Courtesy of Yale Athletics

With sticks in hand and pucks on the ice, the Yale men’s hockey team is eagerly getting back to practice with the beginning of Phase II of the Yale Athletics phased plan. Players are bringing Ingalls Rink back to life, filling it with the reverberating sounds of pucks against sideboards and slap shots on goal.

Shifting from Phase I, when access to the rink was limited to once a week, the Bulldogs are now on ice for a total of 12 hours a week, Monday through Friday. With greater access to the rink, players in shifts are now focusing on skating details and skill development, in addition to their training in the weight room.

“I think the key work in planning for this year was flexibility,” Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “We spent a lot of time trying to be ready for everything … to make sure our athletes get a quality experience, regardless of what this season looks like.”

For Yale Athletics, Phase I was purely strength and conditioning — five hours a week and no more than one hour a day. Out of the 19 players on campus and enrolled, only five were able to use the weight room at a time and masks were required.

While team members were excited to practice together, the restrictions posed by Phase I provided little ice time. They would run wind sprints only once a week on Wednesdays instead of a lift workout, all without sticks, pucks and other equipment. Ryan Conroy ’24, a defenseman from Alberta, Canada and one of seven first years on the team, compared the two phases.

“It was a little tough … We just did skating drills, pretty much like conditioning, stops and starts, some movement patterns,” Conroy said. “We’re doing a lot more now.”

As the Blue and White is now in season, the players have the ability to do hockey-related activities on the ice, including but not limited to working on passing, receiving, puck handling and shooting.

While this is a significant step forward from practices a few weeks ago, Allain believes that Phase III could get a full team on the ice, where they would play hockey and host scrimmages with full contact. With more practice comes the hope of a season filled with games, possibly in a full conference season.

“The ECAC [Eastern College Athletic Conference] has been really flexible,” Allain said. “Half of our league right now is practicing full, and they plan on having some non-conference games in late November and December.”

Allain hopes that the Yale men’s hockey team will get to play in both non-conference and conference games later this year if the health conditions at Yale and other ECAC schools allow.

The possibility of a season, and even a championship, is motivation for team members, many of whom believe that their team dynamic this year could carry them to a victory. Nate Reid ’24, a first-year goalie who has spent the last two years playing Juniors in Alaska and South Dakota, expressed his hopes for the upcoming season.

“I’d like to win a national championship while I’m here [and] I honestly think we could this year,” Reid said. “I think our team dynamic is really great. We all click really well … it’s like a family atmosphere.”

When asked about the general feel of the team and playing at Yale, Reid described the strong sense of culture and tradition that Yale has, something that he had not “really been a part of before.”

In addition to enjoying the ice at The Whale, Reid and Conroy emphasized the closeness and cohesion of this year’s team and its welcoming culture — even during a year filled with practices where only a limited number of players can skate or lift together at a time. 

“The most encouraging thing is the enthusiasm and energy that our guys are showing,” Allain said. “Even though we’re not able to play hockey right now, the group is together and they’re enjoying each other’s company.”

Allain said that, as a team, they are “trying to celebrate little victories.”

Whether those victories are progressing to Phase III in the near future or being able to compete in a league championship remains unclear. But the possibility of such events sparks hope, determination and drive in the new members of the team. Conroy described the team’s approach to the 2020-21 season and expressed his thoughts on being part of the Yale team amid the pandemic.

“If we do have a season, whoever’s going to be the most prepared is going to be the one who’s most successful … so that for sure is kind of the focus,” Conroy said. “I think we have that kind of bond right now, [and] I’m definitely grateful.”

All student-athletes on the Yale men’s hockey roster besides the sophomores are currently in New Haven, and all but one are enrolled this semester.

Amelia Lower | amelia.lower@yale.edu