For the second year in a row, the Yale men’s hockey team has boasted two goalies equally capable of stepping up as the starting netminder.
For the past 12 games, the Bulldogs have featured an alternate weekend rotation between goaltenders Sam Tucker ’19 and Corbin Kaczperski ’20. After Tucker started in the net for the first 13 games of the season, Kaczperski made his official collegiate debut for the Elis when he started against Rensselaer in a tough early December loss. Since then, the two have split time in the net, with one playing Friday night while the other takes over on Saturday.
“They each bring an excellent compete level each day in practice and for each game they play,” defender Charlie Curti ’19 said. “They play different styles, but they each prepare extensively throughout the week. Both goalies are extremely calm off the ice, and it is reflected in their own ice play. Everyone else on the team draws confidence from each of [their] calm demeanors, and we feel that we can win each and every game no matter who is in the net that night.”
During Tucker’s rookie season, Yale was fortunate enough to have Alex Lyon ’16 in goal. Lyon — who led the country in save percentage, goals against average and shutouts during his sophomore year while earning multiple All-ECAC First-Team and All-Ivy First-Team honors during his three-year Yale career — gave up his senior campaign to turn professional.
When Lyon left school early to join the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers, Tucker gained the chance to see time in the Yale goal. Starting in the second half of the 2016–17 season, Tucker shared netminding time with goaltender Patrick Spano ’17 before eventually taking over completely for six of the seven final games.
“I don’t know about specifics,” Tucker said about watching Lyon play. “But it was cool, and you learned a lot seeing what he did day by day and [watching] the care and effort he put into his game. Watching him do what he did my freshman year was great, and I think I picked up a decent amount or tried to do my best to learn everything about what he did.”
For his own part, Tucker has seen some exceptional performances so far in the 2017–18 season. The Wilton, Connecticut, native recorded a season-high .950 save percentage in Yale’s 6–1 win over St. Lawrence and more recently saved 34 shots in a 3–3 tie with then-No. 4 Cornell. However, Tucker has seen fewer minutes in the goal since Kaczperski began playing a more substantial amount in December.
While the aforementioned loss to the Engineers, the second-worst team in the ECAC, was a frustrating result early on for Kaczperski, he has rebounded well. His next start in net featured 31 saves in a 4–2 victory against New Hampshire, a team that had tallied four goals on the Elis a little over a month earlier. Since that win, the 6-foot-3-inch goaltender lays claim to a 3–1–0 record including a massive triumph over then-No. 19 Colgate as well as a .940 save percentage.
Even in defeat, Kaczperski has played well only to be let down by his offense. This past Saturday against last-place St. Lawrence, a game in which Kaczperski stopped 27 of 28 shots, his counterpart, Saints netminder Arthur Brey, registered a 53-save shutout and took home the 1–0 victory.
“[That loss] was definitely frustrating,” Kaczperski said. “The one thing we can’t do is score goals, so we just have to focus on doing our jobs. … It’s one of those things where you think I had a decent game but we still lost. You learn from it and move on, and we’ve got Arizona State this upcoming weekend so we’ll focus on that.”
Fortunately for both Tucker and Kaczperski, the pair of goalies has the benefit of the nation’s best shorthanded scoring unit when either is out on the ice for a penalty kill. Through 21 games, Yale ranks first in Division I with six short-handed goals, the most recent of which came from forward Robbie DeMontis ’20 in the Elis’ 4–1 defeat to No. 4 Clarkson last weekend.
One unique aspect of sharing the goal is the chance for each of the goaltenders to watch the game from a different perspective while off the ice. Tucker describes himself as more of a conscientious spectator when he’s on the bench, while Kaczperski prefers to take on a more supportive role in an effort to energize his teammates. Friendly competition between the two goalies during practice has also raised their level of play, allowing Tucker to improve his goals-against-average from a season ago and Kaczperski to flourish midway through the season as a relatively inexperienced sophomore. The Michigan native also credits his recent success in goal to longtime mentor, life coach and best friend Darin Grabowski.
“From a pure goaltending standpoint there are a lot of things that Tuck does well that I love,” Kaczperski said. “I do try to mimic some of the stuff he does because he has really great form. Sometimes his movements are super crisp, and he’s super athletic and fast, … so you definitely try to learn as much as you can from the other goalie.”
In their last three ECAC weekend series, Tucker and Kaczperski have combined to limit opposing teams to an average of just 2.16 goals per game and will need to keep up their craftiness in the crease in order for Yale to orchestrate a late postseason run. This Friday and Saturday should present a prime opportunity for both goalies to showcase their skill sets as the Elis looks to secure a sweep against the Sun Devils, a team that’s currently ranked 54th out of 60 teams in the PairWise rankings.
Yale will drop the puck at Ingalls Rink to take on Arizona State at 7 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday night.
Joey Kamm | firstname.lastname@example.org
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