Steve Musco

Hockey goalies are a different breed.

Decked head-to-toe in protective gear, netminders make split-second decisions that can make or break the game. For the Yale men’s hockey team, sending top-class goaltenders onto the ice has not been a problem this season.

Between the pipes, Sam Tucker ’19 and Corbin Kaczperski ’20 have split time minding the Bulldogs’ net this winter. Using the two in an alternating weekend rotation, the Bulldogs (11–9–3, 9–6–1 ECAC Hockey) are conceding a 2.61 goals-against-average, which has propelled the Elis to a fifth-place standing in the conference with 19 points — just five below leader No. 8 Cornell.

“I’ve always been drawn to the position [of goaltender] because of the impact you can have on the game,” Tucker said. “I’m proud of the many things our team has accomplished during my time here, including an Ivy League Championship in 2016. However, I would largely consider my time here unfinished and I look forward to the opportunities that the end of this season presents.”

A native of Wilton, Connecticut, Tucker was a four-year varsity goalie at Choate Rosemary Hall, a team he co-captained as a senior. He concluded his high-school career with a .930 save percentage en route to being named a New England Prep All-Star. The now-veteran goalie made his collegiate debut in his sophomore campaign, when he was sent into the third period of a home contest against Cornell and stopped all five shots he faced. Since then, Tucker has minded the net in 48 games and recorded an overall save percentage of .901. So far this season, his career-high mark of .918 is tied for 23rd among NCAA goaltenders.

Last season, Tucker’s brilliant performance in an early November game against then-No. 3 Harvard secured the 5–2 win for the Bulldogs. He recorded a 33-save effort, including spectacular blocks that provided the Elis enough defensive cushion to claim the game. After starting 20 total games, Tucker concluded the year with academic All-ECAC Hockey honors.

“Sam is a great role model for the team both on and off the ice,” forward Ted Hart ’19 said. “He is extremely dedicated to the game and is constantly finding ways to improve himself as a goalie, which is something that definitely rubs off on the other players. There’s never a dull moment with [Tucker], and he always lifts people up around him. He’s a great leader at the rink and an even better friend away from it.”

This winter, the senior goalie once again rose to the occasion in the team’s 3–0 sweep over then-No. 11 Union. Stopping all 26 shots in an action-packed shutout, Tucker was crucial in not only blanking the Dutchmen on five power play opportunities but also generating the offensive momentum necessary for the Bulldogs to find the back of the net on the other side of the rink. Tucker’s penalty-kills and superb saves boosted the team’s powerful offense, including forward Joe Snively ’19, who notched two goals and an assist that game.

Kaczperski’s road to Yale, on the other hand, goes through the Midwest and Motown. The junior was introduced to the sport by longtime Detroit Red Wing Shawn Burr. Coming out of St. Clair High School in Michigan, where he had a 1.89 GAA, he played for the NAHL Lone Star Brahmas in Dallas before coming to New Haven. Although Kaczperski saw no regular season action as a rookie, his superb sophomore year numbers have gained many a plaudit. Last campaign, he posted a .933 save percentage — the fifth best in the country.

However, he is not satisfied with his showing this season. Kaczperski’s GAA rose from 2.02 as a sophomore to 2.81, while his save percentage dropped from .933 to .900. Nevertheless, his win percentage has held steady at .636.

“I really haven’t liked my season so far,” Kaczperski said. “ I went through a stretch where I got pulled out for two or three starts, and I couldn’t seem to figure out what was wrong. Thankfully for me, I have a really supportive coaching staff that sat down with me and had several talks with me about the mental side of the game and how to get through those tough times, and they continued to give me playing time even going through that, which has helped me get through that tough time and start playing better within the past month or so.”

Kaczperski’s form has improved since the turn of the new year. He has posted three consecutive performances where he saved at least 91 percent of shots faced. This was capped off by a tremendous display against a Quinnipiac side that has netted 105 goals this season. On a night when the Bulldogs’ offense got shut out 4–0, the netminder was flying around the crease, ultimately stopping 46 shots — 10 more than any other single-game total this season.

Nevertheless, the junior stressed the importance of the community fostered among his fellow netminders, including backup Nicholas MacNab ’21.

“I think the Union has been a huge part of my growth this year as a goalie,” Kaczperski said. “Me, Tuck, and Nabber call ourselves the Goalies Union, or Union for short. All three of us obviously want to play, but there is zero animosity between us. We all genuinely want each other to succeed, and we push each other to be our best each and every day. Having such a tight-knit group of goalies also helps when things aren’t going well, because we support each other no matter what. There’s a lot of respect between the three of us for each other, and I couldn’t have asked for a better group.”

Yale looks to return to winning ways against Colgate at Ingalls Rink on Friday.

Bill Gallagher | william.gallagher@yale.edu 

Lucy Liu  | l.liu@yale.edu