Despite the absence of head coach Keith Allain, the Yale men’s hockey team has played its best hockey of the season over the past couple weeks, going 3–1 against four talented conference opponents and beating Quinnipiac for the first time since the 2013 National Championship.
After Team USA’s premature elimination from the Olympic Hockey Tournament, Allain will return to New Haven just in time for Yale (14–12–1, 9–10–1 ECAC) to host Dartmouth (12–13–2, 10–9–1) and Harvard (13–10–4, 11–6–3) in its final weekend of regular season play. Currently tied for seventh in the conference standings, Yale needs to secure two positive results this weekend against its Ancient Eight opponents in order to lock up home ice in the opening round of the ECAC tournament.
“Coach [Allain] left us with the task of making sure the team was better when he got back,” assistant coach Josh Siembida said. “We all feel that way right now and we’re really looking forward to getting him rolling for the rest of the season.”
On Friday night, Yale will look to avenge a 3–1 early season loss to Dartmouth where Big Green goaltender Devin Buffalo stifled the Bulldog attack saving 25 of 26 shots. Like the Elis, Dartmouth has improved as the season has progressed, winning six of its last nine games and sweeping No. 7 Clarkson and St. Lawrence in Hanover last weekend.
Despite having no players in the top five of the ECAC statistics leaderboards, Dartmouth has displayed scoring consistency across the lineup. Eleven different Big Green skaters have tallied 10 or more points, but no player has broken the 20-point barrier. Forward Shane Sellar earned ECAC Player of the Week earlier in February for a six-point performance against Rensselaer, where his teammate and fellow forward Will Graber also recorded a hat trick.
Much of Yale’s offensive effectiveness centers around forward Joe Snively ’19, who posted four points last weekend, and has seven more goals and 14 more points than the next Bulldogs in those two categories. The Bulldogs’ nation-worst power play also showed signs of life, defenders Charlie Curti ’19 and Phil Kemp ’21 both netted on the player advantage against No. 2 Cornell. The team knows, however, that consistency and attention to detail will be crucial in producing wins on Friday and Saturday night.
“Offensively, we need to play as full units,” forward Dante Palecco ’21 said. “If all the guys on a line are going, our offense is lethal. This weekend we can use some of our systems to our advantage that will pay dividends in the offensive zone and create scoring chances against these guys. Getting pucks to the net will also be huge for us.”
On Saturday Yale will turn its attention to the Crimson. The Elis dominated Harvard 5–2 when the teams met earlier in the season, but their rivals enter the contest also 3–1 in the last four games and boasting wins over No. 20 Boston College and Clarkson. While the Bulldogs showed promise in their last four games even without Allain, the Crimson played without forward and leading scorer Ryan Donato, who was also in Pyeongchang leading the Olympic team in scoring.
Yale’s defense will have its hands full keeping Donato, who ranks second in the ECAC in goals despite playing just 23 games, and the rest of Harvard’s offense away from the net. The Crimson has scored five goals in each of its last three contests and averages 3.07 goals per game in comparison to the Elis’ 2.93. However, Corbin Kaczperski ’20, who will likely be in the net for Yale on Saturday, boasts a .933 save percentage, a slightly better mark than Harvard netminder Merrick Madsen’s .922.
“Obviously it’s a storied rivalry,” Curti said. “We look forward to it, they look forward to it, but at the end of the day it’s another two-points in the standings that we need, and Dartmouth is just as important. Dartmouth, just like Harvard, is having a pretty strong year and we’re gonna be ready to play both of those teams.”
In addition to holding playoff importance and a rivalry game, this weekend will also honor the Class of 2018. The four seniors on the team, forward John Baiocco ’18, defenders Henry Hart ’18 and Adam Larkin ’18 and captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 will all be playing their final pair of regular season games at Ingalls Rink.
The puck drops on Friday at 7 p.m. against Dartmouth.
Jane Miller | email@example.com