Netminder Connor Hopkins ’23 arrived in New Haven last fall intending to play his first collegiate hockey season with the Yale Bulldogs. Yet, in October, Hopkins suffered a season-ending injury, and Yale club hockey goalie Eddie Massaro ’21 stepped in to fill Hopkins’ shoes.
About two weeks after Hopkins tore his meniscus during a preseason practice, the rookie found himself on the operating table. Yet, while Hopkins underwent the post-surgery healing process, the Yale men’s hockey team faced a different challenge: the loss of a talented player.
“He was an effective goalie, which was important, but also he had a cerebral approach to the game,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 explained why Yale recruited Hopkins. “He was a guy that really had a reason for everything that he did out there. He wasn’t just reacting, he wasn’t just being athletic, and the more we got to know him, the more we liked him and thought that he would be a really good college goalie.”
Hopkins attended Belmont Hill School in the Boston area before playing with the West Kelowna Warriors for a year in the British Columbia Hockey League. At Belmont Hill, Hopkins stood out: he made over 1,500 saves on a .921 save percentage, led his team to an Elite Eight berth in 2017 and received the Ken Martin Hockey Trophy for Most Valuable Player in 2018. According to Allain, Hopkins certainly would have doubtlessly competed for time in net and likely would have started a few games his rookie season.
Since 2010, the Bulldogs roster has featured only three goalies each year. An injured keeper has major repercussions. In his history as a collegiate coach, Allain has never seen a goalie miss an entire season due to injury.
Fellow Eli netminders Corbin Kaczperski ’20 and Nicholas MacNab ’21 took the bulk of the burden following Hopkins’ injury. When Allain needed to do certain drills in practice, the two goalies worked hard and often did not receive the luxury of a break. The loss made managing practice much more challenging, Allain told the News.
“The transition to two goalies was tough to start due to the increased reps in practice and then trying to play games on the weekends,” Kaczperski said. “I was honestly a little burnt out, but I made an adjustment to my eating and sleeping schedule and that helped a lot with energy levels … Going through the experience with [MacNab] was also so beneficial to me personally. I honestly credit him for keeping me sane earlier on in the year when I was really struggling and not getting the job done.”
Still, the situation worsened. MacNab suffered a minor concussion shortly after Hopkins’ injury, and the team was down to one goalie for a week. Though Kaczperski rose to the challenge head on, Allain knew that something needed to be done.
Defenseman Billy Sweezey ’20 and forward captain Evan Smith ’20 reached out to club hockey goalie Massaro in October who played with the team twice that week while MacNab rested. At the end of the second practice, Allain asked the junior if he would like a spot on the roster, and Massaro agreed, fulfilling his dream of playing Division I hockey.
Though Massaro did not pursue collegiate hockey in high school due to the time consuming recruiting process, he expressed enthusiasm and gratitude for being a part of the squad.
“Luckily, I knew a lot of the guys on the team before joining the team, so the transition was pretty smooth,” Massaro said. “However, the guys I didn’t know beforehand all made an effort to introduce themselves to me as well as get to know me not only on the ice but off the ice. Everyone has been so accepting of me and have really made this already incredible experience even more special, so I’m grateful to my teammates and the coaching staff.”
While the opportunity is a one-year offer for Massaro, if the coaches offered him a spot on next year’s roster, he would “100 percent take it,” the New York native said.
Since Massaro is Hopkins’ replacement, the two netminders are both listed as number one on the Yale Athletics website roster. Massaro attends practice and dresses for home games.
“Eddie was an awesome addition to the team,” Kaczperski said. “Not only has he really helped [MacNab] and I in practice with managing our reps, but he’s an unbelievable person. He’s always just so happy to be out there on the ice, and he’s always asking what he can do to help the team in any way he can. His presence has been so positive at the rink, and I speak for everyone when I say we are all so glad he joined the team.”
Though the changes that faced the trio of goalies were daunting at first, Allain is proud of how the team and Massaro has stepped up. The head coach noted that the situation “did not affect [the] team negatively in any shape or form.”
Meanwhile, Hopkins dedicates his time to getting better, in hopes of returning to the ice after spring break.
“I hope to come in and make an impact [next season],” Hopkins said. “It’s hard, but I obviously have to use my summer to train and get ready so that I can get back to how I was before my injury and put myself in a good spot to step in and help the team next year … The most important thing for me now is to use my time wisely, try to make myself better as an athlete.”
Along with personal training, core exercises, stretching and various other methods of rehabilitation, Hopkins has spent considerable time watching video to learn as much as he can while off the ice.
Kaczperski attested to Hopkins’ dedication to his recovery and his team.
“He comes to the rink every day and works his tail off to get faster and stronger so that when the doctor clears him to skate, he will be able to step right in and continue to work on his on ice play,” Kaczperski said. “He’s very calm in all situations, and from the little bit I saw of his game during preseason, I believe that translates into his game … I am really excited for him and his future as a goalie.”
According to Allain, the nature of the sport makes it unlikely that Hopkins would redshirt and stay at Yale for a fifth year. Rather, the goalkeeper may perform a postgraduate year at another university if he chooses to do so.
The Bulldogs travel to the Bright-Landry Hockey Center in Boston to face off against Harvard this Friday.
Margaret Hedeman | firstname.lastname@example.org