The last time the Yale men’s hockey team beat rival Quinnipiac in the regular season, the current first years were in sixth grade.
Yale (3–3–0, 3–3–0 ECAC hockey) endured another weekend in which it took one step forward and one step back against St. Lawrence and No. 8 Clarkson. Now, the Bulldogs head south to face Ivy foe Princeton (2–2–1, 1–2–1) on Friday night before challenging crosstown rival Quinnipiac (3–5–1, 0–4–0) in a nationally-broadcast game on Saturday.
“We’re blessed in our league,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “You can find a reason why every team in our league is a rival. Friday night we go play an Ivy League team in their building and Saturday night we play a local rival, a team that we share some common geography with.”
The Bulldogs ended the regular season last year with a disheartening 4–1 defeat to the Tigers that allowed Princeton to jump ahead of the Bulldogs and finish in seventh place. That victory gave Princeton a season sweep, as it outscored Yale 8–3 across the teams’ two contests.
However, similar to the Elis, the Tigers have made a bumpy start to the 2017–18 campaign. After being touted as a potential dark horse contender in the conference preseason poll, Princeton fell to then-No. 18 Cornell and Union before earning just its second win of the season last weekend against a mediocre Rensselaer team.
“They’ve got tremendous speed, they transition well and they’ve got pretty good size,” Allain said. “It’ll be an interesting hockey game.”
Yale’s defense will have its hands full keeping Princeton’s dynamic offense away from Eli goaltender Sam Tucker ’19. The Tigers offense ranks 13th in the nation, a result of returning all three of its top scorers from last season. Junior forwards Ryan Kuffner and Max Véronneau have combined for 14 points during the team’s five games to help Princeton average 3.40 goals per game, a mark that ranks Princeton second in the ECAC and two spots above Yale’s 3.17.
Last weekend, first-year forward Dante Palecco ’21 led the Eli offense, notching a hat trick on Friday and five points overall to earn both ECAC offensive player of the week and rookie of the week. Palecco joined the top line with captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 and forward Joe Snively ’19 for the first time in last weekend’s games, and the trio combined for 11 points. That line, along with forwards Ted Hart ’19 and sophomore standouts Evan and Mitchell Smith ’20 will need to capitalize on the inexperience of Princeton’s first-year goaltender Ryan Ferland in order to clinch a victory against the Tigers.
“We’re looking forward to this weekend having the opportunity to play two strong teams on the road,” Tucker said. “For Princeton, we know that they’ve been playing some really good hockey this year and we’re excited for the challenge.”
Despite being nationally ranked early in the season, Quinnipiac has endured a four-game losing streak, falling to Cornell, Colgate, Rensselaer and Union in the past two weekends.
The Bobcats have struggled at both ends, ranking near the bottom of the ECAC in both goals scored per game and save percentage. Quinnipiac goaltenders Andrew Shortridge and Keith Petruzzelli have split time in the goal, but neither has proved a solution, as the team’s overall save percentage sits at just .894. Again, it will be up to Yale’s defense to buckle down and keep a stick on the Bobcats’ leading scorers Odeen Tufto and Tanner MacMaster, who have tallied seven and five goals, respectively, in nine games this season.
“We need to be able to maintain our energy for all 60 minutes,” Evan Smith said. “[There’s] no doubt that Quinnipiac is a big rivalry, but we have to treat every game the same. [Because] two points are always on the line it’s important to stay even keeled.”
Quinnipiac’s penchant for penalties will lend Yale another chance to improve on its anemic power play. The Bulldogs have scored just twice in 30 power-play opportunities — only Alaska-Fairbanks has a worse mark in Division 1.
Avoiding penalties will be another key for the Elis. The rivalry games against Quinnipiac a year ago brought out rampant indiscipline, as Yale players spent a combined 34 minutes in the penalty box across the two matchups, including a pair of major penalties. The Bulldog penalty kill has been solid this year, contributing a couple of shorthanded finishes, but its effectiveness diminishes the more time it spends on the ice.
The puck drops at 7 p.m. in Princeton on Friday and the same time in Hamden on Saturday.
Joey Kamm | email@example.com
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