The Yale men’s hockey team will conclude its regular season on enemy ice against Princeton and Quinnipiac this weekend.
The Bulldogs (12–13–2, 9–9–2 ECAC Hockey) are currently tied with Dartmouth for sixth place in the ECAC which is the same exact ranking in which they finished out the 2018-19 season. Last weekend, the Blue and White fell to No. 1 Cornell 4–0 but turned the weekend around with a 4–2 victory against Colgate the following day. For their final regular season stint, the Bulldogs will first travel to New Jersey looking for another win against Princeton (4–18–5, 2–14–4), then they will return to Connecticut to compete against local rival Quinnipiac (19–11–2, 12–6–2).
“I think we have made massive strides in our game from the beginning of the season until now,” netminder Corbin Kaczperski ’20 said. “We defend better, we forecheck better and we are playing better hockey overall. I think something we’ve struggled with all year is confidence, and that shows in our inconsistent play. We find that confidence, that extra little drive, and I think we are a formidable team to play against, no matter who the opponent is.”
The Tigers sit in 11th place out of 12 ECAC teams. Earlier in the season, the Bulldogs handed the Tigers a 5–3 defeat at Ingalls in which the Elis dictated play from the opening puck drop. Princeton returns to their home ice following a 0–1–2 record from its past three games.
The last time the Bulldogs played a match against the Tigers, the game felt like a must-win. The Elis had hoped to get their season back on track with a victory. Yet, as Princeton struck first with a shorthanded rebound, panic began to set in at Ingalls. Not two minutes later, however, forward Kevin O’Neil ’21, grabbing the puck at center ice, raced up the right side of the rink before side-skating past one defender and firing a rising wrister from the right hash to beat the outstretched glove of goalie Ryan Ferland.
Clinging to a two-goal lead entering the final five minutes of the game, netminder Kaczperski made a series of outstanding saves to keep the score intact. Yet, with under a minute remaining, Princeton broke though to make it a one score game. The squad was now in all-out attack mode to try and tie the game. It was too no avail, however, as Yale’s forward Justin Pearson ’22 iced the game with an empty-netter to secure the Blue and White’s first ECAC win in three weeks of play.
In the games that have ensued, forward Jackson Cressy has been putting on the finishing touches to a remarkable senior campaign for his Tigers. The West Vancouver native currently leads Princeton with 19 total points though 26 games. While Cressy dipped quite noticeably to begin the new year — going pointless in every game he played in January except one — he has exploded for six points in his last seven contests and is four points away from reaching top ten on Princeton’s all-time list.
On Saturday, Quinnipiac will bring its A-game to its home rink as the Bobcats attempt to claw out a first round bye in the ECAC playoffs. Byes are awarded to the top four teams in the league while programs five through eight receive a home ice advantage in the first round.
The Bulldogs have had an upward swing as of late, posting a 3–1–1 record over the past five games. Securing the first point has been a focus for the Elis, a feat that they accomplished against the Bobcats earlier this month.
“It gives us a good start to get a goal early in the first period,” defenseman Jack St. Ivany said. “It gives us momentum to go into the second. We are a good team when we get a lead, and from there we just played lock down defense,” he noted about the Colgate match last Saturday.
While Yale has significantly stepped up their game in the second half of the season, Quinnipiac does not look as strong as they have in the past. Last weekend, the Bobcats fell to 4–0 to RPI and squeezed out a 3–2 overtime victory against Union. The Blue and White are 2–0 against both of these teams.
However, Quinnipiac has a habit of proving itself against Yale. Since the Bulldogs’ victory over the Bobcats to determine the 2013 national champions, the Elis have only bested their Hamden rivals once — in early 2018.
The Elis’ leading goal scorer, forward Curtis Hall ‘22, has found the back of the net only once since late January, yet his impact as a center is still apparent to Allain. The head coach also highlighted forward Tyler Welsh ‘21 who scored the final goal against the Raiders.
“I think Curtis Hall is playing great, but he’s probably been playing great all year long,” head coach Keith Allain ‘80 said. “I think Tyler Welsh is a guy who’s game has really stepped up recently.”
Because of its current placement in the league, the Blue and White will likely have home ice advantage during the first round of conference playoffs. Yale will finish anywhere from fifth to ninth depending on this weekend’s results.
The puck will drop against Princeton and Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, respectively.
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