MEN’S ICE HOCKEY: A return to the Whale and tournament ambitions
As first years make their way to campus, the doors of Ingalls Rink will open, welcoming a return to competition for the men’s ice hockey team and a reawakening of The Whale.
Courtesy of Yale Athletics
As the new academic year approaches and students anticipate the opening of Old Campus’ gates to incoming first years, the Whale waits patiently to be filled again with sounds of pucks reverberating off its sideboards and crowds roaring, inundating the stands.
Throughout the 2020-2021 season, the men’s ice hockey team was able to practice through the Ivy League’s plan for the resumption of athletic activities, spending the majority of the first semester in Phase I, with access to the ice only once a week. The team was able to progress to Phase II briefly before six members tested positive for COVID in October.
“I think the key work in planning for this year was flexibility,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said in an October interview with the News. “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.”
Despite the setbacks they faced earlier this year, including the cancellation of their season in November, the men’s ice hockey team will return to Ingalls Rink next season.
Allain, who was named to the U.S. National Team staff for the 2021 IIHF U18 World Championship in March, wrote in a January email to the News that he anticipates a strong return next winter, competing in Division I ice hockey on a national level.
“My hopes for the future of the Yale Hockey program have not changed by the challenges of the pandemic or the fallout from having our season cancelled,” Allain said. “We want to build teams that will consistently compete for championships.”
With seven Ivy League Championships, six NCAA Tournament appearances and a 2013 national championship as head coach, Allain’s belief in next season could potentially carry the Bulldogs to another Ivy League Championship, adding to their 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2015 titles.
Earlier this year, before the Ivy League announced the cancellation of competition for winter sports in November, the possibility of competition served as motivation for team members, of which many of whom, like Allain, believe that their team dynamic could carry them to a victory. Nate Reid ’24, a first year goalie who spent the past two years playing Juniors in Alaska and South Dakota, expressed his hopes for future seasons.
“I’d like to win a national championship while I’m here [and] I honestly think we could,” Reid said. “I think our team dynamic is really great. We all click really well … it’s like a family atmosphere.”
Of seven first years welcomed into the team this year, Reid and Ryan Conroy ’24, a defenseman from Alberta, Canada, emphasized the closeness and cohesion of this year’s team and its welcoming culture, which they hope will continue into the 2021-22 season.
For the Class of 2024, the Bulldogs added three first year skaters from the Alberta Junior Hockey League and the National Collegiate Development Conference, in addition to a goalie from the United States Hockey League. Six of the new recruits are American and one is from Canada.
“We are very excited about this class [as] they each bring a different set of skills to the table and will play different roles, however they are all relentless competitors,” Allain said in a June 2020 interview. “Their compete level is what we will be counting on to take our team to the next level.”
The seven new players joined two seniors, three juniors and seven sophomores on the team roster.
Conroy described the team’s approach to hopes for play next year, regardless of their lack of competition and restricted practices this 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 [for it].”
This year, seven members will be graduating with the class of 2021 and ending their Yale ice hockey journeys — Brett Jewell ’21, Phil Kemp ’21, Nicholas MacNab ’21, Brian Matthews ’21, Kevin O’Neil ’21, Dante Palecco ’21 and Tyler Welsh ’21. Their final game in the 2019-2020 season was an overtime contest against Union at Ingalls Rink last March to clinch the ECAC Hockey Playoff Series.
Three of the seniors, O’Neil, Palecco and Welsh, are planning on maintaining their NCAA eligibility and playing a final season as graduate transfers to the University of Connecticut, Sacred Heart University and Long Island University, respectively.
“I’ll miss spending time with all of my teammates and especially competing on the ice together,” O’Neil said. “I’ll never forget the memories I made at Ingalls.”
In February, the Ivy League granted senior athletes a one-time waiver that will allow them to compete as graduate students during the 2021-22 season at their respective Ancient Eight institution. Therefore, although the three will not be skating as Bulldogs, they will continue to play in their “super” senior seasons.
Each Bulldog transfer played a part in “the most prolific decade in the history of a program that began late in the 19th century,” according to Yale Athletics. In the past decade, in addition to winning a 2013 national championship, the men’s hockey team had a school-record 28 wins and won the ECAC Hockey Tournament title in 2010-11.
In the 2019-20 season, the Bulldogs’ overall record was 15 wins, 15 losses and two ties, with nine of the wins at Ingalls rink. Though the men’s ice hockey team was close to closing out the season before the start of the pandemic, the ECAC Hockey Quarterfinal Best-Of-Three Series was canceled in March.
The 2018-19 season featured a similar record of 15 wins, 15 losses and three ties, and the 2017-18 season had 15 wins, 15 losses and one tie.
As the Bulldogs approach next season with anticipation and excitement, their eager desire to get back out on the ice and clamouring support of their classmates and fans may just be enough to propel them out of their ‘15s’ streak and into a national championship.
“The most encouraging thing is the enthusiasm and energy that our guys are showing,” Allain said. “[We are] trying to celebrate little victories.”
The Yale men’s ice hockey team won the 2013 NCAA Championship with a 4-0 victory over Quinnipiac on Apr. 13, 2013.