ICE HOCKEY: Yale ice hockey gears up for return to competition
After an 18-month competition drought, the Yale men’s and women’s ice hockey teams prepare to open up their seasons with new and excited players.
Ingalls Ice Rink is set to open its doors once again as both the Yale men’s and women’s ice hockey teams prepare to make their return to competition ice after more than 18 months away.
Since the Ivy League canceled all winter sports competition in 2020, the Bulldogs have been eager to don the distinctive blue and white sweater and battle it out in front of a roaring crowd at the Whale.
While the pandemic left the majority of the Yale women’s ice hockey team separated during the previous academic year, the Bulldogs have finally reunited as a team for preseason training. After a year of having to refine their stick-handling skills at home and search for competition away from New Haven, women’s hockey head coach Mark Bolding is most excited to watch his players enjoy the game as a team.
“It’s just so hard to replicate happiness as a hockey player, if you’re not out [on the ice],” Bolding said during the Eastern College Athletic Conference, or ECAC, women’s hockey virtual media day. “I’m just looking forward to them smiling and competing and getting after it.”
While veteran skaters such as senior defender Greta Skarzynski ’22 and goaltender Gianna Meloni ’22 will make their return for a fourth campaign as Bulldogs, the squad this upcoming season will be composed of a total of 13 first years. Despite their lack of experience in terms of varsity ice minutes, the newcomers add size and depth to the Bulldogs’ defense core.
Canadian defenders Olivia Muhn ’25, Tijana Miskovic ’25 and Emma Decorby ’25 are all expected to make contributions to Yale’s blueline, while Russia native Vita Poniatovskaia ’25 will be a “talented, smoothing skating defenseman” Bolding said.
Up front, the Blue and White have welcomed six first-year forwards including Anna Bargman ’25 and University of Minnesota transfer Addie Burton ’25.
Despite the trepidation that an influx of fresh faces might bring, Bolding explained that he and the players are ready to get the season started and hope to recreate the momentum that the team had developed at the end of their 2019-20 campaign.
“We’re trying to turn over a new leaf,” Bolding said. “The players that are returning are excited, they know that there’s nowhere to go but up.”
The 2021-22 Yale men’s hockey team lineup also boasts a number of new names. With the graduation of two senior classes, the transfer of Jack St. Ivany to Boston College and Curtis Hall’s ’23 signing with the Boston Bruins, the Bulldogs are now left with a total of nine skaters who have experienced game day at the Whale.
In the ECAC hockey coaches’ preseason poll, Yale was placed 10th out of the 12 teams while its Whitney Avenue rival, Quinnipiac, claimed the top spot.
Despite the various challenges that this new squad may encounter, men’s hockey head coach Keith Allain emphasized during the ECAC men’s hockey virtual media day that there is no lack of energy or excitement from the players who were stripped of a year of hockey.
“Every chance that we get to be on the ice together is an opportunity that we really have to take with great weight because we’ve learned that it could be taken away from you in a heartbeat.” Allain said. “I just think that appreciation … hits home a little bit harder when you see two senior classes not get to represent their school in the last game and how painful that was.”
Junior goaltender Connor Hopkins ’23 is expected to start between the pipes for the Bulldogs this season. The netminder had previously found success in the United States Hockey League with the Tri-City Storm after he was robbed of both his rookie and sophomore season at Yale.
Leadership from captain Graham Lillibridge ’22 and fellow seniors Justin Pearson ’22 and Kyle Johnson ’22 should play a vital role this year as the team welcomes a number of young, enthusiastic Bulldogs.
“Our job is to foster that enthusiasm, temper it a little bit and really focus on growth, both individual and team growth,” Allain said. “Our goal is always to be one of the most competitive teams on the ice.”
In addition to new players, the men’s hockey program has added two assistant coaches behind the bench. Joe Howe joins the team from the University of Alaska Fairbanks after having previously led the University of Denver to a national championship title in 2017. Meanwhile, one of Yale hockey’s most decorated alumni, Rob O’Gara ’16, makes a return to his old stomping grounds.
While the men’s and women’s ice hockey teams will have to wait until late October to get their first taste of competition since early 2020, the jam-packed schedules of both squads this season also consist of exciting tournaments such as the Nutmeg Classic on Nov. 26-27 for the women and the Kwik Trip Holiday Faceoff on Dec. 29 for the men.
As an experienced Bulldog, O’Gara explained that he is able to sympathize with the players and has a unique understanding of their perspectives. After seeing the skaters be away from one another and from competition for so long, the former NHL player is most looking forward to watching the rookies lace up their skates for the Blue and White for the first time.
“These guys have sacrificed so much and the sense of not taking anything for granted, it’s palpable.” O’Gara told the News. “The moment is going to be the culmination of a lot of hard work, so that is really what I’m most excited about.”
The Yale women’s ice hockey team will open their season at home on Oct. 22 against St. Anselm. The men’s hockey team is set to face off against Brown on the road on Oct. 30.