Courtesy of Yale Athletics

The Yale men’s hockey team has hired former University of Alaska-Fairbanks coach Joe Howe and Yale alumnus Rob O’Gara ’16 to assistant coaching positions.

After the departure of former assistant coaches Josh Siembida and Paul Kirtland in May and August earlier this year, two vacancies were left behind the Bulldog’s bench. Following two separate searches, Yale Athletics officially announced that Howe and O’Gara would join the men’s hockey program on July 1 and Sept. 22, respectively.

According to O’Gara, the COVID-19 pandemic presented itself as an inflection point in terms of his career. The New York native had previously played in the 2020-21 AHL season for the Hershey Bears prior to his appointment to the Bulldogs’ staff. Following his professional stint, O’Gara knew that he wanted to remain involved with hockey and expressed great interest in coaching. 

“I think I would have regretted not trying to coach and to get this opportunity at this level with this team, it’s still a little surreal,” O’Gara said during a phone interview with the News. “I’m looking forward to taking it on, to dive all in 100% and give it everything I got.”

Prior to graduating in 2016, O’Gara made his mark on the Yale men’s hockey program. During his time in the blue and white sweater, O’Gara dressed for 133 contests and notched a total of 51 career points. As the most decorated defenseman in the history of Yale hockey, the blueliner was named to two All-American teams, two first-team All-ECAC selections and was the only player in Yale history to be a three-time recipient of the John Poinier Award for best defenseman. Furthermore, the Boston Bruins’ 2011 5th round NHL draft pick played in all 37 games during the Elis’ historic 2012-13 campaign, when the team won the NCAA Men’s Ice Hockey Championship. 

In addition to his impressive varsity minutes, O’Gara’s experiences in the NHL with the Bruins and New York Rangers have given him the knowledge and understanding to serve as a mentor for a new generation of Bulldogs. 

“There’s going to be turmoil, there’s going to be losses, you name it,” O’Gara said. “Knowing how to handle that and turn it into a positive learning experience… I think [it] is something that I can promote because I really do understand how important that is.”

O’Gara emphasized that he wishes to be a figure who the players can reach out to for anything and hopes to provide the young skaters with whatever they need to be successful, both on and off the ice.

Yale men’s hockey head coach Keith Allain ’80 also believes that O’Gara’s wisdom and experiences will be of great help and praised him for his evident continued commitment to the game.

“He brings tremendous passion to this position, and I am certain that he has a bright coaching future ahead of him.” Allain said in a statement to Yale Athletics. 

In addition to O’Gara, the hiring of Howe also brings collegiate national championship experience to the Blue and White’s coaching staff. 

The Plymouth, Minnesota native joins the Bulldogs after clinching the 2017 NCAA title with the University of Denver and spent three seasons as an assistant coach with the University of Alaska-Fairbanks. 

When asked about his decision to join the Blue and White, Howe cited Yale’s academic prestige, Allain’s coaching pedigree and the Elis’ 2013 national championship success.

“It’s proven it can be done here and I wanted to go to a winning program as well,” Howe said over the phone. “Those combinations of things were very attractive to me: the elite school, Coach Allain and just the ability to put out a competitive hockey team at the national level.”

At Yale, Howe will be focused on working with the forwards, goaltenders, and the powerplay. During his stint with Alaska, Howe was also tasked with coaching the forwards and powerplay.

Similar to O’Gara, Howe told the News that he is excited to make his Yale coaching debut at the Whale in what he described as “one of the best rinks in college hockey”. 

Despite the Bulldogs’ young and inexperienced team, Howe explained that he hopes to harness their youthful energy and excitement to compete for an Ivy League championship and secure a spot in the NCAA tournament. 

“We’ve got a great group of young men on the team that are hungry for that as well, to get to competing and prove some people wrong.” Howe said. 

Yale’s home opener will come against Quinnipiac on Nov. 5. 

Trisha Nguyen covers men's ice hockey and field hockey as a staff reporter. Originally from St. Louis, she is a sophomore in Saybrook College majoring in molecular, cellular and developmental biology.