Just one full season removed from a national championship, the Yale men’s hockey team continues to have high hopes for this year — and a strong recruiting class could be what the Elis need to stay in contention for another title.
This year’s incoming ice hockey freshmen have some big skates to fill. Three departing seniors — forward Kenny Agostino ’14, defenseman Gus Young ’14 and former captain Jesse Root ’14 — totaled 83 wins, an ECAC championship as well as a victory in the 2013 Frozen Four. Both Agostino and Root were named to All-ECAC teams last season.
Additionally, the Bulldogs have been accustomed to strong performances from their freshmen in recent years. The class of 2017, including Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year Alex Lyon ’17 and Chicago Blackhawks 2013 draft pick John Hayden ’17, left its mark on last year’s fifth-place conference finish.
Despite that pressure, however, the team’s five newest members appear to be adjusting well. Already, two freshman forwards, Henry Hart ’18 and Ryan Hitchcock ’18, recorded assists during the Liberty Invitational last weekend, a tournament Yale won in a 2–1 victory over the University of Connecticut. The pair are also joined this year by forward John Baiocco ’18, along with two freshmen blueliners, Adam Larkin ’18 and Nate Repensky ’18.
Captain Tommy Fallen ’15 noted how well the incoming class has started to adjust to collegiate hockey.
“I think the entire freshman class as a whole [has] fit in really well,” Fallen said. “Right when they came in, a lot of guys took them under their wing, and we made them a part of our family pretty quickly.”
Hitchcock, originally from Manhasset, New York, joins the squad with an international title already under his belt. As a member of the United States U-18 team that won gold at the 2014 World Championships, Hitchcock scored the game-winning goal in the Americans’ semifinal matchup against Sweden, and he started his collegiate career with a shootout goal against Princeton to advance the Bulldogs to the tournament championship game. The freshman, who was included in the final rankings of the NHL’s Central Scouting report, also scored 26 goals in the two seasons he played on the USA National Team Development Program in 2012–13 and 2013–14.
Playing alongside Hitchcock is fellow freshman Hart, who hails from Stillwater, Minnesota. Hart also notched his first assist over the weekend and was named a New England Fall Prep Hockey League All-Star during his time at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire last year. The final member of the trio of incoming freshmen forwards is Baiocco, who played for two different United States Hockey League teams last year and registered 10 goals over the course of the season. Baiocco, originally from New Vernon, N.J., was also named the 2013 New Jersey High School Player of the Year by the Newark Star-Ledger.
According to defenseman Ryan Obuchowski ’16, much of this class’s initial success can be attributed to the work the freshmen put in over the summer in preparation for this season.
“All of them as a whole have worked extremely hard in the offseason … preparing themselves for this opportunity,” Obuchowski said. “I think the opportunities that they are getting now during the season are a testament to that hard work.”
At the other end of the rink are defensemen Repensky and Larkin. Repensky played for the Bismarck Bobcats as a part of the North American Hockey League from 2012 to 2014 and was named the NAHL Defenseman of the Year last season. Like Baiocco, Larkin also played in the USHL, where he scored three goals and had 12 assists on the Muskegon Lumberjacks.
But even Larkin readily admits that there is a large difference between his previous experience on the ice and Division I hockey.
“The level of play is higher as well [in college]. Guys are bigger, stronger and faster, so you have to be ready to compete every day,” Larkin said.
Luckily for the Bulldogs, as Obuchowski noted, the freshmen have the support of a largely veteran squad to guide them through their first year. With enough luck, these freshmen could be part of the team to bring the national championship back to the Bulldogs.
Yale plays Clarkson this Friday at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink.