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The men’s hockey team kicked off practice on Monday as it looks to rebound from a disappointing season that resulted in an eighth-place finish and the Eli’s first record below 0.500 since head coach Keith Allain’s ’80 first season in 2006-07. Yale played eventual national semifinalist No. 3 Harvard close in a hard-fought playoff series, but dropped a pair of nailbiters to go home early. The Bulldogs graduated a physical crop of senior forwards, notably captain and forward John Hayden ’17 who is playing in the National Hockey League for the Chicago Blackhawks. However, with a talented first-year class matriculating and the return of captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 from the knee injury that ended his season prematurely, the Bulldogs have a bright outlook for the season ahead. The News caught up with Hitchcock to hear his thoughts on the upcoming season.

Q:  The team has graduated a number of senior forwards, including two of last year’s top three scorers in John Hayden ’17 and Frank DiChiara ’17. How will the team replace that experience and production up front this season?

A: We have a lot of depth at forward. I’d say that’s a strength of the team. Guys are pushing each other for lineup spots, and I think it’s going to be scoring by committee and four lines deep. We’ll look to pick up the pace up front, and I think a lot of guys are going to step up this year. I don’t think it will be any problem losing those guys.

Q: You missed the second half of the season last year with an injury. What is the feeling like to be back on the ice and what are your personal expectations for the season?

A: I’m so excited for the season to start. I’ve been looking forward to it since last February, so I’m chomping at the bit to get going. My expectations are to build off what I was doing last year before I got hurt, hopefully contribute even more offensively. I’ll try to round out my game and be a complete, first-line center.

Q: What have you seen from the seven first years in the first few days of practice?

A: They all look good. I expected that, they’re all hard-working guys, all good kids. What I told them was they’re here for a reason, there’s no reason that they shouldn’t contribute right away.

Q: Last season was a disappointment compared to the past few years. What would you like to see in terms of a bounce-back for the team this season?

A: I think our first goal should be getting a bye in the ECAC playoffs and making it to the conference semifinals in Lake Placid. That’s something the class before us didn’t do once, that’s something we have yet to do. I think we need to start there, and if we take care of business on that end, we can end up playing in March and making the tournament.

Q: Will Coach Allain’s job as an assistant coach on the US Olympic team in the 2018 games and month-long absence during the season affect the team at all?

A: There hasn’t been any talking about it yet. I don’t think it will be a big issue. We have some good leadership from the juniors and seniors on the team, and more importantly, we have great assistant coaches to back Coach Allain up. I’m excited for the team. It’s going to be tough without Coach Allain because he’s such a good coach, but I’m excited to see how we respond and it will show a lot about the character of the team.

Lauren Cueto | lauren.cueto@yale.edu