Courtesy of Jack Warhola

Following a premature exit from the 2018 ECAC Hockey Tournament at the hands of rival Quinnipiac, the Yale men’s ice hockey team enters this season with a new team dynamic and goal: achieving postseason success.

Though the Bulldogs (15–15–1, 10–11–1 ECAC Hockey) struggled in the 2016–2017 season, ending with a losing record for the first time in 10 years, last season saw the Elis bounce back to a .500 record. Yale emerged victorious against tough competition such as Brown, No. 13 Princeton and Harvard who went on to rank fourth in the conference. This winter, the hockey team boasts a productive returning squad — that comprises 91 percent of its scoring from last season — and welcomes five first years onto the roster. Ready to hit the ice after a tough summer of training in the gym, Yale begins its season this Friday night at Brown.

“The team has had great chemistry so far,” forward Mitchell Smith ’20 said. “We are all getting along really well and are bonding greatly. When we come to the rink, we compete against each other and make one another better … We want our team to be the best it can be by the season opener, so we have been working really hard in the gym these first few weeks before the season.”

The Bulldogs will specifically benefit from its roster of talented veterans, including last season’s top scorer Joe Snively. As a junior, Snively led the team with 19 goals and 36 points overall, ranking 15th in the nation with 1.16 points per game.

Though the Bulldogs graduated former captain and forward Ryan Hitchcock ’18 — who was second behind Snively in points and now plays professionally for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in the AHL — Yale is not without returning offensive power. The Smith twins, Evan Smith ’20 and Mitchell Smith ’20, return this season as two of the top forwards in the starting lineup, having scored a combined 26 points last winter.

“Our team is confident and excited to get our season started,” Snively said. “We are going to take it one weekend at a time and continue to grow and improve. Our goal is [to] put ourselves in the best position come playoffs and play our best team hockey, but we have a lot of work to do before then.”

This season, the Elis will also bring back skill on defense — goalies Sam Tucker ’19 and Corbin Kaczperski ’20. Returning to the ice for his fourth season, Tucker made his collegiate debut in a home game against Cornell during the 2016–17 and has continued to contribute to the teamsince. For the last two seasons, the senior has earned a co-starting position in net. Since securing a Yale victory with a career-best 44 saves against Dartmouth in the 2017 conference first-round playoff series, Tucker has continued to earn the Elis victories between the pipes. Last season he registered eight wins, including a 32-save performance against then No. 3 Harvard in Boston.

Kaczperski will see added playing time in net for the second straight year, coming off his 2017–18 debut which featured 34 saves against Rensselaer and over 30 stops in four other games. He has been named one of 20 goalies on the watch list for the 2019 Mike Richter Award — an annual honor awarded to the most outstanding netminder in NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey.

“All of us are itching to get out there and play some real games again,” Kaczperski said. “We are looking to win a championship this year. That’s been everybody’s goal from day one, and we have belief in the guys in the locker room that we can do it.”

The class of 2022 is already looking to be promising assets for the team, boasting two players already drafted into the NHL: forward Curtis Hall ’22 by the Boston Bruins and defenseman Jack St. Ivany ’22 by the Philadelphia Flyers. Coming into his rookie year on the squad, Hall boasts an impressive hockey resume. With 52 points tallied in two seasons for the USHL Youngstown Phantoms and experience playing in the 2018 World Junior Summer Showcase in British Columbia, the forward brings invaluable experience to the Elis’ skating lineup.

This season, Yale is picked to finish sixth by the ECAC Coaches’ Poll and seventh according to the media vote. Friday night’s game against Brown marks the 180th meeting between the two Ancient Eight rivals. Last season’s opener saw the Bears take a 4–1 victory before the Elis turned things around the next night to claim a 5–2 win. Brown finished 8–19–4 overall last season, including a 7–14–1 mark in the ECAC.

The Bulldogs’ game against Brown will begin Friday at 7 p.m. at Meehan Auditorium.

Lucy Liu | l.liu@yale.edu

Audrey Steinkamp | audrey.steinkamp@yale.edu .