As snow descended upon New Haven Monday, men’s hockey head coach Tim Taylor gave his beleaguered team the day off. They peered out their windows as the campus disappeared beneath a thin white film. It was a day for recovery, for schoolwork and for introspection. Already 10 games below .500 after just six weeks, it would have been easy for the players to wonder, Where has the fall gone?
Taylor afforded himself no such day of reckoning. Having used three different goalies in the last four games, he spent the day in the office, shuffling his roster, a torn, cracked, and creased deck of cards, in search of a playable hand.
In literature winter represents irony, and certainly there has been no shortage of it this season. In the year Mike Richter enrolled at Yale, Taylor has watched his team’s goals against average balloon to 5.17, a full goal higher than the next-worst in the conference.
With just one win in 12 tries, the Bulldogs, who are off until New Year’s Eve, will spend the next few weeks trying to sort out a host of problems that have plagued them this season. First and foremost is their goaltending situation.
Goalie Josh Gartner ’06 was expected to have and keep the starting position this season. He went 10-10 a year ago while logging over 1,200 minutes in net and posting a 3.85 goals against average.
“He certainly was the heir apparent to the number one job coming out of last year,” Taylor said. “He had through the course of last season earned the spot.”
Things have not gone to plan, however. Gartner has a GAA (4.91) like an American League pitcher’s earned run average and has failed to finish four of his eight starts this season.
“I’m not a coach that typically has yanked goaltenders,” Taylor said. “It’s not my style. But we’ve had an awful lot of situations after two periods that kind of look like we should do something to shake it up from the standpoint of giving a lift or a boost to the team.”
Gartner’s understudy, Matt Modelski ’07, has rarely provided that boost. Known as a streaky goalie who is a combination of extremes, the lithe Modelski can be at once acrobatic and maddeningly sieve-like. Although he is credited with the team’s only win (a 7-1 rout of Princeton Nov. 27), Modelski’s GAA of 4.77 is nearly as high as that of Gartner.
Peter Cohen ’05, a veteran who logged a great deal of playing time as a sophomore, is the team’s third option. In limited duty this year, he has had even less success than his teammates, yielding nine goals in five periods of play.
“All three of us are capable of playing,” Modelski said. “Our team right now’s 1-11 and no one’s grabbed the starting role for more than a game. We’re all working hard and that’s all we can do right now.”
Indeed, their own hard work is all the Yale goalies can control. No matter what his preparation, no goalie will have good statistics if his teammates are not helping on defense. Yale is averaging 19.5 penalty minutes per game (most in the Ivy League) and its goalies have been inundated with shots in almost every contest. Averaging 37.6 shots against per game, the Elis have consistently left their goalies with too much to handle, surrendering fewer than 30 shots in just two games this year.
“We’ve got a very disappointing goals against average going for the year,” Taylor said. “And you can’t put all that on the goaltender. The team knows that. There are a lot of breakdowns that go into a goal being scored. And obviously the goalie is the last line of defense and is sometimes blamed as the culprit, but everyone who knows sports knows it’s not that way.”
Defenseman Bill LeClerc ’07 has skated in every game this season and still believes in his goalies. He watched Gartner make 44 saves in a heartbreaking 3-1 loss at Harvard, and he watched Modelski foil Princeton shooters for 36 stops the night Yale finally tasted victory. He blames himself and the rest of the defensemen for the team’s inflated goaltending stats.
“It’s been not so much the goalies but the guys in front of them,” LeClerc said. “But it kind of falls on them when things aren’t going our way. They’ve all had some good moments. No one’s lost confidence in them.”