Yale gaining momentum, finding consistency with Connecticut Ice Festival coming up this weekend

Yale sophomore forward Curtis Hall leads the team with 12 goals this season (photo: Nina Lindberg/Yale Athletics).

The field for the inaugural Connecticut Ice Festival has suddenly gotten a little more competitive.

Yale and Quinnipiac are two of the four Division I hockey teams from the state taking part in the tournament this weekend at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport. Both teams enter the tournament playing some of their best hockey of the season.

The Bulldogs swept Union and Rensselaer at Ingalls Rink last weekend, while Quinnipiac beat Holy Cross on Friday to move to 7-1-0 since the end of November.

Yale’s sweep came after a 7-0 loss to Harvard at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 11. That loss was a rare blip for the Bulldogs, who are on a 6-2 stretch after a rough start to the season.

“It feels good to get all four lines rolling for 60 minutes.” Yale captain Evan Smith said after Saturday’s win. “We finally got a consistent game, start to finish. It was a great way to bounce back from MSG, and its gives us a lot of momentum heading into the tournament next weekend.”

Bulldogs sophomore Curtis Hall quietly leads the country in goals per game after scoring four times last weekend. The Boston Bruins draft pick has 12 goals in 13 games and has scored two goals in three his last four games.

Yale and Quinnipiac will be joined in the tournament by Sacred Heart and UConn. The Bobcats and Huskies play at 4 p.m. Saturday, while the Bulldogs and the Pioneers play at 7:30. The tournament’s consolation game is 3:30 p.m. Sunday and the championship is at 7 p.m. All games will be televised on SNY.

In addition to the four collegiate games, the weekend will also feature a youth tournament, cross ice jamboree, and high school and prep school showcase games.

“The most exciting part of the event is the way that they’ve connected with the youth hockey community and made it kind of a youth hockey day or youth hockey weekend in Connecticut,” Yale coach Keith Allain told The Hartford Courant. “We’ve got a great youth hockey base here in Connecticut, and I think it’s important to reach out to the grassroots.”

Big Green making some big moves

On Saturday, Dartmouth honored three alumni who were important parts of the 2005-06 Cleary Cup winning team.

Ben Lovejoy, Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak were all recognized prior to the Big Green’s matchup against St. Lawrence. Each of the trio has recently retired from lengthy NHL careers that added up to nearly 2,000 games played.

While Saturday’s ceremony was a nice acknowledgement of the past, this year’s Dartmouth team is doing something worth watching as well.

The Big Green swept Clarkson and St. Lawrence at home to move to 6-1-1 since the holiday break. Dartmouth is currently 19th in the Pairwise Rankings, and its .639 winning percentage would be the highest ever in coach Bob Gaudet’s 23 seasons in Hanover.

“We played hard all weekend, got the results we were looking for, and are a better team today than we were a week ago because of it,” Gaudet said.

Last weekend was also the return of Will Graber, who made an immediate impact with a goal in each game. The senior, who has alternated between forward and defense through his collegiate career, made his return on defense after centering Dartmouth’s top line prior to getting hurt last month.

“That changes our team,” Gaudet said earlier this season regarding the return of Graber. “There are times that he’s dominated.”

After handing Cornell its only loss of the season on Dec. 7, Dartmouth travels to face the Big Red again Friday. Another win over Cornell would be an important boost in the PairWise for the Big Green.

Taking Time

Saturday’s game between Clarkson and Harvard didn’t go to overtime, but it sure must have felt like that to those in the crowd.

A combined eight goals and 16 penalties meant that Clarkson’s 5-3 win over the Crimson took a lengthy two hours and 42 minutes.

The teams combined for six goals in the first period, while the second period was bogged down by eight penalties.

“We lost a lot of our bench with the amount of penalties and power plays and all that,” Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. “It was a really weird game when it got to that.”

It was an important win for the first-place Golden Knights, who have a three-point lead over Cornell, although the Big Red have three games in hand. Saturday was also a milestone night for Clarkson senior Haralds Egle, who had a goal and an assist to reach 100 points for his career.

The loss continued a pattern of highs and lows for Harvard. The Crimson ended the first half on a four-game losing streak, but had been 3-1-2 entering Saturday’s game. Harvard is now in a four-way tie for third place in the league.

Engineers rising

It’s been a slow, but steady process at Rensselaer since Dave Smith took over as coach prior to the 2017 season.

The Engineers won six and ten games, respectively, during his first two seasons, but have already reached ten wins with more than a month to go in the regular season.

RPI is 4-2 since New Year’s, thanks in part to an improved defense. The Engineers have allowed only two goals in their four wins over that stretch.

That improvement has come even as RPI continues to rotate goaltenders. Owen Savory, Linden Marshall and Alec Calvaruso have all started games in net over the Engineers’ last six games.

“That may be just a byproduct of competition,” Smith said of each of the three goaltenders playing better. “[Calvaruso] came in and played really well against Brown [last month] and followed up with a good game against UMass. And all of a sudden, you’ve got Linden and Owen, who took their game to another level. That’s what we hoped for with competition and that’s what we saw.”

RPI will face rival Union in the eighth annual Mayor’s Cup Saturday at the Times Union Center. The travel partners split a home-and-home conference series in October.