Jeff Hamilton ’01 was kicking himself all night Friday.
On a night when he passed Mark Kaufmann ’93 atop Yale’s all-time scoring list and helped his team to a pivotal 7-6 win over Vermont, Hamilton could only think about one play.
With the record in hand and the game ticking away, the senior Hobey Baker Candidate skated in undefended on the vacated Catamount net for what looked like be one of the easiest of his 164 career points. But the man who Yale head coach Tim Taylor said could hit the net from behind his own goal line missed from five feet out, clanging the puck off the near post.
“My mom could have put that in,” Hamilton quipped after the game.
The moment typified Yale’s new scoring king, both his uncompromising and opportunistic attitude on the ice and his loose style in the locker room.
Hamilton tied the eight-year-old record with point number 160 when Luke Earl ’02 redirected a Hamilton blast from the point past Vermont goalie Andrew Allen in Friday’s first period.
The record came 52 seconds into the second period when Hamilton’s backhander from between the hash marks went over Allen’s right shoulder.
“It was a big relief,” Hamilton said after the game. “Now that it’s over, it’s time for us to make a run. I’m just glad it’s over with.”
Getting the record at home was particularly sweet, as Hamilton was treated to an extended standing ovation after the record was announced.
“It’s good to see Jeff get the record,” said Yale captain Ben Stafford ’01, Hamilton’s linemate all season. “He’s been thinking about it the whole year, and it’s great to see him get it at home. This is really a big deal, and I’m really proud of him.”
In his four years with the Bulldogs, Hamilton has scored more points (164), netted more career game-winning goals (18) and posted more game-winning goals in a season (seven in 1997-98) than anyone else in 106 years of Yale hockey. Only Ding Palmer ’30 has scored more goals, only two players have more assists — Bob Brooke ’83 and Kaufman — and by the end of this season, no one will have played more games.
He is a two-time All-American, a Hobey Baker finalist, an ECAC scoring champ and a former Ivy League Player of the Year.
This year he is a candidate for all the major national awards. He has a good chance to become Yale’s only three-time All-American, has a legitimate case to become its second ECAC Player of the Year (Ray Giroux ’98 was the first), and should probably be Ivy League Player of the Year again. He is leading the ECAC in scoring (46) and ranks eighth in the nation.
“I think it’s pretty safe to say that he’s arguably the best offensive player ever to don the Yale uniform,” Taylor said. “I’m very happy for him, and I’m proud of him.”
The road to the top hasn’t been smooth as ice for Hamilton, though. He said he was worried about getting ice time freshman year, and that setting a record like this never entered his mind. He became a star on Yale’s greatest-ever team in 1997-98, but got hurt in the ECAC semifinal and missed the consolation game and Yale’s first-round NCAA tournament game, both of which the Elis lost.
The biggest blow came last year when he suffered a severe abdominal injury during his very first shift of the season. He tried to come back two weeks later against Princeton but couldn’t do it, so he decided to withdraw from Yale and apply for a medical redshirt.
All that just makes what Hamilton has done this year even more impressive.
“I think at the start of the year you couldn’t say that [setting the record] was inevitable,” Taylor said Friday. “He’d really have to have a great year to break it, and he’s had a great year.”
What’s really scary is that Hamilton is just getting better as the year goes on. As the pressure has intensified, he has risen to the occasion time and time again. He has two hat-tricks in his three last games and three in his last 11 games.
Hamilton is hoping to help his team earn home ice in the playoffs, getting him one step closer to avenging Yale’s two devastating losses to Colgate at home in the first round two years ago. Beyond that, a trip to Lake Placid would give Hamilton a chance to exorcise the demons of his injury there during the ’97-’98 campaign.
After Hamilton’s hat-trick lifted the Bulldogs to a 6-3 win over Dartmouth Saturday, teammate Spencer Rodgers ’02 orchestrated a dousing of Hamilton with a Gatorade cooler full of ice water while Hamilton was headed for a postgame shower.
Given the way he’s played lately, that might be the only way anyone is going to cool him off.
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