Courtesy of Eldon Holmes

Though a season-ending injury kept sophomore goaltender Connor Hopkins ’23 out of the pipes for six months during his rookie season at Yale, the netminder is now back in play, earning USHL’s “Goaltender of the Week.”

The Malden, Massachusetts native tore his meniscus during a preseason practice in October 2019 and spent six months in rehabilitation before returning to the ice. The netminder told the News that it took him a few additional weeks on the ice before he was able to “get caught up to 100 percent.” Since returning to the ice, Hopkins has found success in the USHL in a year without Ivy League competition.

“The most important thing you can do is just take it day by day,” Hopkins said. “Focusing on the little things and trusting that the work you do every day is eventually going to pay off in the long run is what helped me get through it.”

Although he had fully recovered and was prepared to pull on the blue and white uniform for the 2020-2021 season, fate had other ideas regarding his return to play. After the Ivy League made the decision to cancel the winter athletics season, Hopkins elected to return to the USHL after having previously played five games for the Tri-City Storm as an affiliate list call up.

The 21-year-old explained the rationale behind his decision in an email to the News.

“Since I had missed the entirety of last year’s season due to my injury, and since I was still young enough to still be eligible to play junior hockey, my coaches and I thought it would be beneficial for me to finish out the year in Nebraska and play games with the Storm,” Hopkins wrote.

After his first stint in Nebraska, Hopkins went on to play with the West Kelowna Warriors in the British Columbia Hockey League. (Photo: Courtesy of Eldon Holmes)

The 6-foot-1-inch, 185-pound sophomore was selected 124th overall by the Storm in the eight round of the 2016 USHL Phase I Draft. So far in his second USHL campaign, he has been between the pipes for 15 contests, posting a 0.905 save percentage. Furthermore, during the first week of March, Hopkins received his first weekly honor, earning the title of USHL’s “Goaltender of the Week.”

“I am very grateful for the opportunity to be able to be back with the Storm this season,” Hopkins said. “My experience has been overwhelmingly positive. I can’t tell you how awesome it was to get back on the ice and be playing meaningful hockey games.”

Goaltending coach Matt Zaba, who was hired by Tri-City in 2017 and had professional stints in both the ECHL and NHL with the New York Rangers, praised Hopkins following the announcement of the USHL award.

Zaba, a 2003 NHL Draft pick, commended the young goaltender for his maturity both on the ice and in the locker room, noting that it has been “instrumental” to the team’s success.

“He provides a calming influence for our group every time he’s in the net.” Zaba said in a press release published by the Storm organization on March 1.

At the time of being named Goaltender of the Week, Hopkins ranked as the third best goaltender in the USHL in save percentage. (Photo: Courtesy of Eldon Holmes)

Before competing with the Storm in Nebraska, Hopkins devoted his time to training over the summer in Massachusetts with Stop It Goaltending. The netminder has spent over 12 years training at the SIG development centers.

“All the guys at Stop It are awesome,” Hopkins told the News. “We have a great group of goalies there and we have a lot of fun getting better every day.”

In addition to working on his own improvement, Hopkins has also begun teaching younger goalies at SIG programs, offering to them his own wisdom as a veteran of the training programs.

One of the trainers that Hopkins credited for being a great help since his youth hockey days is David Schultz, SIG director and former goaltending coach for the men’s and women’s teams at Bentley University, St. Anselm College and the University of New Hampshire.

“[Hopkins has] grown to be not only a very respectful person but accountable as well,” Schultz told the News. “He understands you need to put in work and work hard to not only achieve his goals but surpass them and that’s one thing he has no problem with, hard work and tackling obstacles on and off the ice.”

Schultz also commented on Hopkins’ ability to battle and never give up on any situation, as well as his talent to adapt to different situations.

While the sophomore goaltender is currently back rehabbing after injuring his knee in a match a few weeks ago, he is not only looking forward to returning to the ice in general, but also anticipates reuniting specifically with his fellow Bulldogs.

“I am most looking forward to opening night at Ingalls,” Hopkins said. “The next time we get to walk out of that tunnel, hopefully with fans in the building, I know I can speak for the rest of the team when I say we can’t wait to get back out there.”

Ingalls Rink is located at 73 Sachem St.

Trisha Nguyen | trisha.nguyen@yale.edu

TRISHA NGUYEN
Trisha Nguyen covers men's and women's ice hockey as a staff reporter. Originally from St. Louis, she is a first-year in Saybrook College majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.