Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Know Your Enemy: Yale

It's been over 20 years since an ECAC team even played for a national championship - that would be Colgate in 1990. This week's profiled team, for much of last season, seemed as though they would potentially make a run at snapping that run. In fact, this team probably brought more national attention to the ECAC than it's had in at least a decade, but they faltered down the stretch.

Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2011
Last Frozen Four: 1952
Coach: Keith Allain (6th season)
2010-11 Record: 28-7-1 (17-4-1 ECAC, 2nd place)
Series: RPI leads, 52-39-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 29, 2011 (Troy, NY)
Last YU win: December 3, 2010 (New Haven, CT)

2011-12 games: November 11, 2011 (Troy, NY); January 21, 2012 (New Haven, CT)

Key players: F Brian O'Neill, sr.; F Kevin Limbert, sr.; F Chad Ziegler, sr.; D Kevin Peel, sr.; D Nick Jaskowiak, sr.; F Andrew Miller, jr.; D Colin Dueck, jr.; F Kenny Agostino, so.; F Trent Ruffolo, fr.; D Bennett Carroccio, fr.; F Matt Killian, fr.; D Alan Thompson, fr.

Key losses: F Broc Little; F Chris Cahill; F Denny Kearney; F Brendan Mason; D Jimmy Martin; D Mike Matczak; D Ken Trentowski; G Ryan Rondeau

Previous KYE installment:
Yale's long tenure as the #1 ranked team in the weekly poll was the subject of much consternation in the Internet discussion circles last season. We made our opinion known very firmly at the time - they most certainly were for real and in the middle of the season had a legitimate claim to be the best team in the nation. Literally every single part of their game succeeded at a high level for much of the year, including their goaltending, which was the major question mark coming into the season. Ryan Rondeau had a tremendous year in net, propelling the Bulldogs to the cusp of their first Frozen Four in almost 60 years.

Champions are not made in December and January, however. They may be bred then, but they're made in February and March, and that's when Yale struggled last season. Well... struggled might be too strong of a word - the Bulldogs were actually 11-3-1 in the last stretch, but they did drop some games at inopportune times, and began to look a little more human. It started with a rough trip to the Capital District, losing back-to-back games for the only time all year against Union and in the Freakout! against RPI. The Eli defense started to look a little more human following that weekend.

Yale did, however, put away their second ECAC title in three years with a solid run in the league tournament. After being upset by St. Lawrence (for the second time in four weeks) in Game 1 of the quarterfinals, the Bulldogs whipped off four wins in a row to claim the championship, including three straight shutouts and a 6-0 pasting of Cornell in Atlantic City.

The nominal home team in the East Regional in Bridgeport, Yale was the top seed in the NCAA Tournament, but played poorly on the big stage, requiring overtime to get past Atlantic Hockey champions Air Force before spotting three goals to Minnesota-Duluth, the eventual national champions, in the regional final.

Overall, still a roundly successful year for Yale all things considered, but they certainly do take a pretty solid hit talentwise. Little, Cahill, and Kearney were all key elements of Yale's ruthless offense throughout their careers, Martin and Matczak were excellent at moving the puck, and Rondeau of course took the team's lone weakness last season and turned it into a strength.

On any other team, those losses would easily mean a rebuilding season, but Yale was beastly enough last year that they should still be a solid contender, perhaps even one of the early favorites to lead the league as they have been for the last several campaigns under Keith Allain. O'Neill and Miller were the top scorers on the team last season, and Agostino is a star in the making after an outstanding freshman season that was a little overshadowed by the team's successes. There are also plenty of other names that could step in and have an impact, including freshman Ruffolo.

At the end of the day, Yale is still going to be a dangerous team offensively. The question here is with defense. The Bulldogs lose three of their regular starters, and it will be incumbent upon names like sophomore Gus Young (who made only five appearances last year), Carroccio, and Thompson to pick up the slack - though Peel and Jaskowiak do provide senior leadership. The bigger question is once again in net - like last year, Yale will come in with three goaltenders and no firm top choice. Juniors Jeff Malcolm and Nick Maricic both had rough freshman campaigns and limited action as sophomores behind Rondeau - Malcolm played in two games and had a GAA of about four, and Maricic came on in relief on three occasions. They are joined by freshman Connor Wilson, out of Chicago of the USHL.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, Yale's outlook is very similar to where it was at this time last year - perhaps not quite as strong if only because of the youth factor (nine freshmen), but if they get some good goaltending, they could be a very, very difficult team to take down. RPI has met the Bulldogs blow for blow over the past two seasons (going 3-1-0 and outscoring them 16-8), though they may be hard pressed to do it again without Allen York and Chase Polacek in the lineup, both of whom were frequently huge against the Elis. Ultimately, given the similar uptempo styles of the Engineers and Bulldogs, the games between the two sides will be contests you almost certainly will not want to miss, because they're going to be fun no matter how they turn out - they're much different than your average everyday ECAC matchup.

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