Yale was simply magical last season. The Bulldogs wrested their first-ever league championship in the same year that they claimed the regular-season crown. The Elis featured four 30-point scorers despite the abbreviated 34-game Ivy schedule, and three players who averaged better than a point per game.
The Blue and White dropped consecutive games only once, and it was just that: a single two-game losing streak straddling the winter break. On the flip side, the Bulldogs boasted two three-game win streaks, two more such quartets and an eight-gamer that swung them into first place to stay.
The program even co-hosted an NCAA regional in Bridgeport, Conn., but to the vocal crowd’s dismay, the Bulldogs had a less-than-optimal outing in a 4-1 loss to Frozen Four participant Vermont.
Junior Sean Backman potted 20 goals to pace the pack, but classmate Mark Arcobello took the team scoring title with 17 goals and 35 points. Wait, not so fast: second-year sniper Broc Little also tallied 35 points on the year, by way of 15 goals and 20 helpers. Yale got goals from 18 different players, and only the oft-injured defenseman David Inman — who played in 11 contests — failed to record a point among Bulldog skaters.
Alec Richards played net in his senior year, saving better than 92 percent of shots faced in 25 appearances.
The only concern for Yale, really, seems to be in net. While Richards was good last year, now-senior Billy Blase was the primary starter for much of the 2007-08 campaign. Blase played in only four games last season, with Ryan Rondeau — now a junior — playing in a half-dozen contests. Is there really anything else to worry about for coach Keith Allain?
Nothing outside the worries that face every coach in every sport. Catastrophic injuries, illnesses, arena collapse and so forth.
“You always lose something,” Allain mused. “We lost great leadership in that senior class, and I think one of the assets of the team last year was our cohesiveness. And we lost our starting goaltender, so those are two areas we’re going to have to work to fill.
“I do like my team, I like the group coming back, and it’s nice to see the kids get a little bit of recognition for their hard work.”
Regarding the firepower that is returning to New Haven this fall, “I think if we approach the games with the same mind-set and work as hard as we did last year, I would think that we would be able to produce some offense with this group,” Allain understated. “I think our guys have had a great summer. I think to a man, they’ve shown a commitment to the training program that our strength coach gave them, and we tested them when they came back to school — I think we’re where we need to be.”
Despite the well-known thoroughbreds in the stable, Allain isn’t above a little friendly competition for playing time.
“One of the things we’re based on down here is competition, and we have daily competitions for the opportunity to play on Friday and Saturday night. We brought these guys in because we think they have a chance to contribute, and they’ll have the opportunity,” he said of his newest Bulldogs.
In the back, the Yale alumnus actually thinks that his team may be better off than last year.
“We actually played the last 12 games last year without our No. 1 defenseman (current senior Thomas Dignard), so we’ve got lots of guys coming back that have experience on the back end and we also have two freshman defensemen joining the mix,” he said.
As for the goaltending dilemma, the former goalie said the job is wide open.
“I think if you look at our team last year, we played three goaltenders right up to January,” Allain said. “Alec emerged as the guy, but I do believe that that competition helped make him mentally tough, and gave him what he needed to take us down the stretch and into the playoffs. We’re going to have an open competition in goal. They’ll all get an opportunity, and we’ll make a decision based on whom we think is most qualified to carry the ball.”
From the incoming class, Allain picked a few intriguing players to highlight.
“Andrew Miller led the USHL in scoring last year, basically wire-to-wire, so we expect him to be a kid that’ll produce offense. Josh Balch is a year younger than him; he’s kind of a dynamic, fast player who’s constantly working. And Antoine Laganiere is a big 6-foot, 4-inch center-iceman who … is a really good playmaker, has good offensive vision, and we’ll see how he makes that jump from prep-school hockey to college hockey.
“On defense, we’ve got two boys from western Canada — Colin Dueck and Jesse Hudkins — and they’re both good-sized kids who I would refer to as solid two-way defensemen. They can make the crisp outlet pass, they’ve got size and strength, and they’re smart positionally.”
Just to make things interesting, a couple of new netminders were cracked into the batter as well.
Jeff Malcolm and Nick Maricic “have both got good size, I think they’re both good athletes, and it’ll be interesting to see how that battle goes,” Allain said. “That’ll be a fun battle for us.”
So what Yale backers really want to know is, what was it about last year’s team that made them so successful, and how can it be re-distributed to this year’s Blue on Ice?
“As the year went on, I really grew to admire this bunch, their daily approach to their work and the way they seemed to truly enjoy working hard and competing, and the way they enjoy each other’s company, and how far those elements can take a hockey team,” Allain said.