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The Yale men’s ice hockey team, coming off a season that saw a premature exit from the 2019 ECAC Hockey Tournament at the hands of Clarkson, enters a new campaign with one unwavering goal in mind: achieve a NCAA postseason berth for the first time since 2016.

The Bulldogs (15–15–3, 11–10–1 ECAC Hockey), as their record from last year suggests, had a season defined by both high points and low points. A campaign that saw the Elis put a five spot on No. 10 Cornell also saw some faltering later down the stretch, when the team dropped the last four games of the season and slipped out of a first-round bye in the playoffs. A bitter beginning to the offseason was made more difficult with the departure of forward Joe Snively ’19, the Elis’ leading scorer who ranked 15th in the nation with 1.15 points per game, was whisked away to the AHL after signing a NHL contract with the nation’s capital. Yet, the Bulldogs still have an abundance of talent returning to the ice this season. From the likes of captain and forward Evan Smith ’20, who set a career high in assists last season, to goalie Corbin Kaczperski ’20, who set a career-high 374 saves last campaign, Yale looks poised to settle unfinished business and redeem itself from embittered losses of seasons past.

“When you lose a player like Joe [Snively] it certainly has an effect,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “One of the things that I’m hoping for is that, sometimes when you have a player like Joe, other players tend to defer to him to be the guy that gets the big goal and creates offense. Now, there’s nobody to defer to, so hopefully some of the guys look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I guess it’s up to me.’ We are really deep at the forward position and I’m expecting offensive contributions from everyone in this lineup.”

Nine out of 10 top-scoring players from last year’s squad return to Ingalls Rink sporting Blue and White this season. Yet, the fact that Snively is the lone skater not returning to the lineup looms large over the team heading into the 2019 campaign. Snively graduated as the lead scorer all four years of his collegiate career and recorded 36 points for the Elis his senior year. Snively was also named team MVP. He won the Murray Murdoch Award and signed with the Washington Capitals to a two-year, entry-level contract starting this season.

Despite losing Snively and several key defensive players — including goalie Sam Tucker ’19 and Charlie Curti ’19 — the Elis are backed by a strong senior class. Last April, the team named Smith the 2019–2020 captain. Smith appeared in 32 of 36 games last season and tallied a career-high 10 assists. On Feb. 10, 2018 in a game against Princeton, Smith became the first Bulldog to score four goals in one game since U.S. Olympian Brian O’Neill ’12. Defensive players Jack St. Ivany ’22 and Phil Kemp ’21, fourth and seventh round NHL draft picks respectively, are both coming off a season that saw them skate at the Junior World Championship — helping the U.S. team to a silver medal.

“At this moment, we are trying to establish a gritty, competitive environment to go along with our team identity,” Smith said. “Obviously, we lost some excellent, skilled players, but we have a lot of leadership, a lot of veterans and a lot of competing in this team. We are going to be the hardest-working team in the rink bar none every time we step out onto the ice. That’s what is going to make us such a hard team to beat week in and week out.”

With the departure of Tucker, Kaczperski looks to fill the void and step into the role of strong senior goalie. Kaczperski boasts an extremely impressive goalkeeping resume that hopefully carries with it some momentum coming into this new season. In the 12 games he played as a sophomore, Kaczperski posted a 0.933 save percentage — ranking fifth in the entire nation. The following season, Kaczperski showed that those 12 games were not a fluke, finishing with 374 saves to go along with a 0.908 save percentage.

In addition to retaining key players, the Bulldogs brought on seven new first years to offset the loss of seven graduated seniors. Both defenseman Michael Young ’23 and forward Teddy Wooding ’23 led the Vernon Vipers, a junior “A” ice hockey team based in British Columbia, to a second-place finish at the British Columbia Hockey League Playoff Finals. For the Vipers, Wooding earned Rookie of the Year as well as the Wayne Buck Memorial Award — given to the player most demonstrative of hard work and unselfish play.

Last year’s captain, Anthony Walsh ’19 returns to the New Haven team, yet he sports a new title: volunteer director of operations. The Illinois native had always wanted to try out coaching, and the role seemed to be a seamless transition from his career as a Bulldog, according to Walsh. It was also reported that with Walsh’s title of director of operations comes with it the responsibility of helping with travel and video.

The Elis are predicted to finish 5th according to the ECAC Hockey Coaches Poll. USA Today places five out of 12 ECAC teams in the top 24 collegiate hockey programs in the country. Yale, despite the Coaches Poll, is not included on this list.

Friday’s game against Brown represents a matchup that the Bulldogs have come to dominate as of late, taking 10 of the last 11 games against the Bears. In fact, last season’s opener against Brown saw the Elis first win of the 2018–19 season. Eventually defeating the Bears 3–2, the Blue and White got out to a swift start after securing their first goal only 14 seconds into the game — the fastest goal scored by an ECAC team in its opener and the 14th fastest in the NCAA. Brown finished with an 8–9–5 conference record last season which placed them eighth.

“The sky’s the limit for this team,” forward Dante Palecco ’21 said. “We have potential from our first line to our fourth line, our top defensive pairing to our bottom defensive pairing and our goaltending. I am so confident in this entire team; our end goal should definitely be a national championship — that’s something that’s very attainable for this group of guys.”

The Bulldogs face off against Brown this Friday at 7 p.m. at Ingalls Rink before traveling to Providence on Saturday to square off at Meehan Auditorium.

Jared Fel | jared.fel@yale.edu

Margaret Hedeman | margaret.hedeman@yale.edu