With the glow of the 2013 National Championship behind them, the Yale men’s hockey team will once again look to establish their dominance in an increasingly competitive college hockey landscape.
This year’s ECAC figures to be an incredibly difficult conference, with the last two NCAA champions — Yale and reigning champ Union — as well as three of the last four semifinalists. But 18 lettermen are returning this year after the Elis’ fifth-place finish in the conference last season, and the team hopes to build off of the strong foundation laid by veteran players and capitalize on the skills of a talented incoming freshman class.
“I think from a defensive standpoint, and a team standpoint more importantly, our goal is to win championships,” defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16 said. “Winning them is no easy task, but with that being said our expectation is to win those and be constantly competing for those.”
While practice officially began on Oct. 17, the team started working well before then through preseason practices and development programs over the summer. In fact, eight Bulldogs were participants in National Hockey League camps during the offseason.
But in their first contest of the season, the Bulldogs fell short. In an exhibition against the University of Alberta, the defending Canadian champions, last Friday, the Elis lost 3–0.
Leading this year’s squad is captain Tommy Fallen ’15, who scored seven goals last year to lead all Yale defensemen. Fallen was also named to the ECAC All-Academic team last year and currently sits at fifth on Yale’s all-time goals list for blueliners.
“Being elected captain by my teammates is really awesome, and it’s very humbling that the guys and the coaching staff think highly of [me],” Fallen said. “[But] we don’t just have leadership coming from one guy.”
Fallen and defenseman Matt Killian ’15 have played integral roles in the team’s success over the past three years. Together, Fallen and Killian have played in a combined 186 games in Yale Blue. Other veteran contributors on defense are Obuchowski and fellow defensemen Rob O’Gara ’16, Mitch Witek ’16 and Dan O’Keefe ’17. Obuchowski, who led the defense with 20 points last year, noted the difficulties the Bulldogs face in competing in such a powerhouse conference.
“Our league and the rest of college hockey is very deep and every game is a tough one. Every night we go into a game, we have to expect a challenge. Challenges are going to look different night in and night out,” Obuchowski said.
No matter how much experience the defense has, much of Yale’s goal-stopping ability will depend on its netminder. Alex Lyon ’17 and Patrick Spano ’17 shared the responsibilities in net last year, though Lyon will likely start the majority of the team’s games this season. Lyon was third in overall saves in the conference last year with 796, while Spano won all three of his starts.
On offense, Yale looks to rely on an experienced group of veterans to drive production this year. Three seniors — forwards Anthony Day ’15, Trent Ruffolo ’15 and Nicholas Weberg ’15 — were part of a squad that produced an average of 3.21 goals per game last season, tied for third in the ECAC.
Last year’s team also saw great strides from sophomore and junior forwards. Players like Stu Wilson ’16, Mike Doherty ’17 and John Hayden ’17 are among those who had a significant impact on last year’s squad and look to take growing responsibilities as leaders this year. Hayden, who was drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the third round of the 2013 draft, acknowledged that more is expected of him this season.
“I think I definitely have higher expectations this year,” Hayden said. “With a year of college under my belt, I expect more things. I’m a lot more comfortable with the college game.”
An exceptional freshman class also adds to the Bulldogs’ prospects. On offense, forwards John Baiocco ’18, Henry Hart ’18 and Ryan Hitchcock ’18, who was part of the U.S. National Team Development Program, all have the potential to contribute on scoring. Meanwhile, defensemen Adam Larkin ’18 and Nate Repensky ’18, both former players in the United States Hockey League, have the chance to impact the Bulldogs’ postseason chances at the other end of the rink.
All three players interviewed noted the potential of the incoming class and explained the role of returning team members in their development.
“All of the returning guys are expected to be leaders and to lead by example on and off the ice,” Fallen said. “I think that’s really helped some of the freshmen come along quite nicely.”
Last year, the Bulldogs swept Harvard in the first round of the ECAC Tournament before falling to Quinnipiac and missing out on a bid to the NCAA tournament. In order to make the 2015 tournament, the Elis will have to navigate a difficult conference schedule. Three nationally ranked teams, including two of the top four squads, No. 2 Union and No. 4 Colgate, each appear on Yale’s schedule twice.
Additionally, this year’s much-anticipated “Rivalry on Ice” matchup against Harvard, which ended in a 5–1 Yale win in 2014, will once again take place in Madison Square Garden on Jan. 10.
But even with that difficult schedule, Yale was picked to finish fourth in the conference in the preseason coaches’ poll, one spot ahead of local rival Quinnipiac.
Yale begins the regular season against Princeton in the Liberty Hockey Invitational in Newark on Friday at 7:30 p.m.