In his 11 seasons as head coach of the Bulldogs, Keith Allain ’80 has led the Yale men’s hockey team to its most successful stretch in program history. In the last decade, Yale has participated in five NCAA tournaments and captured its first ever National Championship in 2013.

The team stumbled in 2016–17, however, finishing with a losing record for the first time since the 2006–07 season, Allain’s first year behind the bench. The Elis (13–15–5, 7–11–4 ECAC) will look to bounce back this year, and return to the top of the ECAC.

“Our team is extremely proud of the work we’ve done this offseason, making us even more excited to get this season going,” captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 said. “Our league is very competitive, as always, but we have our sights set on making it to Lake Placid to compete for [an ECAC] championship.”

Last season, the Bulldogs finished eighth in the conference regular season standings. After sweeping ninth-seed Dartmouth in the ECAC first round, the Elis were sent home after falling to a Harvard team that went on to win the ECAC title and appear in the Frozen Four. This season, Yale has been picked to finish eighth once again in the ECAC Coaches’ Poll and tied for sixth, according to the media vote.

Forward Joe Snively ’19 was selected as one of five players on the conference Coaches All-ECAC Team. He is one of the key returning players for the Bulldogs, having produced consistently throughout his time in a Yale sweater. Snively finished both his seasons at Yale as the top point scorer on the team and has recorded 67 career points in 65 games.

The junior is on track to surpass his scoring statistics from previous years, having tallied two goals and four assists in Yale’s 6–4 preseason win over Western Ontario. Snively will be even more key to the Bulldog offense this season after the team graduated its two other leading scorers from last season, forwards John Hayden ’17 — who led the squad in goals — and Frank DiChiara ’17.

The Bulldogs will also get a boost on offense with the return of Hitchcock, who missed over half of last season after suffering a broken leg in a January game against St. Lawrence. Despite the time he missed, Hitchcock still finished last year fourth on the team in overall scoring and second in assists, ultimately notching 19 points in the 17 games he played. After not playing competitively for eight months, Hitchcock picked up two assists in the Elis’ preseason game, and will be an important piece of the team as he returns in a first-line center role.

Four new forwards — Brett Jewell ’21, Kevin O’Neil ’21, Dante Palecco ’21 and Tyler Welsh ’21 — will also look to make their mark on the score sheet in order to help fill the holes on offense left by last year’s graduates.

The Bulldogs also have a tested goaltender taking on the starting role, an advantage that they did not enjoy last season. Patrick Spano ’17 began the 2017–18 season as the starter having played just nine games in his previous three years at Yale. Sam Tucker ’19 took over the role of starter by the end of the season, ultimately starting 14 games, and he will likely shoulder most of the load in net this year. Tucker finished last season with a 0.899 save percentage, and in the postseason against Dartmouth, his performance — allowing just three goals in two games — was key to the Eli sweep.

The team has added seven first years, but unlike last year, these new players will add depth rather than being expected to take on significant roles right away. Yale’s inexperience on defense in particular was a recurring theme last season, with then-rookies Matt Foley ’20, Chandler Lindstrand ’20 and Billy Sweezey ’20 played heavy minute. Henry Hart ’18, who played his first two seasons as a forward, transitioned to defense in order to add more experience to the blue line.

With a year of collegiate hockey under its belt, the sophomore class will be called on to help lead the 2017–18 team.

“My classmates and I know that we have an increased responsibility as leaders,” forward Will D’Orsi ’20 said. “We’re not only comfortable, but encouraged to speak out and push our teammates as well as ourselves … The most important thing for this team is the enthusiasm with which we approach games and training, regardless of our lineup.”

Though Yale is in a good position to improve on its performance from last season, the Bulldogs compete in a tough conference: Entering the weekend, there are three ECAC teams ranked within the nation’s top 20, including No. 3 Harvard, No. 9 Clarkson and No. 13 Quinnipiac. Any success in the conference will require the Bulldogs to do well against these squads, both in the regular season and playoffs.

“I think we had a great preseason both in the gym and on the ice to prepare for this year and to start the season in great shape,” defender Brian Matthews ’21 said. “The older guys, from the sophomores through to the seniors, have all been great at making the first-years feel like a part of the team.”

The Bulldogs start the season with a home and home with Brown. The season opener will be played at Ingalls Rink on Friday at 7 p.m. followed by a 7 p.m. Saturday night game in Providence.

Masha Galay | marie.galay@yale.edu