Leadership does not always have to come from the most senior members of a team. For the Yale men’s ice hockey team, this is evident in the example set by forward Mike Doherty ’17.
The Massachusetts native currently leads the team in points, with 13 — an achievement that he shares with forward John Hayden ’17. Doherty has also slid 17 pucks past opposing goalies since he began playing for Yale last season and is tied for second among his teammates in terms of overall career goals. The forward is only midway through his second season for the Bulldogs, yet the numbers he continues to put up speak to the outsized role his plays on this season’s squad.
“His combination of grit and skill is hard to come by and he has great leadership qualities … Mike has impressive hockey sense and a knack for scoring goals,” Hayden said. “That combined with his work ethic make him very hard to play against.”
Growing up in New England, Doherty was exposed to a high level of play on the ice from a very young age. After attending Groton School, where he was the Independent School League MVP his junior year, Doherty played for the Islanders in the Eastern Junior Hockey League during the 2012–13 season. There, he played alongside fellow forward Chris Izmirlian ’17 and notched 31 goals and 76 points over 47 games.
The moment he stepped out on the ice for the first game of his freshman season, Doherty made it clear that he was a force to be reckoned with. Third on the team with nine goals and fourth in points, with 18, Doherty was the most prolific scorer among his fellow freshman teammates. Yet both Doherty and head coach Keith Allain ’80 noted that the mental aspect of collegiate hockey, especially in such a difficult conference like the ECAC, can be challenging for any freshman to master.
“The biggest area [in which] Michael has progressed since his freshman year has been his mental approach to the game,” Allain said. “I believe he has become more strategic with his physical play, and as a result, he plays with a greater focus than he played with last season.”
As Doherty explained, this improved focus comes at a crucial time, as the Bulldogs lost a large chunk of their offensive power after graduating captain Jesse Root ’14 and forward Kenny Agostino ’14 last year. When it comes to goal scoring, the forwards of the class of 2017 have proven to be an integral part of the Elis’ production at the offensive end of the rink.
Along with Doherty, who has eight goals and five assists thus far, Hayden has 13 points on the season. Meanwhile, Frankie DiChiara ’17 sits just three spots down at fifth on the team with nine points and Izmirlian has also notched four points for the Bulldogs this year.
Doherty noted that although the team has been struggling to convert on its goal scoring opportunities this season, he believes that he has been able to respond to the added offensive pressure after losing key players like Root last year.
This was clear back in January during his performance against then No. 9 Vermont. After the Bulldogs fell behind early on a Catamounts strike in the first period, Yale managed to battle back with two of their own before the period ended. Yet it was not until Doherty blasted a shot over the shoulder of Vermont’s goalie midway through the second and caused a change in the Catamounts’ netminder that the Bulldogs were able to truly put the game away.
Izmirlian noted that a lot of the success Doherty achieves in games comes as a result of his hard work in practice. Both his fellow teammates explained that beyond simply technical skill, Doherty brings a strong sense of competitiveness and grit to not just games, but also to practices.
As for leadership, which Doherty considers a collective effort, the forward explains that he prefers to lead by actions rather than words, and he hopes that his role on the team will only grow in future seasons.
“On our team we don’t just have one guy as the leader. We have so many guys that contribute a lot to the leadership of our team,” Doherty said. “It comes from playing fearlessly out there and saying things that need to be said but not talking too much. I’d say I make sure I’m leading by example and saying things that need to be said. I’m going to try to do that for as long as I’m here.”
The Elis face off against Harvard on Friday at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink.