Tim Taylor, legendary Yale hockey coach, dies at 71

Yale hockey coach Tim Taylor served as head coach for the American squad at the 1994 Olympic Games.
Yale hockey coach Tim Taylor served as head coach for the American squad at the 1994 Olympic Games. Photo by Richard Mei/Associated Press.

Tim Taylor, the former Yale hockey coach who led a U.S. Olympic team and four national teams at the world championships, died after a long battle with cancer in Branford, Conn., on April 27. He was 71.

Taylor, who died just two weeks after the men’s hockey team won its first National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I championship last month, is the winningest coach in Yale hockey history. Hockey players and colleagues interviewed remember him for his intense passion for the sport, as well as his dedication to helping others succeed.

“He lived, breathed and studied hockey,” said Daryl Jones ’98, president of the Yale Hockey Association and a member of the Yale hockey team under Taylor’s leadership. “He was a very high-integrity, classy guy with a lot of passion for hockey, and it really manifests.”

Taylor coached the Yale hockey team for 28 seasons, from 1976 to 2006, taking two seasons off to coach the Olympic team in 1984 and 1994. The Yale hockey team won six Ivy League Championships under his coaching, contributing to his 337 career wins. In an April 28 statement, ECAC Hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell called Taylor an icon within hockey, epitomizing “the true meaning of honor, integrity, loyalty and class.”

Paul Castraberti ’81, a member of the hockey team under Taylor and a current board member for the Yale Hockey Association, said Taylor turned the Yale hockey program around by hand-picking talented players, often taking a chance on young talent. Jones called Taylor “the most astute student of hockey” he had ever known, adding that Taylor had a talent for choosing players who were not only physically competent, but also demonstrated a “good hockey sense” — referring to an awareness of other players, an ability to play strategically and an all-around intelligence in the game.

Castraberti said that Taylor was the “glue” between the groups of young men who would grow to become not only teams, but also life-long friends. He said members of the team looked up to Taylor as more than an authority on the sport, but also a role model in how to be honest and respectful towards others. All of Taylor’s players interviewed said the coach had a profound impact on the course of their lives after college.

Current hockey coach Keith Allain ’80 played as a goalie on Taylor’s team during his undergraduate years, after which he served as Taylor’s assistant coach.

“[Taylor] groomed Keith Allain, and Keith has been able to take the program to new heights,” said former Yale hockey player James Chyz ’00. “Part of that must be attributed to Tim Taylor.”

In 1998, the Bulldogs won the ECAC Championship and played in the NCAA Championships for the first time in over 40 years. Taylor received the NCAA Spencer Penrose Award that season as the NCAA Division I Coach of the Year. Taylor also won the ECAC Coach of the Year award three times before the league renamed the title after him in 2007.

Chyz, who played on the 1998 team, said it marked a turning point for Yale hockey, which did not stack up against some other Ivy League schools at the time. Always a tactician, Taylor created defensive and power play strategies for the team but also knew to leave the team alone when the players “just jelled” together, Chyz said.

Chyz added that Taylor wanted his players to contribute to the Yale community off the ice, in classrooms and other activities. This well-roundedness gave Yale hockey a respect unrelated to the team’s record each season, and Chyz added he does not think the Yale hockey program would be as successful if Taylor did not take this approach to his coaching.

“Probably more than anything, what set him apart was the depth of his caring for people,” said Seth Appert, head hockey coach at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. “He wanted to help them not just in their careers, but in their lives. I think it was a sad day for USA Hockey when he passed.”

In 1984, Taylor served as assistant coach of the Olympic Team, and the squad finished seventh at the Sarajevo Games. When he returned as head coach in 1994 for the Norway games, the team finished in eighth place. Taylor told the New Haven Register in 1994 that he was honored to lead the nation’s Olympic team, a task he considered the “pinnacle of the coaching profession.” That same year, he told The New York Times that despite being offered a job in the family journalism business, hockey had always been his true pursuit.

Taylor was born in 1942 in Natick, Mass., and started playing hockey at a young age, captaining the squad at Milton Academy in Milton, Mass., before playing for Harvard University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in English. Taylor also served as captain for the Harvard team his senior year in 1963, leading his team to win the Ivy League championship. He then worked as an assistant coach for the Crimson before taking the head coaching job in New Haven.

In addition to working with two Olympic teams, Taylor also led the national team in the Canada Cup for four years, including when the team earned its best finish, second-place, in 1991. Appert said Taylor had a knack for selecting and coaching a diverse variety of teams.

“Tim Taylor was the only honest human being who was a coach that I ever met,” Castraberti said. “He was just a consistent true gentlemen in every sense of the word.”

Taylor is survived by his wife, children, stepchildren, brothers, a grandson and step-grandchildren.

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