The Bulldogs were heavy underdogs when they gave Cornell — the ECAC regular-season champions — everything they could handle in the first round of the ECAC playoffs last year. Dan Lombard stopped 45 shots in that series, while Chris Higgins netted his team-leading 14th goal of the season.
The good news is that Higgins is back and ready to continue where he left off as one of the most promising forwards in the league. The bad news is that Lombard has graduated, leaving a big hole in the Yale net.
These issues are of prime concern in the Yale camp. How will Higgins — the freshman who came into his own well before expectations to become the team’s leading scorer and capture ECAC and Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors — react to being a marked man this year?
“It’s always great to have such a talented offensive player in your arsenal,” said Taylor. “He distinguished himself as an 18-year old freshman who has the ability to score at this level. He will be a year older and wiser, but his challenges will be greater because he will be a known quantity and will receive specific attention from all of our opponents. Hopefully we will have enough talented kids to take the focus off Chris.”
Key offensive contributors that Taylor will need alongside Higgins will be juniors Ryan Steeves and Vin Hellemeyer, who combined for 36 points last season. Another important figure in this equation will be Nick Deschenes, who experienced a junior slump last season, scoring only five goals compared to 18 the year before.
“He had an injury-plagued year and he just didn’t find the success around the net in terms of offensive production,” said Taylor of Deschenes. “He thrived when he played with [Jeff Hamilton] and [Ben Stafford], and he never really got back on track without those two guys. That is a huge part of the puzzle and if we can solve the mystery of Nick Deschenes and get him back to where he was, we’ll be much better off.”
Defensively, the Bulldogs will welcome back an older, stronger Jeff Dwyer (six goals, nine assists last year) and four other blueliners. With only five returning, however, Taylor will need to rely on newcomers such as Matthew Craig and Deerfield Academy’s Matt Hedrick to help protect the goaltender, who has yet to be determined.
That brings us to the next big question: who will fill Lombard’s shoes? Freshman Peter Cohen and sophomore Peter Dobrowolski have played in eight career games between them and will compete for the starting job with a freshman out of Richmond Hill, Ont., Josh Gartner.
“We’re inexperienced but I do like the character and potential of the goaltenders we have,” said Taylor. “It will be a dogfight for the number-one spot. Maybe we will end up doing what we did a few years ago and alternate between two. This is a big question mark, there is no doubt, but we have to do something about filling in for Danny.”
If those two questions can be answered and a few new faces fill in the gaps, the Bulldogs may continue where they left off in Ithaca — a thorn in the side of top teams in the league.