Team of the Week: Yale
by Joe Meloni/CHN Staff Writer
The ECAC is as contested as it's been in some time. Reigning champion Union and contenders from every corner of the league mean it will be remarkably difficult to earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. While a strengthened league puts wins in ECAC play at a premium, impressive non-conference wins are critical for teams like Yale. The Bulldogs picked up a pair of those last weekend, sweeping Colorado with wins at Denver and Colorado College and earning CHN's Team of the Week honor in the process.
Yale knocked off Denver, 2-1, on Friday before outgunning Colorado College, 6-5, in overtime Saturday night. A third period game-tying goal from Andrew Miller sent the game to the extra period. Josh Balch's game-winner at 3 minutes, 21 seconds sent the Bulldogs back to New Haven, Conn., with a pair of impressive wins.
Eight different players scored for Yale in its wins over the WCHA's Colorado contingent. Miller, Antoine Laganiere, Trent Ruffolo and others have led the Yale offense this season. Bulldog coach Keith Allain, however, pointed to the balance on display last weekend as a critical component to turn a strong November into an impressive first half.
"We had goals from eight different scorers this weekend in two very different games," Allain said. "Scoring balance is important in this league. I want all of my players to feel pressure to perform well. So, everyone is expected to contribute on both ends of the ice."
As the first half of the season winds down, players deal with increasingly difficult games and the specter of final exams and other academic pressures. Learning to deal with this balance is a process for any collegiate athlete. Doing so at a university as demanding as Yale is another matter. A strong corps of upperclassmen leaves Allain without much to worry about in this regard, even with a young group still finding its way in college life.
"We can't get better at anything without work," Allain said. "We tell our kids that when they get to the rink, they can't finish their papers or study for their tests. The same thing when they leave the rink, they can't worry about hockey when they're in class or studying. We get them for two hours every day, and it's important that they focus on hockey for those two hours and do the same when they're in class and preparing for exams."
It's undoubtedly easier to focus on piling homework and exams after a successful weekend on the ice. The pair of wins against power conference teams will give the Bulldogs a bit more piece of mind heading into an ECAC game with Brown on Saturday. The Bulldogs end their first half with four home games, as league foes Rensselaer and Union follow Brown to Ingalls Rink before Hockey East's Massachusetts visits on Tuesday Dec. 11.
Last weekend's victories came in Yale's first two non-conference or non-Ivy League games of the season. UMass' visit, along with an early-January trip to Boston College, offers Yale an even better chance to strengthen its Pairwise resume as the second half approaches. The value in wins outside of the ECAC is clear, but Allain keeps his players focused on steady improvements to peak in the second half and make a run at a league championship.
"Every win and game is important for us," he said. "I don't like to think one game is more valuable than another. Statistically, some wins mean more, whether they're in conference or not, but we need to play well every game. We think we're among the handful teams that can compete in the ECAC this year, and we aren't going to be where we want to be in March if we aren't trying to improve every day."
One area the Bulldogs have seen stronger play to this point is goaltending, where Jeff Malcolm appeared to have cemented the No. 1 job with a string of impressive outings. Saturday night, he allowed five goals on 20 shots, before giving way to Nick Maricic, who picked up the win in relief for the Bulldogs in Colorado Springs. While Malcolm's 2.14 goals-against average and .932 save percentage on the year illustrate his success even with the problems against Colorado College, Allain knows his goaltending will impact his team's fate in 2012-13 as heavily as any other facet of his team.
"Jeff has been great for us, but he had a bit of a tough game on Saturday against Colorado College," Allain said. "The beauty of it is that Nick came in and played extremely well for us, and we were able to get the win as a result. Our goaltending needs to be consistent if we're going to win in this league, and I think we have players that can do that for us."