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trishaThe Yale men’s hockey team is ready to begin its 2021-22 campaign on Saturday, Oct. 30 at Brown. This will be the Bulldogs’ first game since its victory against Union in the first round of ECAC playoffs on  March 8, 2020. The Bulldogs finished 15–15–2 overall in 2019, with a 10–10–2 record in the ECAC, and look to challenge for a spot in the postseason and punch their ticket to the National Championships. 

Yale will skate an extremely young team this season, with only nine returning players. Both goaltenders on the squad are rookies. Only one defenseman, captain Graham Lillibridge ’22, who scored the double overtime winner in that last playoff game against Union, has skated a regular shift for the Bulldogs. 

During the men’s hockey preseason media session, Lillibridge acknowledged the youth on the roster and described the process of getting the team ready for ECAC action. 

“[We’ve been] getting everyone used to the systems that we want to play, just kind of getting that ingrained in ourselves to where it’s natural at that point,” Lillibridge said. “For the guys that weren’t able to play games over the course of this past 18 months, it’s just really getting back in the game shape… and getting used to making plays at that high level.”

The expected first-string goalie, Connor Hopkins ’23, will get his chance to start in goal after a long wait. Before the 2019–20 season, Hopkins suffered a season-ending injury. Due to the cancellation of the 2020–21 season, he is untested in collegiate play despite his junior status.    

The pace at which these young players can adjust to the speed of the college level will be crucial to the Bulldogs’ success on the ice. In addition to the captain, there will be other seasoned members on the team — including three seniors — to help these rookies through the season. 

The offense will be led by Justin Pearson ’22, a six-foot-one left winger who scored 14 goals and made 10 assists during the 2019 season. Pearson will have big shoes to fill as the leading offensive driver of the Bulldogs after Curtis Hall ’23 signed with the Boston Bruins. Lillibridge will lead the defense along with Notre Dame transfer Ryan Carmichael ’23, who is quickly adjusting to the team and the University. 

“We’ve got a great group of guys here, really tight team, one of the tightest teams I’ve been on,” Carmichael said. “Everyone loves everyone and we’re gonna be working for each other out there on the ice. I think that’s something that makes great teams great and we definitely have that.”

Despite the roster’s youth and inexperience, one constant remains — head coach and US Hockey hall-of-famer Keith Allain ’80, who has been in charge of the program since 2006. 

Allain is largely credited with bringing the squad to national relevance, peaking with the National Championship in 2013. Allain is also one of the few parts of the team that has experienced a packed house at the Whale and is excited for his young roster to experience the atmosphere. 

“Anyone that has ever been in Ingalls on a Friday or Saturday night knows how special this place is,” Allain said. “It’s like a life of its own. I know it’s great for the fans. It’s also great for our guys. I think it’s one of the reasons why guys come here to play hockey.” 

The team’s first home game will come on Nov. 5, when they face off against rival No. 9 Quinnipiac. 

Starting the season on the road against Brown, both teams will be looking to prove the ECAC preseason poll wrong. The Bulldogs were ranked 10th, while the Bears were picked to finish last, in 12th place. 

Brown finished the 2019-20 season with a record of 8–21–2 and went 8–12–2 in the ECAC. 

“I think we can definitely be very competitive in the ECAC… being in the top four to get by in the first round, and then kind of see where it goes from there,” Lillibridge said. “Our focus right now is game one and getting as ready as we can be for that.”

The Yale Bulldogs will drop the puck on their new season against the Brown Bears this Saturday at 7 p.m at Meehan Auditorium. The game will also be aired on ESPN +.

SPENCER KING
TRISHA NGUYEN
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.