Courtesy of Yale Athletics

Yale men’s hockey player Henry Hart ’18 came to Yale as a forward and made 22 appearances up front in his first two years on the team. But with turnover on the Bulldog roster, Hart has found a new home on the ice as a defender.

After capturing the Ivy League title last season, the Bulldogs graduated their three top defenders, captain Mitch Witek ’16, Rob O’Gara ’16 and Ryan Obuchowski ’16. The blueline depth crisis was compounded at the start of this season with the early losses of two top returning defenders: Nate Repensky ’18, a staff reporter for the News, suffered a career-ending injury in the offseason, and Anthony Walsh ’19 missed 15 games after an injury on Nov. 12 in the fifth game of the season.

With the depleted lineup, the Eli defense struggled early in the season, conceding 23 goals in its first six games and slumping to an unfamiliar 2–4 record. But in Yale’s seventh game, on the road at Clarkson, Hart stepped into the void and has been one of the team’s top defenders ever since.

“Henry has unbelievable vision on the ice and one of the best hockey IQs of someone I’ve been on a team with,” defender Billy Sweezey ’20 said. “He has been working hard every day to understand and develop the skills he needs to succeed as a defender at this level and I think people have taken notice and tried to replicate that.”

Moving from forward to defense requires a shift in both responsibility and mindset. While forwards have more opportunities to make plays closer to the opposing goals, defenders are expected to both anchor the offense on the blue line and serve as first responders to a change in possession.

Hart has grown into these defensive responsibilities and, according to teammates, embraced the steep learning curve. The junior has also combined his puck skills and passing vision from his days as a forward to assume a key role as the point of the Yale power play.

“The biggest change, and something that I am consistently working to improve, has been transition defense,” Hart said. “Effectively deterring opponent rushes is a big part of our defensive core and as a forward, you just aren’t exposed to such rushes consistently.”

In his 20 games as a defender, Hart has notched a goal — the game-winner at Brown on Jan. 27 — and nine assists, putting him second in points among Yale defenders and dwarfing the three total points he amassed as a forward. He averaged an assist per game over his first nine appearances on defense and played a key role in helping the Bulldogs stop their early-season skid and rebound with a 6–1–2 January to start the New Year.

In the 20 games Hart has played as a defender, the Elis have conceded 2.85 goals per game, shaving nearly a goal per game off their early-season average of 3.83. Despite having struggled at times to crack the lineup as an underclassman forward, the Stillwater, Minnesota native has only missed one contest since transitioning to the blue line. The Bulldogs have outscored their opponents by 10 goals with Hart on the ice at even strength, a mark second only to the +11 of his defensive partner Sweezey.

“Give [Hart] a ton of credit,” captain and forward John Hayden ’17 said. “It’s not easy for anyone to step into a new role like that and he’s done a tremendous job. There aren’t many forwards that have the skill level to change positions like that.”

Listed at 5-foot-7, Hart is the shortest player on the Yale roster.