After concluding the 2017–18 regular season with a thrilling 2–1 win over Harvard last weekend, the Yale men’s hockey team returns to Ingalls Rink to host cross-town rival Quinnipiac in the opening round of the ECAC tournament.
Yale’s (15–13–1, 10–11–1, ECAC) impressive Saturday night win helped secure home-ice advantage in the best-of-three series against the Bobcats (14–16–4, 9–11–2), who sit just one point behind the Elis in the conference standings. Despite an inconsistent start to the season, the Bulldogs seem poised for success this weekend after completing a 6–2 run in their last month of play.
“We really like to be about growth in our hockey program,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “If our team isn’t getting better as the season goes on then I think you can look at me and say what the hell are you doing? So we’re happy with where we’re at. We like our group, [but] we still think we have room to grow, and the longer we can play I think the better we’ll be.”
When the teams met for their first matchup of the season back in November, Quinnipiac shutout Yale and earned an easy three-goal win in Hamden. In the penalty-ridden contest, Eli goaltender Sam Tucker ’19 saved a season-high 40 shots, but the Bulldogs failed to produce any successful offense on the other side of the ice. But in February, Yale proved itself in New Haven when it bested the Bobcats 3–2.
In the sold-out game at Ingalls Rink, the Elis beat Quinnipiac for the first time since the 2013 National Championship. Trailing 2–1 early in the third period, things looked grim for Yale until two goals by forward Ted Hart ’19 helped propel the team to its first win over the Bobcats for anyone on the roster.
“It’s huge that we got that win against them last time, just from a confidence perspective,” captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “I think it was 10 games in a row where we hadn’t gotten a win against them so it gives us a little bit of confidence heading into the playoffs which is huge because, you know at this point if you lose two games then that’s the end of your season.”
Yale enters the conference playoffs with a query in the cage, however, as Allain will have to decide whether to start goaltender Corbin Kaczperski ’20 for two or three consecutive games rather than sticking to the usual Tucker-Kaczperski weekend rotation. Last Friday against Dartmouth, Tucker was pulled midway through the second period, after conceding six goals, in favor of Kaczperski, who allowed just one in the second half before the sophomore earned a 2–1 victory with a 33-save performance against Harvard.
Through 29 games played, Tucker lays claim to a 3.03 goals-against-average and .894 save percentage while Kaczperski boasts a 1.92 GAA and .936 average in those respective categories, good for a top-three showing among ECAC netminders. Allain said after the Harvard win that the coaching staff would make goaltending decisions mid-week, but both would likely be called upon in the event of a three-game series.
“We’re just working one day at a time this week to prepare as best we can for the weekend.” Tucker said.
But whoever is in net for the Bulldogs will have to deal with the scoring prowess of Quinnipiac first-year forward Odeen Tufto, who leads the ECAC with 31 assists to go along with his eight goals. The talented Tufto, who scored a power-play goal in the Bobcats’ most recent matchup with the Elis, ranks first nationally among all rookies in points and is coming off a three-assist weekend against St. Lawrence and No. 7 Clarkson.
Meanwhile, the key cog in Yale’s offensive machine as of late has been the steady scoring hand of forward Joe Snively ’19, who has tallied seven goals in the Bulldogs’ last six games. Additionally, three other Eli skaters have posted multi-goal performances over that stretch including a two-goal game from forward Kevin O’Neil ’21 last Saturday and a four-goal performance by forward Evan Smith ’20 against Princeton.
Yale will once again look to advance to the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs, a feat it’s pulled off in every season since 2009. However, earning two wins against Quinnipiac will be easier said than done considering the Bulldogs are just 1–8–3 against their Hamden counterparts since the start of the 2013–14 season.
“Obviously we’re two pretty evenly matched teams,” Allain said. “One point separated us in the standings and we split the season’s series. They’re a team that plays really well defensively. They play tight gap in the neutral zone and pounce on you in transition. So we’ll have to move through the neutral zone with some efficiency. They concentrate their forecheck in the neutral zone and we like to get after teams in their defensive zone.”
Yale will drop the puck against Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink on both Friday and Saturday with a third game scheduled for Sunday at 5 p.m. if necessary.
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