Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Know Your Enemy: Yale

After thrashing poor Princeton 6-0 on February 26, Yale was 19-5-4 and unbeaten in 16 of 17 with an eight-game winning streak. The next night's game against Quinnipiac would be difficult, of course, since their record and streaks were pretty similar, but the Bulldogs did look ready for deep ECAC and NCAA runs. They got neither, following a 4-1 road loss in Hamden, Yale limped to the end in getting swept by Dartmouth at home in the ECAC quarterfinals and falling in overtime to UMass-Lowell, ending their otherwise strong season with a regrettable four-game losing streak, their worst since a five-game streak in 2013 (which did end up an OK year for them, all things considered).

Yale
Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 1 (2013)
Last NCAA Appearance: 2016
Last Frozen Four: 2013
Coach: Keith Allain (11th season)
2015-16 Record: 19-9-4 (14-5-3 ECAC, 2nd place)
Series: RPI leads, 56-45-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: November 13, 2015 (Troy, NY)
Last YU win: January 30, 2016 (New Haven, CT)

2016-17 games: November 5, 2016 (Troy, NY); December 9, 2016 (New Haven, CT)

Key players: F Frankie DiChiara, sr.; F Mike Doherty, sr.; F John Hayden, sr.; F Chris Izmirlian, sr.; G Patrick Spano, sr.; F Ryan Hitchcock, jr.; D Adam Larkin, jr.; D Nate Repensky, jr.; F Ted Hart, so.; F JM Piotrowski, so.; F Joe Snively, so.; G Sam Tucker, so.; D Anthony Walsh, so.; F Will D'Orsi, fr.; G Corbin Kaczperski, fr.; D Chandler Lindstrand, fr.; F Luke Stevens, fr.

Key losses: G Alex Lyon, D Rob O'Gara, F Stu Wilson, D Ryan Obuchowski, F Cody Learned, D Mitch Witek, F Carson Cooper

Previous KYE installments:
Ouch. That's a lot of important names that are gone, first and foremost Lyon, their all-everything goaltender. In a league that was brimming with some of the nation's top goaltenders, Lyon became the first-ever repeat winner of the ECAC's Ken Dryden Award, the aptly named title for the best netminder in the league. If not for the Hobey Baker season of Harvard's Jimmy Vesey, he would have been a very compelling candidate for ECAC Player of the Year as well. When he was on, Yale was practically impossible to beat. On top of five shutouts, he limited the opposition to just one goal on nine occasions. When you add in a team where 12 players reached double digits in points for the season, and that's a scary prospect to have to tangle with.

That's easily Yale's primary challenge for 2017 - defense. As we've said ad nauseum, a little goaltending can go a long way in the ECAC, and the Elis are moving from a sure thing to a bit of a tossup between the pipes. Kaczperski comes in as Lyon's immediate replacement, but Spano and Tucker will likely also be part of the mix. Spano has appeared in just nine games over three years - but to be fair, he was behind Lyon the whole time. Tucker made no appearances during his freshman season last year, and Kaczperski only just committed in February, likely when it became apparent that Lyon wasn't going to be sticking around. None of the three are obvious choices to either earn the top spot nor obvious to be serving in a backup role - perhaps a bit of a bonus for the Engineers, as they face Yale at home very early in the ECAC schedule, and it's a good bet the role won't be firmly hashed out by then.

The core of Yale's blue line group has been gutted as well with the loss of three seniors in O'Gara, Obuchowski, and Witek. Larkin and Repensky (the latter of which missed 16 games last season to injury) should be the new core, but they'll be leading a plenty young group of defensemen. Yale seems to always find ways to put up a fairly strong defensive front, but they'll be hard pressed to duplicate last year's national best team GAA (1.78) and penalty kill (94.4%) minus the outstanding quartet that they're losing.

The good news is that the Bulldogs still have a ton of offense to choose from. Hayden finally had a breakout season last year in leading Yale with 16 goals, and Snively, the ECAC Rookie of the Year, is a bonafide college star in the making, pacing Yale's balanced attack with 28 points as a freshman.

They do lose some important attacking ability with Wilson (who's already moved on to become the USHL's Director of Hockey Operations) and Learned, not to mention the offensive capacity of O'Gara and Obuchowski, who combined for 100 points for their careers from the blue line, but there are a multitude of options for the Bulldogs in the attacking zone. Six of the 12 who reached double digits in points are back (Snively, Hayden, DiChiara, Hitchcock, Izmirlian, and Doherty), plus it wouldn't be shocking if guys like Ted Hart, Piotrowski (now minus his flow), or NHL draftee Stevens (son of former NHLer Kevin Stevens) filled in the gaps in the attacking balance.

So Yale is probably still at least a little bit scary, but probably not 2013 or 2016 scary. They're in a better position than their travel partners because of their attacking depth, but they'll definitely look more like they're spinning tires by comparison to last season if they don't get a solid defensive front hammered down by the New Year. They could probably win a few track meets, but their traditional set up under Keith Allain has pretty much required defensive success to breed seasonal success.

That probably makes it a very good thing from RPI's perspective that both games against the Bulldogs will come before the New Year - in fact, both well before Christmas. These two squads usually link up for some pretty fun contests, and you have to give the edge to the winner of the battle between RPI's offense and Yale's defense, the expected weaker links coming into the season.

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