POTSDAM It would be hard to play a more challenging set of back-to-back games than what is facing the Clarkson University mens hockey team tonight.
Last Saturday, the Golden Knights lost 4-3 to fourth-ranked Union College and tonight Clarkson will take on the No. 3 team in the nation, Quinnipiac, at 7 p.m. at the Bobcats TD Banknorth Sports Center.
Ive seen (Quinnipiac) on tape, they look good, Clarkson coach Casey Jones said. They look like a skating team. Its a big hurdle (playing) them. They are really good at home and have tremendous depth. I thought Union was very good (Saturday). They dont have many weaknesses. Thats what good teams are.
Clarkson (16-10-2 overall, 9-5-0 ECAC Hockey) is ranked No. 14 this week and tonights game will end a stretch that has seen the Golden Knights play six of its last 12 games against top-10 opponents.
The Bobcats (19-4-5 overall, 9-2-3 ECAC Hockey) dominated the conference during the regular season a year ago and wound up reaching the national championship game before losing to rival Yale.
Quinnipiac is dominant on both ends of the ice. The Bobcats have scored 103 goals in 28 games and have allowed only 53 goals. The team features six players who have scored at least 10 goals. Clarkson has none who have reached double figures.
Clarksons leading scorer, Ben Sexton (6 goals-16 assists), would rank fifth on the Bobcats offense.
Freshman Sam Anas leads the team with 16 goals and 18 assists in 28 games, including seven power-play goals and three game-winning goals.
Also dangerous are senior twins Kellen and Connor Jones, who each have 118 career points entering this weekend. Kellen, an Edmonton Oilers draft pick, has 14 goals and 19 assists, including three short-handed goals, and Connor has 10 goals and 17 assists. Another National Hockey League draft pick, Jordan Samuels-Thomas (Winnipeg) has 12 goals and 14 assists.
The Bobcats have scored 34 of their goals on power plays (22.7 percent) and have allowed only 12 goals while killing penalties (90.7).
The 2014 portion of the schedule has been challenging for the Golden Knights, who have gone 4-4-1 since the calendar changed.
But Clarkson possibly could have gone 7-1-1 in the same stretch if the team had not suffered three losses since Jan. 4 in games in which it held a 2-0 lead, including last Saturdays home game against Union.
Clarkson led UMass.-Lowell 2-0 on Jan. 4, only to lose 4-3, and the Golden Knights had a 2-0 lead at Cornell on Jan. 25 before falling 3-2.
Despite playing five games since the Christmas break against top-10 teams, and another against the defending national champion, Clarkson has not been overmatched in any of the contests. The Golden Knights actually led nearly two periods of time against Union last Saturday.
We have the best group of guys, Clarkson sophomore forward Jeff DiNallo said. No matter who is in the lineup, or in the net, its going to give us the best opportunity to win. It shows we have the capability to play with any team in the country. If we go down the stretch and play as hard as we can and win the games we can win, when it comes down to that, I guarantee we wont have the same fate (as Saturday).
This weekends games mark the start of the final month of the regular season for Clarkson.
The Golden Knights were picked to finish last in ECAC Hockey by the leagues coaches in the preseason poll, but find themselves in a spot to possibly finish in the top four in the conference standings and earn a first-round playoff bye and home ice for a quarterfinal playoff series.
Heading into tonight, Clarkson is in fifth place, when going by points, with 18, one behind fourth-place Colgate. But the Golden Knights, who have played one less game than third-place Cornell and fourth-place Colgate, are third in the conference standings when going by win percentage.
Clarksons final eight games feature some challenges, including two games against Quinnipiac and road games at Union and Rensselaer. But Clarkson also has two games against last-place Princeton and games against ninth-place Harvard and 11th-place Dartmouth at Cheel Arena.
If the Golden Knights only go 4-4 in the final eight games, theyd finish with 26 points, which would have earned a third-place finish last season and would have earned a top-four spot in each of the past five seasons.
Sportswriter Cap Carey covers Clarkson University hockey for the Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org