Last weekend marked the most impressive display the Yale men’s hockey team has produced in more than a year, as the squad batted to a deserved tie against No. 4 Cornell and blasted No. 19 Colgate 5–1. The Bulldogs are now set for a second straight home weekend as they look to continue their recent hot streak.
On Friday night, the Elis will seek their second win over Union, a team they beat in a convincing 5–3 victory in December. The following night the team will look to avenge an early season one-goal loss as it plays host to Rensselaer.
“We’ve had a great week of practice leading up to these two games and the energy is contagious,” forward Will D’Orsi ’20 said. “Our preparation and mindset towards a game day doesn’t change, but we’re definitely heading into this back half of the season with confidence and a winning mentality. I think these games this weekend are another great opportunity for us to prove ourselves in the league and further our push for a championship.”
After an inconsistent early season marked by both victories over nationally ranked teams and losses to less talented foes, Union (12–12–1, 8–4–0 ECAC Hockey) has endured a roller coaster month since its 5–3 loss to the Bulldogs last month. Although Dutchmen have won just three of their last eight games, they enter Friday’s contest riding the coattails of last weekend’s win over St. Lawrence and currently sit tied for third in the ECAC rankings, three spots ahead of sixth-placed Yale.
When the Elis traveled to upstate New York for their last meeting with Union, two goals apiece from forwards Ted Hart ’19 and Kevin O’Neil ’21 secured a much-needed two-goal win for Yale, a victory that snapped a five-game losing streak. Since that victory, the Bulldogs have ripped off four wins in the six games, turning their season around.
Union boasts a talented offense, averaging just over three goals a game, the fourth-highest mark in the ECAC. Dutchmen forwards Ryan Scarfo and Anthony Rinaldi, who both scored against Yale in December, sit tied for fourth in goals in the conference with 12. Many of those goals have come from forward Brett Supinski, whose assist tally of 16 ranks third in the ECAC.
“Union plays a lot like UMass,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “They’re well coached, they’re disciplined, they play straight line hockey. There’s nothing tricky about the way they play, but they’re in your face, they’re going to challenge you physically and they’re gonna find out how badly you wanna win this puck battle or how badly you wanna get to the front of the net.”
For the last four games, the Bulldogs have alternated netminders, as goalie Sam Tucker ’19, the starter at the beginning of the season, has split time with Corbin Kaczperski ’20. Kaczperski, who has now improved to 3–1 in his collegiate career starts, has continued to prove himself alongside Tucker in practice, said Allain, who is looking for both his goalies to keep improving heading into the latter half of the season. The trend of starting two goalies continues the narrative from last season, when Tucker shared time with Patrick Spano ’17.
After their date with the Dutchmen, Yale will host Rensselaer, a squad that currently sits in second-to-last place in the ECAC. The Engineers have won just two of their last 15 games, one of which came in a 2–1 victory over the Bulldogs in early December, the day before the win over Union that marked the beginning of the team’s recent winning run.
“The recent stretch of success has been a result of our team finding our identity and playing more complete games,” captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “Our depth at all positions has been a strength and our goaltending has been outstanding, which always gives us a chance to win.”
Rensselaer, the only ECAC squad to not place a single player on an All-League team or All-Rookie team last season, is also ranked 56th out of 60 schools in the men’s Division I PairWise rankings. A win appears to be there for the taking for the Bulldogs on Saturday evening, but Yale hasn’t necessarily proved itself against supposedly inferior competition, posting a 4–5–0 marked against teams in the bottom half of the conference standings.
One point of emphasis for the Bulldog blueline will be limiting the effectiveness of forward Viktor Liljegren. A native of Stockholm, Sweden, Liljegren leads all RPI skaters with nine goals on the season, including three game-winning scores. He’s been especially effective against the Elis, tallying three goals in his last four games versus Yale.
Saturday will also present a prime opportunity for the Bulldogs to inject some life into their anemic, nation-worst power play. Yale, which is 5-of-65 on man-advantages this season, has scored seven power-play goals in its last three games against the Engineers and will need to get its special teams before a game against No. 2 Clarkson looms large next weekend.
The Bulldogs take the ice at Ingalls Rink on Friday at 7 p.m. to take on Union following their matchup with Rensselaer on Saturday at 7 p.m.
Joey Kamm | firstname.lastname@example.org
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