Two weeks after men’s hockey right winger Sean Backman ’10 signed a contract with the NHL’s Dallas Stars, three more Yale hockey seniors are getting nods from professional teams.
Captain and left defenseman Ryan Donald ’10 has already played three games with the Springfield, Mass., Falcons, the AHL affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, on an amateur tryout. Left defenseman Tom Dignard ’10 also had a two-game ATO with the Carolina Hurricanes’ affiliate in Albany, N.Y., the River Rats. Center Mark Arcobello ’10 said he is considering different options for next season in the NHL and European leagues.
“This is the result of their body of work over four years here at Yale,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “There are scouts at every single game and these guys have made themselves the type of players that teams are going to notice.”
Over the years, few Bulldogs have made their way into the NHL or minor leagues. Notable exceptions include left winger Chris Higgins ’05, who currently plays for the Calgary Flames, and goaltender Alec Richards ’09, who signed with the Blackhawks’ ECHL team, the Toledo Walleye, last year.
The past two seasons have catapulted the Yale squad to the top of the national rankings. Although professional scouts often come to games regardless of the Bulldogs’ success, the fact that the Elis won their first-ever NCAA Tournament victory on March 27 only brought more attention to the Yale players.
“Any time a team has success, people start looking to the individuals and the individuals certainly get recognition,” Allain said.
Dignard added, “It is very exciting to know that NHL teams have noticed me. It is a goal of mine to play at the biggest level of hockey, which is the NHL, and this is just a step in that direction.”
Amateur tryouts allow college prospects to play for professional teams without a contract, but players are compensated for meals and their time. Players lose their NCAA eligibility once they sign such agreements, but the regulation does not apply to the Yale seniors who are about to graduate. Amateur tryouts are usually signed by college seniors who were not drafted but were asked by scouts to compete at a tougher level than college.
“[Teams] get to see you in a different setting and then evaluate you based on your performance,” Dignard said.
Both he and Donald played with the AHL teams for the final games of the league’s season.
Donald spent five days with the team, traveling to Springfield for the final match and playing his first two games in Providence, R.I., and Hartford. The blueliner, who had six assists for the Bulldogs, notched his first professional point with an assist in his final game with the Falcons on April 11. But he also racked up 20 penalty minutes in just three games.
“The transition to the pro game is tough to describe,” Donald said. “It is certainly different, but I think three games isn’t enough to be able to fully describe it. The penalty minutes are something that comes along with a physical game, and is something that will inevitably follow anyone who plays that physical a game.”
Allain said he expects that the senior will receive an official offer from the Blue Jackets shortly.
Dignard, who led NCAA defensemen for much of the year with .93 points per game, played a pair of games on an ATO, like Donald, with the River Rats this weekend. He was invited by the Hurricanes’ assistant general manager and scouts to play with the AHL squad after the NCAA Tournament.
“It is also beneficial to play in the National Tournament because that’s where you’re playing the best teams in the country,” Dignard said about making the transition from college hockey to the professional level. “The games are faster and the players are more skilled. It definitely helps to get accustomed to that before going to play at the next level.”
Arcobello, who had a hat trick and seven points in the NCAA Tournament, is one of the most prolific forwards in Yale history and has played in a record 131 games. Though he is still unsure where he will be playing next year, Arcobello said he is considering the European leagues and has an agent working with professional teams on his behalf. Allain and Dignard both mentioned that players who make it to the professional level are skilled and intelligent about the game. Allain said these characteristics describe the current seniors and bodes well for the future of the program.
“This is obviously good for Yale hockey,” Assistant Athletics Director Steve Conn added. “What more could you want your kid who’s looking at schools than having one of the premier facilities in the world in college hockey in Ingalls Rink, the finest academic institution in the world and a top-10 ranked hockey program? It’s tough to find that.”