Freshman forward Joe Snively ’19 is listed at 165 pounds, the lightest of any player on the No. 8 Yale men’s hockey team. Nevertheless, the slightest Bulldog has been perhaps the most impactful of any player on the team, and his play thus far — including his heroics in the team’s biggest game of its young season — is turning heads his way.
Through the Elis’ first four contests, Snively leads the team in goals, points and faceoff percentage. It was his one-timer in the dying seconds of Yale’s 2–2 tie at No. 6 Harvard, however — the rookie’s second score of the game — that confirmed his arrival on the collegiate hockey landscape.
“There’s usually an adjustment period coming in as a freshman, and for him there just hasn’t been one,” captain and defenseman Mitch Witek ’16 said.
Snively is not a typical Yale hockey freshman. In fact, he is not a typical Yale hockey player at all: he grew up in Herndon, Virginia, making him only the second Virginian to ever don an Eli sweater, and the first to do so in over 50 years.
It was Snively’s father, Richard, a Canada native, who turned his son onto hockey at an early age.
“My dad grew up in Montreal, so he played when he was young,” Snively said. “So I started [playing] when I was four or five, and started skating when I was three or four.”
After playing for local club teams in Virginia for several years, Snively moved to Connecticut following his freshman year of high school. He enrolled in the Selects Hockey Academy at the South Kent School, a national junior program geared toward players with collegiate and professional aspirations.
During his time at South Kent, Snively began to seriously consider where he would attend college.
“My sophomore year at South Kent is when I was looking at a lot of schools,” Snively said. “[Former Yale assistant coach] Dan Muse, the guy who recruited me, reached out the summer before my 10th-grade year. I really liked him and really loved the school — it had all the things that I wanted.”
But while Snively was catching the eye of Yale — coincidentally, in the same year the Bulldogs won the national championship — the 16-year-old was also drawing attention from the United States Hockey League, the top junior league in the nation.
After spending a year at South Kent, Snively was drafted by the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers. In his three seasons with the Musketeers, the forward scored 50 goals and totaled 125 points over 159 games.
It was after Snively’s second season with Sioux City that he decided, with the support of the Yale hockey staff, to defer matriculating and to play an extra year on the junior circuit, which caps players at the age of 20. Snively turned 19 during his final year with the Musketeers.
“I was originally supposed to come [to Yale] as a true freshman,” Snively said. “But I decided I wanted to take a year to develop and physically mature. [Yale] left it up to me.”
The ensuing 2014–15 campaign proved to be Snively’s best in the USHL. He doubled his career totals in goals and points while boasting a 0.220 shot percentage, the highest on the Sioux City roster.
And when he at last arrived in New Haven, Snively noticed the differences between the USHL and collegiate hockey.
“A lot of the guys are bigger and older, and there’s a little less space and time with the puck,” Snively said. “I knew it was going to be a little bit of a transition. It’s never going to be seamless.”
Despite the Ivy League-mandated late start to the season delaying his Yale debut, Snively — alongside forward linemates Chris Izmirlian ’17 and Ryan Hitchcock ’18 — did not waste time before making an impact.
In the season opener against Princeton, Snively assisted on Izmirlian’s game-winning goal. Their line has only gotten hotter: the trio has accounted for more than half the team’s goals so far this campaign.
“I think we think the same way when we have the puck or don’t have the puck,” Snively said. “I think we’ve been doing a pretty good job of transitioning fast and just getting the puck to areas where we can use our skill.”
After the pair of scores in Boston this past weekend, Snively owns four goals to his name through four games. Three other collegiate players currently average a goal per contest: two are NHL draftees, and the third is 24 years old. All three are taller and heavier than Snively.
Standing at 5-foot-9, the rookie is on the shorter end of the Elis’ roster. Yet Snively believes his stature complements his style rather than hindering his game.
“Size I’ve never really seen as a disadvantage,” Snively said. “I’m a little weaker than some of the guys, but it gives me a low center of gravity. [I’m] quicker and a little more slippery.”
That brand of play was particularly useful in the final minute of Yale’s game against the Crimson, when Snively, following behind a pair of opposing defensemen, took a pass from forward John Hayden ’17 with under 40 seconds to play and rifled the equalizer into the Harvard net while falling to one knee.
In his introduction to the Ivy League’s most historic rivalry, Snively took on the challenge of facing a top-10 team in a sold-out arena on the road and thrived.
“[I’ve been] really impressed [with Snively],” said forward Mike Doherty ’17, who led the team with 12 goals last season. “The stuff he does in practice you [saw] out there at the end [of the Harvard game]. He’s really skilled and he can make plays so you know, we need him.”
According to the freshman, who has already matched the four goals scored by forward John Baiocco ’18 that led all Yale newcomers last season, he is continuing to work on strength and consistency as his debut campaign progresses. And though he has played everywhere from Saskatoon to Siberia, he has still yet to hit the ice for an official game at Ingalls Rink.
He will not need to wait long: the team’s home opener against Cornell on Nov. 20 is on the horizon. That Friday night, the atmosphere will likely be markedly different from his experiences in Sioux City and as a visiting Bulldog.
“I’m not used to playing for a school. There’s more school pride on the line, [which] adds a little more incentive, especially when you only play teams twice a year in our league,” Snively said. “I’m really excited to play [at home]. I’ve heard it’s really fun.”
Before that home opener, Yale faces another round of road ECAC Hockey games against Rensselaer and Union.
And although the season has just begun for the Elis, the rookie’s impressive start has provided a veteran-laden locker room with a youthful boost.
“He’s smart, he’s quick, he’s skilled [and] he’s pretty cool in the big moments,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “I think he’s going to be a nice player.”
Although he is just four games into his collegiate career, Snively has certainly proven to be a nice addition thus far.