FRONDORF: Bulldogs in the spotlight

I thought about writing this week’s column on why Harvard, unfortunately, doesn’t suck after their enormous upset of New Mexico in the “second round” of the NCAA basketball tournament. But I didn’t want to give more attention to the Crimson, with their dubious recruiting standards and plagiarism scandal that somehow counts as “adversity” to national commentators. Instead, I thought I’d keep things closer to home, because the men’s hockey team is in an NCAA tournament of its own beginning this Friday.

College football and basketball may draw most of the national attention, but collegiate hockey likely comes in at a respectable third place, especially in the Northeast and Midwest. It’s gaining popularity at a time when the state of North American professional hockey seems to be constantly in flux, and Yale is right in the middle of it all. The Bulldogs’ success isn’t even a new trend — this is the fourth time in five years that Yale has made the NCAA tournament. Instead of 68 teams and a Final Four, it’s 16 top squads and a Frozen Four — along with all of the upsets and heroics that make March Madness great.

Too often I hear that athletics at Yale aren’t worth the time or funding because they’re not nationally competitive. This complaint is completely oblivious to the numerous factors and difficulties that determine a program’s place in college athletics, but one thing is true — Yale hockey has become a national power without many of the advantages of the perennial powerhouses like, say, scholarships. These mainstay teams are names you’ll recognize: Minnesota, Michigan, Boston College, and this year, even Quinnipiac. And Yale is right there. So there you go, naysayers — here’s your success story. Support your team.

Here’s a quick primer: The team plays its first-round game Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. in Grand Rapids, Mich., against No. 2 Minnesota, arguably the best team in the country. Despite their basketball program upsetting UCLA in the first round of the tournament last week, you can bet many Minny fans are more interested in this matchup. The Golden Gophers may be ranked near the top of the national polls, but Yale weighs in at No. 15, so this game is definitely up for grabs. It’s a one-seed versus four-seed matchup in the West Regional, for those of you more familiar with March Madness terminology. The Elis could have been ranked as high as No. 5 among the 16 teams in the tournament before a disappointing weekend in Atlantic City, where the team badly lost two games in the finals of its conference tournament. I’ll blame it on an empty arena, outdated hotels and a massive concentration of elderly gamblers. Instead of riding into the tournament as a No. 2 seed, the Bulldogs were among the last teams to earn a bid.

But this team has shown an ability to recover from these rough patches — better to falter before the Big Dance than during it, right? When star goaltender Jeff Malcolm ’13 was injured midway through conference play, this team dropped five straight games. After he returned, the squad needed to string together some wins to preserve their tournament chances — so they stepped up and won five straight before reaching Atlantic City. They also play their best hockey against the best teams on the road — they tied defending champion and No. 6 Boston College in January, and they beat both No. 12 Denver and Colorado College on a weekend road trip. Minnesota has lost to both of these teams this season.

And here are some of the names to know: Andrew Miller ’13, the senior captain and Ivy League Player of the Year; Kenny Agostino ’14, a second-team All-ECAC selection and a Pittsburgh Penguins draft pick; and Antoine Laganiere ’13, a swift-skating forward who has drawn the interest of multiple NHL teams this season. I could go on. This team has the ability to play with the best of them, and they’ll bring their A-game on Friday.

Once again, the game is early Friday afternoon: What else will you be doing? Watch them at 2 p.m. on national TV on ESPNU — in your dorm, at the John J. Lee Amphitheater or one of many local restaurants offering deals. Listen to them on WYBC-AM 1340 or WYBC.com. The Minnesota squad will have thousands of fans that believe their powerhouse will steamroll these plucky Bulldogs, and those thousands will fill Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids — so push back. Or else you have no right to complain.

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