On April 13, 2013, the Yale Bulldogs men’s hockey team captured its first ever NCAA National Championship with one of the program’s most successful coaches, Keith Allain ’80, leading the way.
However, when Allain took over at Yale in 2006, he inherited a squad that was a far cry from the championship-winning group of 2013. Having gone just 3–5–2 in the Ivy League in coach Tim Taylor’s final season, Allain was faced with turning a losing squad into title contenders.
Allain and the Yale Bulldogs responded that year by winning the 2006 Ivy League Championship, as the newly empowered head coach built the foundation of a Yale squad that proved capable of competing among the nation’s top talent into the next decade. Allain did, however, change the way Yale hockey operated.
“There were a couple of things we did right away when I came in,” Allain said. “There seemed to be a sense of entitlement with the players that if you were a senior you got to play or if you were recruited in a certain way, you got to play.”
Instead, Allain established meritocratic standards of play, which he says the players responded to.
According to leading scorer John Hayden ’17, the team embraces the passion and demanding nature of Allain’s coaching. Hayden said that though Allain can be intense, the players would not want it any other way.
Though Allain credits former coach Taylor for his knowledge of the game and his care for the players, he also said the sense of entitlement that he encountered when taking over as head coach was a part of the Taylor era that did not sit right with him.
“I felt that I brought a different type of energy and enthusiasm, which I think is important,” Allain said. “I wanted to make sure my guys had fun and that they could understand that working hard and having fun were not mutually exclusive when playing hockey.”
By 2010, Allain had managed to take his no-nonsense style of coaching and apply it to the construction of a national powerhouse: a Yale team that posted a 28–7–1 record and the Elis’ first-ever No. 1 overall national ranking. Yale had gone from an ECAC afterthought to one of the nation’s most feared programs in less than five years.
“I make my players understand that you’ll have better days and lesser days,” Allain said. “You need to understand why you have success when you’re winning and why you fail when you lose. You try to enhance the reasons you succeed, and that’s something we get through practice. You have to stick to the process.”
With Yale poised to succeed and a fan base clamoring for titles, Allain’s 2013 championship arrived more as a culmination of a team-building process than a sudden triumph.
According to Allain, he never doubted Yale would win a championship.
“We had a really good year in 2013, and I think a lot of people underestimated that team because of where we were pair-wise,” Allain said. “We had some really good moments that made our guys believe that we could win no matter what and that we could beat anyone. We never lost our belief.”
Director of Athletics Tom Beckett called the Bulldogs’ 2013 win one of the proudest moments of his career and a source of pride for the entire Yale community.
Allain’s quest for a second championship continues this weekend when the Elis take on Union and RPI over a two-game road trip.