When the Yale men’s hockey team’s season ended on Saturday night with an overtime loss to UMass Lowell, so too did the collegiate careers of the Bulldogs’ eight seniors.
But as the those veterans leave behind Ingalls Rink, they also stamp their place in Yale hockey history.
Over the course of their time as Bulldogs, the eight helped secure three NCAA appearances for a program that, when the class of 2016 arrived on campus, had just five in the 64-year history of the tournament. And most notably, as freshmen, the current seniors helped the Elis win their only national championship to date in 2013.
All told, the group, which arrived in New Haven eight years after a 5–25–2 season for Yale, reaffirmed the program’s resurgence onto the national stage.
“They came to work every day, and did whatever I asked them to do,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “I think they maximized their potential as hockey players and as people.”
That potential on the ice may have been most realized this season, as five of the eight — only seven of whom were healthy enough to play in 2015–16 — were recognized for their play during the campaign.
Forward Stu Wilson ’16, who finished second on the team with 26 points, was named to the All-Ivy First Team.
Matching that honor was defenseman Rob O’Gara ’16, whose decorated career as an Eli has seen him named a 2014–15 first-team All-American, twice a first-team All-ECAC honoree, the 2015–16 ECAC Best Defensive Defenseman and twice the ECAC Defenseman of the Year. Drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round of the 2011 NHL draft, O’Gara is the most professional-ready player of the bunch, and Allain has said that he has the potential to be a top-four NHL defenseman.
But after Joe Gambardella’s overtime winner for UMass Lowell on Saturday, that future was the last thing on the New York native’s mind.
“[This team has] my 27 best friends in the world,” O’Gara said. “Like [captain and defenseman] Mitch Witek ’16 said … every day you put on this jersey, it’s a new best day. That’s how I’ll remember this team.”
The team’s three senior defensemen, leaders of the nation’s top defense and the best penalty kill unit in the history of college men’s hockey, were close this season not just in the locker room but also on the stat sheet: O’Gara, Witek and Ryan Obuchowski ’16 all had exactly 12 points, sharing the team-high defenseman mark. Obuchowski, who played in 134 of Yale’s 135 games over his four seasons, was named to the All-Ivy Second Team, and Witek was named to the All-Ivy Honorable Mention list.
Characterized by their forechecking and grit, the 2015–16 Elis were a reflection of their captain, who led the team to its best winning percentage since the 2010–11 season.
“Especially with our class, I’m really going to miss coming to the rink every day and being with [this team],” Wilson said. “I hope we’re remembered as a team that worked our absolute bags off and gave everything we had.”
Rounding out the list of awarded Eli seniors was forward Carson Cooper ’16, who was recognized as the ECAC’s Best Defensive Forward after winning over 50 percent of his faceoffs for the third straight year.
Although his linemate Cody Learned ’16 received no 2015–16 honors, Learned produced one of the Bulldogs’ most noteworthy performances of the season with a six-game point streak between Jan. 29 and Feb. 13, including a pair of game-winning goals against Harvard and Colgate. In addition to his regular-season contributions, Learned notched three assists across Yale’s three 2016 playoff contests.
Two other Eli seniors did not play on Saturday against the River Hawks. Forward Matthew Beattie ’16, who has skated in just a single game since Jan. 23, 2015, missed the entirety of the 2015–16 season due to injury. The forward is the only player in the class other than O’Gara to have been drafted by an NHL team, as the Vancouver Canucks selected him in the seventh round in 2012.
Forward Charles Orzetti ’16 also watched Yale’s postseason from the sidelines, having last dressed for the Bulldogs on Feb. 27. But Orzetti holds the distinction of being the only member of the 2015–16 team to score in the 2013 national championship game against Quinnipiac.
That 4–0 win will be the most lasting legacy that the class of 2016 leaves behind, even as the group leaves with a combined five spots on All-Ivy teams, three on All-ECAC teams and a 0.626 composite winning percentage.
“It’s a unique group. I think of them as a group, but they’re individuals as well,” Allain said. “And what they brought to Yale and to the Yale hockey community is something that I’m going to be benefitting from for the rest of my life.”