Pittsburgh's Jesse Root was a fourth-line, dump-and-chase kind of player his freshman season at Yale, when his team came one game shy of the 2011 Frozen Four.
Now a junior, Root centers the top line of the No. 15 Bulldogs, who appear to be peaking at the right time.
Yale (16-10-3) is on a three-game winning streak with the return of goalie Jeff Malcolm from a leg injury and might be primed for a postseason run.
"Our goalie is a real rock back there for us," said Root, a Mt. Lebanon native. "I think we have the potential to go deep. When you get that kind of goaltending it gives everyone more confidence to play their role.
"I think we're a pretty good team in transition and when get the puck in [our opponents] end. The more time we have the puck deep and are on the cycle, the more successful we'll be."
The team is 14-4-2 with Malcolm in net and 2-6-1 without him. In fact, it endured a five-game losing streak in the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference before his return led to the three-game win streak.
Root has seven goals and nine assists and centers a line with the team's leading scorers: Penguins prospect Kenny Agostino (14 goals, 19 assists) and Andrew Miller (14 goals, 16 assists).
Root considers himself a defensively oriented player and explained that's part of why he works well with his linemates.
Yale coach Keith Allain said that cuts Root a bit short.
"I wouldn't limit him by saying he is a defensive center. I think Jesse is a solid, all-around hockey player," Allain said. "I think on his line he may be the more defensively sound player, but he's also creative offensively. He goes to the net, and we look to him for goals.
"Jesse is a real determined, honest hockey player. He does everything the right away in terms of his daily habits, and because of that we hold him up as a leader to his peers. He's great in that role for us."
Yale plays about 10 miles down the road from No. 1 Quinnipiac and has earned a first-round bye in the ECAC playoffs as the No. 3 seed.
The Bulldogs are ranked No. 12 in the PairWise rankings, a system which mimics the formula the NCAA uses to dole out at-large bids to the 16-team national tournament later this month.
In short, the Bulldogs have a strong chance of getting a bid with a good run in the conference tournament.
Root has thought about returning to the city where he grew up for the tournament of the year.
"It would be really cool to be back in Pittsburgh for it and have things come full circle in a sense," Root said. "Every year, we start with the goal of making it to the Frozen Four. If we were able to do that [this year], that would be really special."
Robert Morris misses bye
The Colonials entered the weekend needing some help from around the Atlantic Hockey Association to pull off a first-round bye in the postseason.
That didn't happen, as the top four seeds ended up going to, in order, Niagara, Air Force, Holy Cross and Connecticut.
Robert Morris (18-12-4, 13-11-3 AHA) finished as the No. 5 seed and will play host to No. 12 Sacred Heart in a best-of-three series beginning Friday at 84 Lumber Arena.
Games are scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Friday, 7:05 p.m. Saturday and 7:05 p.m. Sunday, if necessary.
The winner of the series will travel to Connecticut to face the Huskies.
Here come the playoffs
The Hockey East regular season has a week to go before the conference tournament first round begins March 15. Massachusetts-Lowell jumped into first place over the weekend with a 3-1 win against Merrimack. ... The Western Collegiate Hockey Association also has a week to go before the postseason picture is set. ... Miami captured the last Central Collegiate Hockey Association regular season title with a 4-2 win Saturday against Ohio State, earning a first-round bye and No. 1 seed for the playoffs. The CCHA will disband after this season, with teams going to two new conferences: the Big Ten and the National Collegiate Hockey Conference.
Quinnipiac hung on to the top spot in national polls this week, USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and USCHO.com poll.
Minnesota (22-7-5), Miami (22-9-5), New Hampshire (18-8-6) and North Dakota (18-9-7) rounded out the top 5 of both polls. Notably, Boston College fell out of the top 5 to No. 6 in both polls.
Health issues for rookie goalie
Boston University freshman goalie Matt O'Connor suffered a collapsed lung and will be out indefinitely, according to a post in the Boston Hockey Blog.
The No. 19 Terriers (16-15-2) lost two games without O'Connor over the weekend, when he complained of having trouble breathing at practice.rmusports - frozenfour
Jenn Menendez: firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez.