While the men’s hockey team is still in the midst of its 2002-2003 season, the Bulldogs have already been dealt a blow for next year.

Highly-regarded transfer Ed Caron, who came to Yale this fall from the University of New Hampshire, told the team Jan. 11 that he had decided to return to New Hampshire immediately.

The sudden departure of the sophomore forward came as a complete surprise to coaches at both Yale and New Hampshire.

“We were very surprised,” Yale head coach Tim Taylor said. “I certainly didn’t expect it, and I don’t think any of the coaches did.”

Caron was ineligible to play hockey at Yale this season because of NCAA rules regarding transfers, but he had been practicing with the team. Next season the 6-foot-3-inch, 227-pound forward would have been the biggest player on the team with a scoring touch.

But while the team was in Providence to play Brown several weeks ago, Caron ended his short-lived career as a Bulldog, saying he was leaving the team for reasons that were largely personal.

“He just said he was very confused about what he wanted and thought he had to be back home closer to his family to get his feet on the ground and figure out what he wanted to do with his life both in hockey and away from hockey,” Taylor said.

The loss deals a blow to the Bulldogs, who were excited to have Caron in their program in years to come. Yale’s current roster does not have the size and strength of such national powerhouses as Cornell, and Caron’s size and skill certainly would have helped.

“Obviously it hurts our program because we were counting him in our mix for next year,” Taylor said. “He’s a very good player and a wonderful kid, and I can only wish him the best.”

Captain Denis Nam ’03 said Caron was an asset for the team this season, even though he could not play in games.

“He was obviously really good in practice because he’s a really good player and it helped us out a lot to play against someone with his talent level,” he said. “I talked to him a few times and got the idea that he was having a rough time because he couldn’t play in games, but I didn’t think it was as serious as him wanting to leave school.”

The move will not help Caron return to the ice any faster, and could prolong his time on the sidelines. As of now, he will have to sit out at least until next January, but New Hampshire head coach Dick Umile said the team will look into petitioning for an earlier date of eligibility since Caron is returning to a school he already attended.

Umile said if New Hampshire’s efforts were successful, Caron could play as early as this fall.

In his rookie season with the Wildcats last year — after being drafted by the Edmonton Oilers with the 52nd pick in the second round — Caron scored six goals and added seven assists in 34 games. New Hampshire made it to the NCAA Frozen Four last season, but fell to Maine, 7-2, in a semifinal game.

Shortly after the tournament loss, Caron approached Umile and requested an athletic release, a move which surprised Umile at the time. Caron said he wanted to have a better balance between athletics and academics that he could not find at New Hampshire.

After losing Caron last April, no one at New Hampshire expected that he would be returning.

“Obviously it was a huge surprise,” Umile said. “It was a difficult decision for him, after everything that happened last year, but obviously his heart was telling him that he wasn’t comfortable and that he wasn’t where he wanted to be. We’re excited to have him back.”