NEW HAVEN — The Yale men's hockey team returned from the holiday break regrouped and recharged. Goals scored are up. Goals allowed are down. Only one of the five games played in the New Year has been a loss.
Now, with the season's final month approaching, the Bulldogs face a new challenge. With junior center Ryan Hitchcock likely out for the season with a broken leg, the team must find ways to replace his minutes and production.
Hitchcock leads the team in assists (16), is second in points (19) and was vital to the special teams unit. Filling the void will almost certainly be a group effort.
Yale (7-7-3, 3-5-2), tied for eighth in the ECAC Hockey standings, is in action tonight at Dartmouth and on Saturday night at Harvard.
Hitchcock was centering a line with wingers Joe Snively and Mike Doherty. Exactly who fills that opening is open to interpretation, but sophomore J.M. Piotrowski will return to a regular role as a center iceman.
Piotrowski, a regular last winter, made quite an impression with his physical, high-energy style. Knee surgery in September kept him out of practice until mid-December, and he made his season debut in last Friday's win over Clarkson.
"It's been almost 10 months, so it's a long time coming," Piotrowski said. "The first shift was nerve-wracking. After that felt like in a hockey game. ... I've had tons of challenges and bumps along the road. This is one of the more major ones. But I was never worried. There were a ton of people supporting me along the way and I kept that in mind during my rehab."
After allowing at least four goals to an opponent in six of 12 games before the break, Yale's team defense has been improved so far this month. Goaltending has been at the heart of the turnaround. Senior Patrick Spano has started four of the last five games, including three straight, and enjoying his most consistent stretch of the season. Sam Tucker, a sophomore from Wilton, won his first career game at UConn.
Yale coach Keith Allain is searching for more consistency in his team's defensive zone. The Bulldogs are young -- 16 of the 26 rostered players are underclassmen, with nine freshmen.
"We've made some strides; some games are better than others and there's room for improvement there," Allain said. "We can be better with our rush defense, and in all of these things I'm looking for consistency. All these things we do well we don't do them well all the time. That's what good teams do. I think we can make better breakout decisions, we can execute those decisions better and do a better job in our coverage when teams do get extended possession in the offensive zone."
This article is written by Chip Malafronte from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network.