Keith Allain ’80 brought the men’s hockey team from the bottom of the ECAC to the top of the nation in just a few years.
At the start of the 2006–07 season, the team was coming off of a year in which they finished 12th in the ECAC and sixth in the Ivy League. Yet that year marked a turning point in the Bulldogs’ long and storied history, as a newly hired head coach led the team to first place in the Ivy League that season. Three years later, the team was first atop both the Ivy League and the ECAC. And just four years after that, the Elis were national champions.
The revitalization of the oldest collegiate hockey team in the United States can be traced to one man — Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach Keith Allain. Since his arrival, Allain holds a record of 172–106–29 and has coached the team to four NCAA tournament appearances. From his days as a starting goalie for Yale’s squad himself to his time coaching both NHL and international players, Allain has developed an immense wealth of experience to draw upon as he tries to lead the Bulldogs back to another national championship.
The Massachusetts native arrived on campus in 1976 and immediately assumed a dominant role in net for the Bulldogs. Under the direction of former head coach Tim Taylor, who also arrived in 1976, Allain and the rest of the team went from a squad that had finished 4–21 the previous year to a winning season in Allain’s junior year. As netminder, Allain recorded the fifth most career victories in Yale history with 31 and the fourth most career saves with 2,337.
As Allain noted, playing at Yale allowed him to learn from the coaching strategies employed during his four starting seasons with the Bulldogs.
“Playing at Yale was a tremendous learning experience for me,” Allain said. “For the first time in my hockey career I had a coaching staff that was analytical in their approach to the game. Helping me to read the patterns and trends developing within a [matchup] … being a little more scientific in their view of the game.”
Following his graduation, Allain headed to Sweden where he briefly played professionally for two seasons. After a career-ending shoulder injury, he spent a year in business before returning to the Bulldogs as an assistant coach to Taylor for three years. Eventually, Allain headed back to Sweden to become the sole coach of the Jarfalla Hockey Club, a third-division team in Stockholm, where he led the squad for three years.
Around this time, Allain began working within the NHL, both as a scout and an assistant coach for the Washington Capitals. He also served briefly as a scout for the Nashville Predators before assuming the role of assistant coach for the St. Louis Blues in 1998. There, Allain was instrumental in leading the team’s netminders to one of their best seasons on record. In 1999–2000, the Blues goalie at the time, Roman Turek, let in just 165 goals throughout the season and was awarded the William M. Jennings trophy awarded to the NHL’s top goaltender.
Meanwhile, Allain also focused on an international career, working with Team USA in various capacities since 1990. Allain served as head coach of the U.S. National Team in the World Junior Championships in 2001, 2002 and 2011, and as an assistant coach on the U.S. Olympic teams in 1992 and 2006.
Allain explained that working with so many players across different teams has helped to bolster his sense of authority as a coach.
“Having the best players in the world trust that I could help them was a huge confidence builder,” Allain said. “There are very few college coaches that have had the opportunity to be behind the bench in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Olympic Games, the World Championships, the World Junior Championships and now the NCAA Championships.”
Forward Trent Ruffalo ’15 explained this experience has translated into a coach who pushes his players to achieve their best.
Through a mentality for growth and a long-term perspective, Allain pushes his players to success.
“He has a growth minded coaching style by continuously trying to make our team better each and every day,” Ruffalo said. “He holds everyone accountable and … brings out the best in his players and makes all of us better as a result.”
In 2006, when Taylor declared he was retiring, Allain was not initially looking to get back into college hockey. Yet he had been following Yale hockey throughout his time in the professional world and was disappointed to see that the team was unable to achieve any real success. According to Allain, he was motivated to take the job primarily because he wanted to prove that Yale could compete with the best teams in the nation.
Athletics Director Tom Beckett stated that Allain was the ideal choice for the position.
“His experience as a player and a coach of the game, at the highest level, [and] his understanding of Yale [made him the right leader],” Beckett said. “He did a spectacular job of letting the committee know exactly what he was working to build. His theme for that approach was to build a championship program, seek excellence and sustain it.”
As soon as Allain took over, he set to work transforming a team that in a few short years would be in the national spotlight.