Any discussion of this year’s men’s hockey season has to begin by recognizing what an extraordinary team this group of guys proved to be. They are, with the possible exception of the 1952 team, the best team in the history of Yale hockey.
This group of seniors is one of the most successful classes in Yale’s history and saw the team go from eighth place as freshmen to back-to-back ECAC champions in just four years. Everyone who stepped on the ice for Yale this year should be proud of a season that firmly entrenched Yale as a player on the national hockey stage, and this year’s seniors should recognize what their sacrifice and hard work has done for Yale hockey.
Looking specifically at this past weekend, not one player should hang his head. Against North Dakota, the entire roster played with speed and put together one of the most complete games Yale hockey has played in recent years. In the Boston College game, there was no quit in the Bulldogs. Captain and defenseman Ryan Donald ’10 and the rest of the troops showed what it meant to “never say die,” coming back from a 9–4 deficit to make top-seeded BC sweat during the last couple minutes.
The one man who will come under fire, however, is head coach Keith Allain ’80. When the team wins he gets all the credit and when it loses he takes the blame, such is the nature of coaching. But whether or not you agree with Allain’s puzzling goalie decisions over the weekend, he should still receive more credit than blame. Even if you think he might have put the wrong guys in the wrong situation, he still presided over this historic season, pushing enough correct buttons to get this team not only into the tournament, but in a position to possibly win an NCAA Tournament second-round game against Boston College.
Did any of us think that Yale would have a great shot at making the Frozen Four four years ago? Probably not. Did we think Yale was a championship contender at the beginning of the season? We certainly hoped so, but most fans realized that there were still many mountains this team would have to climb. Did anyone think Yale still had a shot to reach the Frozen Four after Brown defeated Yale in the ECAC quarterfinals and the team was struggling to find its offensive identity following the loss of right winger Sean Backman ’10? Yes. The team did. And Coach Allain deserves credit for that.
Whether or not you think Yale would have won the North Dakota game with someone else in goal, Allain still made a decision, and the team won. Whether or not you think one led to the other, the decision and the win are connected, and the coach deserves the credit (well, whatever’s left after congratulating the players on their unbelievable work). And let’s not minimize the role of goaltender Ryan Rondeau ’11 who, after going roughly four months without appearing in a game, came out of nowhere to make a whopping 34 saves on 36 shots. There should be no question that Rondeau was one of the main reasons Yale won the game.
The riverboat-gambling Allain was rewarded for his gutsy decision to start Rondeau on Saturday, but his luck clearly ran out against BC.
Before evaluating Allain’s merits, let’s at least discuss why his use of goalies in the Boston College game is questionable at best. He put three different goalies in difficult situations. The fact that Yale let up nine goals really should fall more on the coach, for asking the still-rusty Ryan Rondeau and “cold” (meaning they came off the bench without warming up) Billy Blase ’10 and Jeff Malcolm ’13 to shut down a prolific offense.
Rondeau played phenomenally in the North Dakota game, but the fact is that Allain did not give him sufficient game time over the past few months to expect consistent superb play from his talented goalie. Bad position for talented goalie No. 1.
Blase came off the bench in the middle of the second period, not at the start of the it. He was thrust into a furious BC attack having not warmed up in over an hour and not having had the period break to get himself prepared. The same thing happened to Malcolm, who was inserted with about 16 minutes remaining in the third period. Those were bad spots for talented goalies No. 2 and No. 3. So don’t try to put too much blame on the guys between the pipes, because Allain, a former goalie himself, will tell you how difficult it can be to jump off the bench and into the goal crease “cold.”
At the end of the day, there are reasons for fans to question Allain. But there’s no reason to.
Allain turned this team around, and led them to two consecutive ECAC championships in an unbelievably short period of time. He made a shockingly gutsy call that ultimately directly contributed to Yale’s first tournament win in 58 years. Allain led this team to inspired comeback after inspired comeback against BC. While Yale ultimately fell short of advancing to the Frozen Four, the fact that some are disappointed about missing the Frozen Four shows just how much Allain has done for this program.
Once upon a time, an ECAC tournament victory was a big deal. Even after this year’s ECAC tournament, most pundits said Yale didn’t have a shot to beat the talented North Dakota team. But thanks to Allain, this year’s seniors leave with a tournament win on their resume, and the next couple years’ freshman classes might be competitive with teams like North Dakota.
There truly is no blame to assign to the coach, the goalies or anyone else for what is probably Yale hockey’s best season ever.
Seniors Donald, Backman, Tom Dignard, Mark Arcobello and Blase did one heck of a job turning the Yale program into a winner during their time in Blue. But in Allain’s hands, Yale’s talented roster looks poised to have another great season next year, with talent and size up front, an experienced defensive corps and a stable of promising goalies.
As the class of 2011 picks up the torch and begins to lead this team, the class of 2010 can depart knowing they’ve changed Yale hockey for the better, and its impact on this school won’t soon be forgotten. Thank you seniors, fellow members of the class of 2010.
Collin Gutman is a senior in Pierson College.