From game one to now, there is no team that has come further in the ECAC than Yale. Early in the season, the Bulldogs struggled to find an identity, had head-scratching performances against Colgate and RPI and in its first five league games the Bulldogs gave up 22 goals. The defense, which I wrote about in a feature last week, struggled to find a rhythm after losing its top four defensemen from last season.
Honestly, though, any team would struggle in this situation and it would have been understandable if Yale had its first bad season since Keith Allain took over, a decade ago. Yale left the first half near the bottom of the standings and in the low 40’s of the Pairwise rankings, a place you would never expect an Allain coached Yale team to be.
Those days seem all but over for the New Haven team. Big wins against Connecticut and defending Hockey East champion Northeastern, got the second half going on the right foot. In those games the Elis scored nine goals. Those games were undoubtedly positives, but then a setback against Providence may have provided a turning-point. Despite losing by a 3-1 score, Yale was pushed around in a big way. Entering the third period, the Bulldogs had a meager six shots on goal and never got going. Considering how Yale plays, that was a head-scratcher and even Allain admits that.
“I don’t know what it was,” Allain said of that game. “It was a punch in the mouth, I will tell you that. Our guys responded to it well, which is the most important thing.”
Personally, I look at that result to realize that although the Bulldogs have gotten better there may still be setbacks against good competition.
“You could say that was a turning-point for us, I guess,” said sophomore defenseman Charlie Curti. “That was definitely a bit of a wake-up call for us. We followed it up with a good weekend and it just shows in practice, the guys are showing more passion with each passing day in practice.”
Last night, the Elis built on a strong run, which has seen them go 4-1-1 since the dawn of the new year. Yale dominated Dartmouth in a 7-0 win. Everything seemed to turn to gold for them and honestly it was an impressive performance against a Big Green team that has also improved from day one to today.
It was also dealing with key injuries, as the skaters in the lineup were all Yale had available to them. John Baiocco played in his first game of the year and scored. All told five of the seven goals on the night came from skaters would hadn’t scored on the season. The Bulldogs have an impressive top line of John Hayden, Frankie DiChiara and Joe Snively, Adding depth scoring from new sources, would be a huge boost going forward.
“I was really pleased with the performance,” said Allain. “It was one of those games that we needed everybody and everyone stepped up and contributed. A lot of guys got their first goal of the season. I thought it was a good competitive effort from us. It was a total team effort.”
“The fact a lot of guys got their first goals tonight, showcases the depth of our lineup,” said Charlie Curti. “Any given night, guys can contribute. Hopefully we can carry that into tomorrow.”
One of the more impressive skaters for Yale was Curti, who had a pair of goals and four assists. He was good on the rush all night, including his first goal when he retrieved a puck in the neutral zone and went in to score.
“He was really good for us,” said Allain. “It is funny how it works, right? He has been really good for us for a while and hasn’t gotten the goals. Tonight he got two. That is why you gotta stick with it.”
The most impressive thing to me was that the Bulldogs built as the game went on and when it had a chance to put the foot on the throat it did just that. The defensemen pinched well, picking their moments to do so.. If Yale can get the defense to offense aspect, which has been a huge part of what they have done in recent years, going they will be a scary hockey teams come ECAC tournament time.
“I was most impressed was how we played in one-one puck battles,” Allain said. “We got seven goals, but many of those were the result of winning pucks. We did that in all three zones tonight.”
The Elis have a huge game against rival Harvard tonight in Allston and it would go a long way in showing the improvements. The Bulldogs have taken steps this year. Although it still has a ways to go, the improvement is very noticable.
They might be able to get into the fight for a top four spot, but a range of fifth or sixth seems more likely. Look for them to continue the upward trend. Not bad for a team that was in 10th in the ECAC standings not too long ago.