Courtesy of Yale Athletics

The Wheeling Nailers (3–8), ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, signed forward Matt Foley ’20 on Nov. 22.

After a series of cuts, Foley has maintained his spot on the roster, and the Nailers began their 2021-22 season on Dec. 12. The Yale graduate made his professional debut on Dec. 18 against the Orlando Solar Bears.

Foley finished his senior season on the Blue and White with 18 blocks and three points. He played with the Bulldogs for all four of his undergraduate years, tallying 18 career points and 134 blocks. However, Foley was never 100 percent certain that professional hockey would be in the cards for him.

“I wavered back and forth between [playing hockey or working after college],” Foley said. “I wanted and still do want to be prepared for work when hockey is over. But I always took hockey very seriously and thought that if I had a chance to play, I probably would. When it came time to decide, it became pretty transparent that this would be my only chance to play pro, while I felt there would be other chances to work.”

Foley’s deal, like almost all ECHL deals, is a one-year deal. His season began in early December and will last for 72 games, ending in June. The Massachusetts native has played in seven games so far this season, recording one assist, one point and a plus-minus of four. The Nailers currently sit at 13th in the ECHL.

Foley noted that his decision and ability to go pro resulted from his time as a Yale hockey player.

“I’ve grown in every way,” Foley said. “From a skillset perspective, I don’t think there’s a single thing that didn’t improve over those four years. I was able to develop physically through the program’s focus on strength and conditioning. I’m a better teammate now than I was when I came in, because I was surrounded by so many great ones.”

Nevertheless, Foley told the News that receiving a Yale education was as much of a factor in his decision to play at the University as his hockey career. Foley was named to four consecutive ECAC All-Academic Teams and noted in his interview that he prioritized academics over playing professionally.

Despite this, according to current Yale hockey captain and forward Phil Kemp ’21, Foley’s decision to go pro is no surprise.

“There isn’t someone I’d rather have in my foxhole than Foles,” Kemp said. “He was a good player and a better teammate. Never had to question his effort, he always brought it.”

And while Foley’s skills on the ice are impressive, former teammate Billy Sweezey ’20 also noted Foley’s ability to raise morale and boost his teammates.

“Foley was an incredible character to have as a part of our team,” Sweezey said. “One of the things I admired about him is how he wasn’t afraid to hold guys accountable. He would be your best friend off the ice but be able to push and get on you on the ice. He was a true locker room guy that I was lucky to be around for four years.”

The Wheeling Nailers play their next game on Feb. 10 against. the Indy Fuel.

Jordan Davidsen | jordan.davidsen@yale.edu