With five ECAC weekend series already in the books, the Yale men’s hockey team will turn its attention to a four-game nonconference slate after playing ten of its first 11 games against conference opponents.
Yale (4–7–0, 4–6–0 ECAC Hockey) is coming off its best victory of the season, a 5–3 win against No. 19 Union last week, and will look to sustain that momentum when the Elis make the drive down I-95 for a date with Sacred Heart (4–10–2, 2–7–2 Atlantic) this Saturday. Three weeks later, the Bulldogs will then head to Dartmouth for the Ledyard Classic for a matchup versus No. 17 Minnesota-Duluth (7–8–2, 2–6–0 NCHC), followed by an early season rematch with No. 13 New Hampshire (9–5–1, 4–4–1 Hockey East).
“This is obviously a big-time momentum game for us,” defender Adam Larkin ’18 said. “Certainly we haven’t gotten off to the start that we envisioned, but I think that if we can get a win this weekend and feel good about our last couple of games heading into the break, we can carry some momentum into the second half. No doubt we have plenty of big games coming up out of the holiday, so it would be great to come back feeling refreshed, energetic and confident.”
The Bulldogs opened up last year’s campaign with a 4–1 triumph over the Pioneers at home. This year, though, the matchup heads back to Webster Bank Arena, also the site of the 2018 NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Regional, which Yale is co-hosting. Coached by former Yale assistant C.J. Marottolo, Sacred Heart recently notched its first win in eight games in a triumph over Mercyhurst last week but remains dead last in the Atlantic Hockey standings.
The Pioneers rank 59th out of 60 Division I teams in team defense, conceding over four goals per game. That bodes for well for a Bulldog squad that posted its highest offensive output in six games in the defeat of the Dutchmen, largely due to the efforts of forward Ted Hart ’19 who netted a hat trick after coming into the weekend scoreless on the season. Still, Sacred Heart boasts a talented scorer of its own in forward Vito Bavaro, who has tallied nine goals in 15 games thus far.
“I wanted to go to the net more and look for tips and rebounds, and I think that certainly helped me find success [last] weekend,” Hart said. “Scoring those goals gave me confidence in the offensive zone, and I started shooting the puck more, which helped me get the third goal on Saturday.”
The Bulldogs, who doubled their season total of power-play goals with a pair last weekend, are just 4–49 on many advantages this season. That is the second-worst unit in the nation, but the Pioneers’ 8–64 mark isn’t much better. The ability to capitalize on opportunities with an extra attacker will be critical for both teams, as the penalty boxes are expected to be packed in a matchup of two squads that rank in the top-15 nationally in penalty minutes.
The opening game of the Ledyard tournament in Hanover will be a battle of the Bulldogs, as Yale faces off against Minnesota-Duluth, before playing New Hampshire in a rematch the following night. Both games will pose sizable challenges for the Elis, as Duluth owns multiple wins over nationally ranked foes, while the Wildcats bested Yale 4–0 at Ingalls Rink just two weeks ago.
Duluth’s attack is led by defender Scott Perunovich, who has tallied 12 points over 17 games. Defender Mikey Anderson and forward duo Riley Tufte and Peter Krieger have contributed nine goals apiece, as well. The team has struggled to find an offensive spark this season, however, averaging just 2.35 goals per game so far this season.
Defensively, Minnesota’s primary goaltender, Hunter Shepard, has struggled, boasting just a .906 save percentage that Yale’s offense will need to capitalize on to produce its points. Even with the offensive edge, Yale could still find itself in hot water if it continues to see high penalty minutes. The Elis’ spent 23 minutes in the box against Union, including an ejection for forward Evan Smith ’20, and Duluth will be ruthless as it nearly triples Yale’s power-play conversion percentage 17.65 to 7.53.
“If I were to say we’ve focused on one thing in particular it would be working on passing efficiently so that we can add even more speed to our game, continuing to make that a team strength,” captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “Our team is at our best when we’re playing fast and relentlessly.”
Penalties could prove crucial in the second night’s game, as well, as New Hampshire ranks 14th nationally in power-play percentage and third in penalty kills. Additionally, Michael McNicholas leads the team in total points with 15, two of which came against Yale in the teams’ recent matchup. Another Wildcat forward who helped the team clinch its previous win over the Elis was Ara Nazarian, who currently sits second in goal scoring for New Hampshire.
On top of its top-ranked offense, New Hampshire’s defense allows just 2.20 goals per game, earning it a seventh-place spot in the national rankings. The Wildcats’ defensive success comes largely at the hands of goaltender Daniel Tirone, whose .930 save percentage ranks him 14th nationally. In their last meeting, Yale failed to score on Tirone, and the ability to slide the puck past him in this contest could ultimately determine the Elis’ fate.
Yale will drop the puck against Sacred Heart at 7:05 p.m. on Saturday from Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport.
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