When Denis Nam ’03 first stepped onto the ice at Ingalls Rink as a 160-pound freshman on the men’s ice hockey team, he found himself outmatched and overwhelmed. Three years removed from his rookie season of playing catchup with the veterans, Nam is 15 pounds heavier and will be the Bulldogs’ captain for the 2002-2003 season.

“I was really surprised,” said Nam, who plays right wing for the Bulldogs. “I know our class was really strong this year in terms of leadership, and I just didn’t think they would choose me.”

The Bulldogs chose Nam to be their captain in a private election Monday night. In three seasons, Nam went from playing in only eight games as a freshman to earning ECAC player of the week honors for a two-goal, two-assist performance against Princeton this season.

Nam notched 12 points this season, the best total of his Yale career, but head coach Tim Taylor said Nam will wear the “C” next year for other reasons.

“Denis is one of those guys who epitomizes what Yale hockey is all about,” Taylor said. “His strong work ethic and amazing speed give us a burst of energy whenever he’s out there on the ice.”

Nam was formally introduced as captain Wednesday night at the men’s ice hockey team banquet, where he stated his intention of sharing his leadership responsibilities equally with other members of the team.

“I think Denis will be a great captain,” goaltender Dan Lombard ’02 said. “The ‘C’ is a letter you wear with your teammates, and nobody has a better idea of what that means than Denis.”

After the dramatic finish of last season’s regular season, Nam will have his hands full filling the shoes of former captain Luke Earl ’02. This season, Earl — who received the Malcolm G. Chace award Wednesday night for best serving the finest traditions of Yale hockey — was thrust into the role of the unrelenting optimist, confident that Yale would win its two final games to qualify for the postseason.

After a miraculous weekend of back-to-back wins to finish the regular season, including Earl’s assist on the game-winning goal against Harvard, the Elis stole the final playoff spot, leaping ahead Union by two points in the standings.

“Luke did a great job leading us last year and I just hope I can follow his example,” Nam said.

Nam and Earl were not the only players receiving honors Wednesday night. Lombard received the Murray Murdoch Award for the most valuable player. Lombard also shared the John Poinier Award with Stacey Bauman ’03 for the best defensive player.

Defenseman Spencer Rodgers ’02, whose feisty play in the waning minutes of the Harvard game at the end of the regular season sparked the Elis’ offensive rally, received the David G. Noyes III Award for the player who most inspires his teammates.

Defenseman Rob Mutter ’02, whose first-ever goal in a Yale uniform against Brown catapulted the Bulldogs into the playoffs, received the Hockey Association Award for being the greatest contributor to team morale.

In a nod to what may be a bright future for the Eli squad under Nam’s leadership, winger Chris Higgins ’05 received the Martin Dwyer III Award for the best first year player. Higgins led the Bulldogs and ECAC rookies with 30 points and was named Ivy League Rookie of the Year and Ivy League Player of the Year.

With so much talent in next year’s sophomore class and a team that returns all but five of its starters and eight of its top 10 scorers, Nam could be one of many players poised for a break out year.

“This could be a big year for Yale, and I’m glad Denis will be able to experience the rewards of all his hard work,” Taylor said. “He has been a tower of strength for us.”