Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sioux shouldn't take Yale lightly

The Yale Bulldogs concern me because they're a small, fast team that scores a lot of goals. They're the top offensive team in a nation, averaging slightly more than 4 goals per game. Yale has the second highest rated power play in the nation (23.5 percent). They remind me of the skilled, offense-minded Hockey East teams that have given the Sioux trouble in recent years.

Nobody can say that Yale hasn't beat anybody. The Bulldogs beat Cornell twice, a team that split with UND. Having noted this, I'll also say that the Fighting Sioux are a better team than the one that split with Cornell. Barry Melrose aside, UND's record against Cornell in January isn't the most reliable measuring stick at this point of the season.

On the plus side, I can see the Sioux matching up very well with Yale. UND's size could give the Bulldogs problems, especially in front of their net. If Yale is forced to take penalties, they could be in trouble. The Bulldogs' penalty kill is ranked 29th nationally. It hasn't had to be great because Yale takes very few penalties (38th nationally). UND will have to stay out of the box to keep Yale's potent power play off the ice.

One surprising aspect about Yale is the fact that they don't seem to have a top goalie. They've played four different goalies throughout the season. Their top netminder, freshman Nick Maricic, is 46th nationally in GAA (2.95) and 73rd in save percentage (.888). That explains why the Bulldogs are ranked 32nd in the nation on defense, giving up 2.94 goals per game.

It seems a bit unfair that UND, the top-rated No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament, should have to play the top-rated No. 3 seed. However, Yale has lost three of its last four games, two of them to Brown, which finished 11th in the ECAC. The Bulldogs haven't been the same since losing senior forward Sean Backman, the team's third leading scorer.

Yale's had a week off since being ousted from the ECAC tournament by Brown. By the time the puck drops against UND, the Bulldogs will have played only three games (losing two) in 21 days. That might work in their favor when facing the Sioux, who are coming off six games in nine days. Or it could work to UND's favor because the Sioux are accustomed to winning playoff hockey games against good teams on neutral ice.

UND can't afford to take Yale lightly or look ahead to Boston College. Coach Dave Hakstol knows that and will be hammering the message home to the team throughout the week. The Sioux must also keep in mind that they won't be dealing with WCHA officiating, and that the games might be called much more tightly. They will have to be more disciplined than they were against St. Cloud State on Saturday.

Although the Sioux shouldn't look past Yale, I can. If UND gets past the Bulldogs, it will be an excellent tune-up game before taking on Boston College -- assuming the Eagles don't look past Alaska.