Courtesy of Steve Musco

Playoff hockey returns to Ingalls Rink this weekend as the Yale men’s hockey team takes on Rensselaer in a best of three series in the first round of the ECAC Hockey Tournament. The Bulldogs are looking to better their recent form, after suffering a 4–6 slump at the back end of the regular season that saw them slip from third seed and a first round bye down to sixth.

Yale (13–3–3, 11–10–1 ECAC Hockey) has had an up-and-down season so far. Most spectacularly, the Bulldogs beat the likes of No. 10 Cornell (17–8–4, 13–5–4), who conceded a season-high five tallies. However, bitter defeats against No. 5 Quinnipiac (25–7–2, 14–6–2) and several other unexpected losses have left the Elis searching for a fresh start in the postseason. Against RPI (10–21–3, 7–13–2) this weekend, the White and Blue should welcome the opportunity to build a playoff run en route to Lake Placid, where both the semifinals and the finals of the ECAC Hockey Tournament are being played.

“We’re excited,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “You play all year long for seeding for the playoffs and then it’s about the playoffs. We’ll have a tough opponent, but we like where we are right now. We had a good practice yesterday [Tuesday], and we should have good practice tonight [Wednesday], and we’re looking forward to the weekend. There are lots of things about the regular season that please me. The thing that most displeases me is the inconsistency in our play.”

The Elis faced off against the Engineers twice earlier in the campaign, winning on both occasions. A 4–2 win in New Haven in early December saw a rampant Bulldog offense that came out to play. Yale outshot RPI 35–16 and made the Engineers pay with its trademark speed game. Forward Justin Pearson ’22 nabbed two goals and an assist to head a list of notables from the Elis. The most memorable goal of the game, which came a mere 1:06 into the first, came after forward Andrew Gaus ’19 won the puck off a red shirt and deftly passed it to Pearson, who finished the move off with a one-timer in the left lower circle.

The return game in late January was tighter, but ended with the same outcome. In hostile territory, the Bulldogs once again showed their worth with slick attacking hockey. Again, the pick of the bunch came early on in the first. Forward Mitchell Smith ’20 got control of the rubber behind the RPI net and backhand passed it to forward Will D’Orsi ’20. D’Orsi shifted the disk to forward Dante Palecco ’21, who one-timed it to give the Bulldogs a 1–0 lead. Forward Robbie DeMontis ’20 and Pearson grabbed the other two scores on the night.

“Nothing changes for us tactically against them,” goaltender Corbin Kaczperski ’20 said. “We know from here on out we have to win. Playoffs are a fun time of the year because anything can happen. We are going to play our game and stick to our plan, and it should be a fun weekend. RPI plays hard against us, and we will have to play solid defensively, and create offense from good defense against them.”

Yale’s last homestand was a tough one to swallow, as the team fell to Princeton and Quinnipiac 3–2 and 4–1, respectively. Defensive problems plagued the Elis in both contests — they gave the puck up far too often in the middle of the ice, allowing for quick breakaway goals. Additionally, the Bulldogs’ confidence in front of the net has been lacking as of late. The team has only scored once in its last four games. Both defensive and offensive tweaks need to be made in order to be ready for a Rensselaer team that has upset Cornell 3–2 and thrashed Princeton 6–2 over the last month.

The physical confrontations of the regular-season finale against the Bobcats last Saturday will continue to affect the Bulldogs this weekend. Captain and defenseman Anthony Walsh ’19 is ineligible to play Friday’s game as a result of his disqualification. The senior was ejected alongside Bobcat Luke Shiplo for instigating a brawl last weekend. The Yale defense must now adapt and be ready for the first game without its leader.

“RPI is a tough opponent; they always play hard, so it should make for a good series,” defenseman Billy Sweezey ’20 said. “We are looking to tighten up the way we’ve been playing the past few weekends, to be able to play an overall disciplined game, which will help us to move on past this weekend.”

The puck drops at 7 p.m. on Friday at Ingalls Rink for the first game of a potential three-game series against the Engineers.

Bill Gallagher | william.gallagher@yale.edu