Coming into the 2013-’14 season, it was apparent that the Yale men’s hockey team was in search of a goaltender. But four games into the year, the Bulldogs still do not know who will start their next game in the net.
A pair of freshmen, Alex Lyon ’17 and Patrick Spano ’17, have each started two games for the Elis (2–1–1, 1–0–1 ECAC), while a third goalie, Connor Wilson ’15, played in the exhibition game against Ontario Tech.
“All of us are comfortable no matter who’s playing [in goal],” said forward John Hayden ’17 said. “They’re all capable of very strong goaltending.”
All three netminders bring oodles of experience in goal to Yale. Lyon played the previous two seasons in the United States Hockey League (USHL) before coming to Yale. In his first campaign with the Omaha Lancers, he was selected to the USHL All-Rookie team; last year, he was named to the All-USHL second team.
The other freshman goalie, Spano, took a much more complicated path to New Haven. He spent the first part of last season in the USHL, playing for the Youngstown Phantoms. Halfway through the year, he was traded to the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the British Columbia Hockey League for future considerations.
“Now that I’m at Yale, I don’t have to worry about being traded,” Spano said.
Spano added that he was not seeing much ice time with the Phantoms, as Maine recruit Sean Romeo played in goal for Youngstown. Spano was traded to Cowichan Valley in order to get more playing time.
Wilson, the only Yale goalie with any collegiate experience, played in five games last year when starting goalie Jeff Malcolm ’13 suffered a knee injury and recorded a 0.849 save percentage.
Both Lyon and Spano were recruited in the hopes that one of them could replace Malcolm, but last year’s starter left some tough shoes to fill. Malcolm was named the Most Outstanding Goaltender of last year’s Frozen Four and signed with the New York Rangers this summer.
“Malcolm obviously played really well down the stretch … but it’s a different year and a different team,” Spano said. “I don’t think we have any added pressure to do what he did.”
Though Lyon started the season opener against Brown, he allowed three goals in a 4-1 loss — one goal came while the Bulldogs had an empty net. Spano started the next night and recorded a 3-2 victory, notching 22 saves of his own.
“I’ve been getting more and more comfortable as the season has gone on,” Spano said.
The next weekend saw a similar pattern. Lyon again allowed three goals, this time in a 3–3 tie against St. Lawrence, but he showed flashes of brilliance in a scoreless overtime period. Spano, meanwhile, was again helped by a prolific Eli offense on Saturday and picked up a 6–3 win over Clarkson.
Spano has made starts in each Saturday game while Lyon has started the first game of each weekend, but Lyon said he recognizes that the job is currently up for grabs.
“It’s the kind of situation where you have to earn the spot,” Lyon said. “[Head coach Keith Allain ’80] is all about earning your ice time, and I knew that coming in.”
So far, however, the two have turned in nearly identical numbers between the pipes. Their save percentages differ by one one-thousandth of a point, with Spano edging out Lyon 0.904 to 0.903, and while Lyon has allowed 2.91 goals per game, he is right next to Spano, who is allowing 2.50.
Yale’s offense hit its stride last weekend, scoring nine combined goals in the Bulldogs’ two matchups, and Hayden said that production on offense can really help take the stress off of a goalie.
“One thing Coach [Allain] says is that offense is the best defense,” Hayden said. “So the more we can keep the puck in the opposing zone, the better. Working as a unit and communicating with the goalie will always help, too.”
This weekend’s games will prove a further test for both the Elis and the freshman goalies, with road games at Princeton and No. 5 Quinnipiac. The Bobcats have won eight straight games and have two of the top-10 point scorers in the nation in forwards Sam Anas and Kellen Jones.
“Quinnipiac is a very hostile place for us to play, but I don’t think that changes the way we’ll prepare,” Spano said. “If we win, it’s a little sweeter of a victory.”
Though Hayden said he did not know who was starting this weekend, he said it will not affect the team’s success.
“All of our goalies are competitive in practice,” Hayden said. “Regardless, we’ll have a good guy in net.”
Lyon agreed, saying that though the competition does not affect how he plays in games, it adds pressure to perform every day in practice and to be more diligent.
The Bulldogs have not lost to Princeton, their opponent on Friday, in their last 12 regular season matchups.