Weather notwithstanding, spring break is here again, and with it comes another round of championship playoff games for another vaunted Yale sports team that we won’t be here to see.
Last year, it was the men’s basketball team, who sailed into the National Invitational Tournament after a whirlwind season and kept us focused on Payne Whitney while we were away. But this season the basketball team did not fare quite as well, and the John J. Lee Amphitheater is still recovering from water damage. So instead, over break, all eyes will be on The Whale.
Ingalls Rink most likely will host Brown March 14 and 15, when the men’s hockey team plays with home-ice advantage in the second round of the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament. There is no doubt the Elis, who earned a first-round bye after a third-place finish in the regular season, will skate to a sellout crowd. Unfortunately, the student section — usually filled, more often overflowing — won’t have many students for the game.
Since the team won the ECAC regular season title five years ago, there have been high expectations for the men’s hockey program and hopes that 1998 was the beginning of a dynasty. In the past few years, the team has been strong but has fallen short of the success of the 1998 squad. But this year’s roster, with an array of NHL hopefuls and talented rookies, could signify a return to the glory days of Yale ice hockey, not too long ago but before any current undergraduate’s time. This year’s team is unusually strong and unusually young, with more standout players than the Elis have had on their roster in years.
There are sophomores Chris Higgins and Joe Callahan — two NHL drafts who share a room in Davenport College. Callahan, an outstanding defenseman, has helped carry the team through a remarkable regular season. Higgins, a forward, was last year’s Ivy League Rookie of the Year and the only freshman on the New England Hockey Writers’ Association Men’s Ice Hockey All-Star Team.
Then there is Evan Wax ’03, the leading scorer in the ECAC and the only college player in the country to have scored four goals in a game twice this season. Goalie Josh Gartner ’06 did much to help longtime coach Tim Taylor see his 300th career win with the Bulldogs this season. All of them will be at The Whale a week from today, hopefully coaxing the team to another win. Conspicuously missing, though, are the fans who have coaxed them through the season: the suitemates with the “Wax On!” signs for Evan; the womens’ soccer players with “Yale Hockey is Phe-NAM-enal” painted on their stomachs in honor of team captain Denis Nam ’03.
But over break, from Cancun, Puerto Rico or Daytona Beach, Yale will be watching the men’s hockey team, hopefully on its way to an ECAC championship.