As captain and right winger Matt Nelson ’09 hoisted the ECAC tournament cup during the on-ice presentation following his team’s 5-0 victory against No. 9 Cornell on Saturday, the Yale team was rewarded for its tough three-hour a day, six-day a week practice schedule.
“It was exciting, and we knew if we put in the work, we could do it,” Nelson said. “We expect a win when we come in, and it just feels great to come out with it.”
Right winger Sean Backman ’11 was named the tournament’s most valuable player after recording a hat trick against Cornell, prompting a few fans to throw their hats onto the ice. Equally as impressive was goaltender Alec Richards ’09, who recorded the sixth shutout of his career, breaking the five-shutout Yale record set by Charles Hamlin ’61.
But for the Elis, it was quickly time to get back to work. The NCAA Tournament begins on Friday, and the victory over the Big Red meant that Yale would be guaranteed a postseason berth.
After a brief celebration filled with cheers and screams in their locker room at the Times Union Center in Albany, N.Y., the players boarded their bus back to New Haven and prepared for practice the next day. “We made it back at around 1:15 a.m. and hung out with friends for a little bit,” Nelson said. “It was a little fun, and we got back to work the next day.”
Center Brian O’Neill ’12, whose parents were one of the many set of supporters at the game, added, “We just slept and had practice for the three games. Our schedule was basically a meeting, sleep, practice, sleep, meeting and sleep for the game. You would think that we would party, but we got back at 2 [in the morning] after the championship and just slept for the next game. We still have a game left.”
Yale will face Vermont at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport in the opening round of play in the East Regional. The contest will mark Yale’s first appearance in the NCAA Tournament since 1997-’98 and only the third in the history of the men’s hockey program.
“We still have more to do and a game to play,” right winger Broc Little ’11 said. “We will have time to look back at the end of the season and take it all in, but until then, we are focused.”
On Sunday morning, the team gathered at the Sigma Nu fraternity to watch the NCAA Tournament selection show. Then it was time to head to Ingalls Rink and begin preparing for Vermont.
“We’re excited right now, probably a little bit exhausted,” Richards said. “We’re really excited to be at Bridgeport, and it’s back to business. We’ve been able to accomplish a few things, and we’re ready to go back to work.”
Chris Merriman contributed reporting from Albany, N.Y.