After splitting its opening two-game series after a loss against Brown, the Yale men’s hockey team faces one of its toughest challenges of the season just two weeks into the 2017–18 campaign. The Bulldogs will take on No. 3 Harvard in Cambridge this Friday before heading to Hanover for a date with Dartmouth on Saturday.
Dartmouth (0–2–0, 0–1–0 ECAC Hockey) finished ninth in the conference standings, just one spot below Yale (1–1–0, 1–1–0) last season and will be looking to avenge its defeat to the Elis in the first round of ECAC playoffs. The Crimson (1–0–0, 1–0–0), on the other hand, won both the regular season championship and the postseason tournament in the ECAC in 2016–17 before advancing to the Frozen Four, where its season ended in a one-goal loss to national runner-up Minnesota-Duluth.
“Personally, what happened last year doesn’t really matter,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “This is a new team and it’s a new season. The bottom line is we need two points on Friday night so we can get to where we want to get to in our league. It’s always fun to play up at Harvard. There are pretty similar philosophies between the two schools so it’s always more interesting when you play against [Harvard] than pretty much anyone else in our league.”
Harvard enters Friday’s matchup coming off a successful 2016–17 season in which it qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the third-straight year. The Crimson ranked second in the country in scoring offense, averaging 4.06 goals per game, and fourth in power-play percentage. Harvard also received nine of the 12 first-place votes in the ECAC Hockey Preseason Coaches’ Poll, en route to being picked as the favorite to win the conference for the second year running.
The Crimson will have to account for the loss of its top-three point scorers from a season ago, including All-American Alexander Kerfoot. The 5-foot-10 forward, who has already scored three goals for the Colorado Avalanche this season, tied for the team lead in points with fellow senior and forward Tyler Moy, who led all Harvard players with 22 goals. The return of goaltender Merrick Madsen, a 2016–17 First-Team All-Ivy selection, should take some pressure off the Crimson offense. Madsen has posted save percentages of .931 and .923 in the previous two seasons.
But the Crimson do boast a strong nucleus of sophomores, led by defender Adam Fox, who scored six goals and tallied 34 assists in his rookie campaign. Additionally, first-year forwards Jack Badini and Reilly Walsh were both selected in the NHL draft this past summer and each recorded an assist in their collegiate debut: a 5–0 victory against the Big Green last weekend.
The Bulldogs should have added incentive heading into Friday’s matchup against their perennial rival. In their two regular-season meetings last season, Harvard tied Yale 1–1 in overtime before defeating the Elis 4–2 in the second match. The schools then squared off again in the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs, but the Crimson swept the Bulldogs in a pair of 6–4 and 4–3 defeats as Yale’s season came to an untimely demise.
Goalie Sam Tucker ’19 will have to provide the timely net-minding he displayed in Yale’s postseason losses to the Crimson last March to give the Elis a chance on Friday. After stopping 68 of 71 shots in the first round versus Dartmouth, Tucker posted a .911 save percentage and 2.01 goals against average in the two games against then-No. 2 Harvard.
“Harvard ending our season last year definitely didn’t sit well with anyone on our team, so I’m sure we’re going to use that as motivation on Friday,” captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “We owe it to our teammates last year that have moved on to get the win for them.”
In last year’s regular-season matchups against Dartmouth, the Bulldogs swept the Big Green 7–0 and 4–0 before ultimately eliminating Dartmouth from the ECAC tournament. Dartmouth finished in the bottom quarter of the final ECAC standings last year, with an overall losing record of 10–18–3. Just two games in, the 2017–18 season does not look much more promising for the Big Green.
The team has allowed a combined 10 goals in its matchups against Holy Cross and Harvard, while managing to answer with just three of its own. Offensively, Dartmouth will be without last year’s leading scorer, forward Troy Crema, who graduated in 2017. Forwards Corey Kalk and Will Graber, who recorded just 11 and five goals last year, lead the team’s returning skaters for this season. On the other side of the ice, Dartmouth’s goalkeeper Devin Buffalo, who returns to the net for his senior season, recorded a .895 save percentage during the 2016–17 season, placing him last in the ECAC rankings.
Led by forwards Hitchcock and Joe Snively ’19, Yale’s offense must take advantage of the Big Green’s struggling defense not only to earn two points on Saturday, but also to improve upon areas where the team struggled last weekend. The Bulldogs were zero for 12 in converting power-play opportunities into goals against Brown, with their inability to score on Friday night keeping them from a weekend sweep.
For Yale’s newcomers, the contest against Dartmouth poses the perfect opportunity to continue adapting to the pace and style of collegiate hockey. After tallying points for the Bulldogs last weekend, the trio of Yale rookies, comprised of defender Phil Kemp ’21 and forwards Brett Jewell ’21 and Dante Palecco ’21, will likely see favorable playing time against the Big Green.
“We have had a good week of practices,” Kemp said. “I am confident in my teammates and in our abilities as a hockey team. The transition to college hockey has been smooth. There is a winning culture here, we consistently compete for championships, and the guys in the room made sure all seven freshmen knew what it means to be a Bulldog.”
The puck drops in Cambridge at Bright-Landry Hockey Center at 7 p.m. on Friday, and the Bulldogs will resume play in Hanover at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday.
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