Title on the Line, Yale Looks for More
by Matthew Ruffini/CHN Reporter
With only two more games left in the ECAC regular season, the three teams vying for the top spot know the importance of the final weekend.
One of those teams, Yale, is looking to defend the ECAC title from last year. The Bulldogs were the preseason favorite to win the conference again and they haven’t disappointed. However, they are not alone, and due to last year’s success, the Bulldogs are the team with the bull’s eye on their backs.
(Cornell and Union are the others, and they will play each other this weekend.)
The success the Bulldogs have had the past two seasons can largely be attributed to their offense. Yale boasts more than one prolific scorer and all of their players will shoot from anywhere on the ice. Last year’s team caught the league by surprise but that was not that case coming into this season.
“We had somewhat of a target on our backs coming into the season," senior forward Sean Backman said. "Everyone wants to beat the defending champions. With that being said, I think that our team has embraced that challenge and we have played harder and tougher because of it.”
Head coach Keith Allain thinks that his team has carried more than just a dangerous offense over from last year.
“Last year’s team was very mentally tough and we have brought that mentality into this season as well,” he said.
Although the Bulldogs were able to secure their first conference championship in program history, last season many of the players and coaches felt they could have accomplished even more and were not pleased with their performance in the NCAA tournament; being knocked out in the first round by Vermont.
“I think this year's team is more confident and prepared than last year," said junior forward Broc Little. "With so many guys from last year's team returning after having the experience of winning an ECAC Championship and getting to the NCAA tournament, I think it has definitely given us a chip on our shoulder that will help us as the games get bigger and bigger. Last year I think we might have been a little too satisfied after winning the ECAC and just making it in to the tournament. This year we expect to make it back to the tournament and do some damage."
Little and Backman have been the backbone of the dominant Yale offense this season. Little leads the team with 24 goals and Backman is right behind him with 19.
“They are our two leading scorers and they are very important to us, but they are no more important than our role players, because we are a team and we need everybody,” Allain said.
Another reason the Bulldog offense has been feared this season is the non-stop pressure they put on opposing defenses.
“We have some talented offensive players and four lines that can put the puck in the net," Little said. "We have put a big focus on shooting the puck more this year and bearing down on the chances we get. I think our best games are when we are putting up 40+ shots and putting pressure on our opponent’s defense with our speed.”
Allain has also been pleased with the play of his underclassmen, praising the efforts of forwards Brian O’Neill and Andrew Miller, who have combined for 59 points. Also, Kevin Peel has been solid on the blue line.
A great team also needs a leader, a role that coach Allain believes Backman has taken up admirably.
“Sean has a strong passion for the game and great desire to win; he is the vocal leader and also leads by his actions,” Allain said.
Little also attributes the team’s success this season to a more loose atmosphere, which is one of the many reasons the Bulldogs players enjoy playing for coach Allain.
“He does a good job of keeping the game fun because I think it is easy for teams to almost get too serious sometimes and forget the reason they play the game," Little said. "For example, we played pond hockey last year out on the golf course and we recently played some street hockey in the gym. It helps remind guys how much fun the game is and how lucky they are to have such great teammates.”
The Bulldogs have been able to take their aggressive style of offense and enjoyment for the game on the road this season, which has helped secure impressive wins to help their tournament resume.
Yale was able to knock off a streaking Ferris State 6-1 at the Badger Hockey Showdown, and then followed that up by taking Wisconsin into overtime before losing in a shootout. Back on the second weekend of February, Yale was able to sweep Cornell and Colgate in their buildings, a task that any ECAC hockey player will tell you is not easy to do.
“I think the guys on the team get very excited to play in a rink like Lynah," Backman said. "We knew going into the game that it was going to be a hard fought battle. We just stuck to our game plan and played Yale hockey. Fortunately, in the end, we were able to win."
With Yale, Cornell and Union battling for the top spot heading into the last weekend of the season the Bulldogs prepare for two more crucial road games, including the Whitney war rivalry with Quinnipiac.
Although the season has been a successful one for Yale, Allain and the players know there is still plenty of work to be done. The offense is clearly there. The question marks remain elsewhere, especially in goal. If that falls together in time for the NCAAs, watch out.