of scoring on the player advantage through the eight-game stretch is a significant reason for Yale’s tribulations.
Dartmouth also struggles on the power play, ranking in the bottom third of the NCAA in converting those opportunities. The Yale penalty kill, which ranks just 38th in the country after setting an NCAA record for its top goal-prevention proficiency last year, will have a chance to find its feet against the struggling Big Green.
Goaltenders Patrick Spano ’17 and Sam Tucker ’19 have engaged in a battle for the starting netminder position in the second half of the season. Spano shut out Dartmouth in Hanover, while Tucker blanked the Big Green in New Haven. The two have split the weekends in goal recently, although Tucker has seen more games and has been the starter against the Bulldogs’ tougher opponents. He will start on Friday night, but the best-of-three format means both netminders will need to be ready.
“We both like to work hard during practice,” Spano said. “We’ve both been pushing each other. All three goalies have worked hard the whole year, and it has made us all better.”
Dartmouth’s two main offensive threats are forwards Troy Crema and Corey Kalk. Crema has netted 17 goals and 12 assists, while Kalk has totaled 11 finishes and 10 helpers. Aside from the forward duo, eight other Dartmouth players have more than 10 points in the Big Green’s balanced offensive attack.
After an inconsistent season, winning the ECAC serves as Yale’s sole hope of appearing in its seventh NCAA tournament in the past nine years. Last season, the Bulldogs’ early exit did not impede their tournament aspirations. However, they sit tied for 33rd in the Pairwise Rankings. As only the top 16 teams make the tournament, securing the ECAC’s automatic bid is the only remaining path.
“We might not have had the results we wanted in the regular season,” defender Billy Sweezey ’20 said. “We’re excited for this opportunity and we’re looking at it as a new season. We have to buckle down … everyone on the team knows what’s expected of us, we all know what we need to do to be successful. It’s just a matter of actually going out and performing.”
Yale has won two of the past eight ECAC Tournaments.