Bull-ish About Yale
by Tim Rosenthal/Staff Writer
When you talk about ECAC powers, there's Clarkson, Harvard, Cornell and even the "new dogs" in Quinnipiac. However, the Yale Bulldogs are disrupting the race.
Although the team is fifth in the ECAC with 11 points (4-4-3), the Bulldogs aren't far behind first place. Yale is five points behind Princeton for first and one point behind Harvard for that pivotal fourth spot.
After an 11-17-3 finish last season, Yale (7-6-3) is improved in many aspects under head coach Keith Allain.
"It is a group in progress," said Allain, in his second year as head coach. "I think we can get better at the end of the year."
"We started off with some close games to begin the season," said captain Will Engasser, a 2004 draft pick of the Phoenix Coyotes. "There are some parts of the game that we need to improve on. Our main goal is to peak at the right time and to improve at the right time."
This past weekend was not the best for the Yale squad. The Bulldogs lost a heartbreaker to Princeton, 4-3, in which the Bulldogs outshot the Tigers 36-21 while outplaying their opponent for most of the game. Saturday night was a different story, as the Bulldogs lost to in state rival Quinnipiac 3-0 and could only get 16 shots.
"We were more opportunistic when we played Princeton," Engasser noted. "We missed some opportunities, especially on the power play, but we outplayed them for the most part.
"We need to make sure we play better in the defensive zone next time out."
Allain also had a thought on this weekend's slate.
"We competed hard both nights. However, we had a few breakdowns and found pucks in our own net."
If there is anything the Bulldogs need to improve on, it is the power play. So far this year the Bulldogs are seven for 65 (10.8 percent) with the man advantage, which is 10th in the ECAC.
"We are going to mix things up," Allain said. "We will try some different sets and we will work it out to get it right."
"A lot of the problem is moving the puck along," Engasser said. "We are working on that this week in practice a little more. A few adjustments are needed but I think we can turn it around."
On the other hand, the Bulldogs are killing 93.9 percent of their penalties and have only allowed four power-play goals. Right now Yale is the best team in the country when shorthanded.
"There have been two main factors in our penalty kill," said Engasser. "One is our intensity. We are keeping our feet moving, staying active and players are quick reacting to the puck. The intelligence is the other main factor in the penalty kill. People are getting in the shooting lane well."
The intelligence and the quick reactions are there, but there is more to that according to Allain.
"[Matthew] Thomey and [Blair] Yaworski have done well with the penalty kill," Allain said. "We have blocked shots and gotten good goaltending."
In the ECAC most of the attention goes to the playmakers. With Engasser, Mark Arcobello and Sean Backman as the three leading scorers on the Bulldogs, they have been the focal point on most teams. It might take time for some players such as junior Michael Karwoski and freshman Denny Kerney to get recognized in the league, but the potential of those two is there.
"We can put up quite a few goals," Engasser said. "Guys lake Michael, Blair and Denny have the ability to score.
"Right now we are just not consistent in the scoring department. We just need to stay consistent, score goals and if that happens we will be a team to watch."
Although the scoring consistency is not there yet, one thing is for certain is that the Bulldogs have solid goaltending. With sophomore Billy Blase taking over in net, the Bulldogs are 7-3-3 when he is between the pipes.
"He [Blase] has always been good in practice," Engasser pointed out. "He challenges shooters well and is consistent."
"We always known Billy Blase has been a good goalie," Allain said. "We've got good, stable goaltending."
With last year's starter Alec Richards back from injury, the team might go to a one-two goaltending punch for the rest of the year.
"Alec [Richards] has proved himself in the past. Overall I think we have two top notch goaltenders."
This season, parity has reigned college hockey, and the ECAC is no different. Although Clarkson, the preseason favorite to win the conference, is in third place, there are teams like Princeton, Quinnipiac, Harvard and these Bulldogs in the top five and there is more. Union and St. Lawrence have seen improvement in the past few games and never count out Cornell, which seems to be in the race every year.
"The parity in the league is fantastic," Allain said. "The ECAC is a good hockey league and everyone has a chance. I think it is good for college hockey."
"Every game [in the ECAC] is competitive," said Engasser. "It is a defensive league and we have some hard working teams.
"There are close games and anyone can win on any given night."
The Ivy League schools only play 29 games. While it might seem like it hurts those teams in the beginning, the Ivy schools seem to be on track when the season gets going, such as this team.
"If you play teams in the CCHA, WCHA and Hockey East in the beginning with a little bit of an experience in games it's tough, but once the season gets in full swing there is no affect in the play," Engasser said.
Said Allain: "Early in the year we are behind the eight ball. But once we are more established it doesn't matter too much."
Starting Feb. 15, Yale will play four of its final six games at home. With the parity in college hockey this year almost anything can happen.