Forwards Denny Kearney ’11 and Broc Little ’11 go back a long way. Yet if you ask Little, he might be reluctant to tell you just how long.
Years before playing on the same line as forwards for the men’s hockey team, the two New Hampshire natives found themselves on opposite sides of the ice in a mite — 8 and under — state championship game.
“His team beat me, 3-1, but I don’t like to bring that up that much,” Little joked.
Kearney admitted that he and Little laugh about their first on-ice meeting every once in a while. But far more important for the Bulldogs has been the on-ice chemistry the two developed playing for select teams in their home state.
Although the two forwards attended different high schools, they played together on assorted teams in summer tournaments, where Little said they gelled well due to their complementary playing styles — Kearney the playmaker and Little the scorer.
Once college application time came, Kearney says he and Little chose Yale independently, with Little committing first. Their good relationship on and off the ice was an added bonus, he said.
Before the 2011 recruiting class even arrived on campus, head coach Keith Allain planned on putting Kearney and Little on the same line, because of a recommendation from Kearney’s junior coach, who had seen the two play with each other. “It was kind of a package deal,” Little said.
Last season, the duo shared the Martin Dwyer III Award for the team’s best freshman. Little notched 11 goals and 12 assists; Kearney, eight and 14.
So far this season, Kearney and Little have worked their complementary roles on offense to perfection. Little is tied for the team lead in goals with 10, while Kearney leads the team in assists with 11. Kearney has assists on half Little’s goals, including three of the right winger’s nation-leading five short-handed goals.
As each game passes, the two wingers have become even more familiar with each other’s playing styles and positioning on the ice.
“We’ve played over 40 games together so far,” Little said. “We know what each other are going to do in certain situations. It helps us anticipate.”
On no play was it more evident that Little and Kearney were a step ahead of everyone else than on Little’s latest short-handed goal against Clarkson last Friday. Merely a split second after intercepting the puck in the defensive zone, Kearney played a pass up to an already streaking Little without hesitation. The quickness of the exchange prevented Clarkson defenders from having any hope of catching the speedy right winger, allowing Little to calmly finish a one-on-one with the opposing netminder.
“He’s done a great job [on short-handed situations],” Kearney said of his linemate. “When there’s an opportunity that we could have the puck, he does a good job getting behind the puck, so I can just throw it out and I know he’ll catch up to it.”
Kearney, to his credit, is always looking to make the right pass, even in situations that most players would usually shoot. The left winger’s unselfishness has become so great that Allain recently went so far as to ask Kearney to start shooting more.
And even after so many team practices, the Granite State connection is not lost on Kearney and Little’s Bulldog teammates.
“If you play together with someone for a long time — especially with those two — it definitely clicks,” goaltender Billy Blase ’10 said.