Similar product, higher hopes developing for talented Yale

Anyone with more awareness than a plate of potato salad or a Gold Glove voter knows that Yale has been good lately.

Anyone east of the CCHA ought to realize by now that Yale is crazy good, and anyone in ECAC Hockey is sure to know that the Bulldogs are a national contender … and a darned fun one, at that.

With all due respect to Cornell, they ain’t winning titles by playing Big Red hockey down New Haven way. It’s more like Joe Montana and the West Coast Offense. To wit:

  • Seniors Broc Little and Denny Kearney are tied with each other for the national lead with 2.5 points per game, and junior Brian O’Neill ranks fourth with 2.25. Seven Elis have scored a point per game so far.
  • That same trio of Little, Kearney and O’Neill has combined for 15 goals — with an even five apiece, no less. That’s good enough for a four-way first-place draw atop the national leaderboard. (The fourth musketeer is none other than Princeton’s Matt Arhontas, featured briefly in the latest ECAC blog entry.) Before anyone begins jumping to some silly assumptions, let it be noted that no Yalies rank within the top 30 nationally in power-play goals.
  • Little, Kearney and sophomore Andrew Miller have each accumulated five assists to date, good for sixth nationally in assists per game. Two other Bulldogs players, senior defenseman Mike Matczak and the aforementioned O’Neill, have four assists apiece.
  • Matczak is one of only eight D-I blueliners to hold a point-a-game average as of this moment.
  • Senior goalie Ryan Rondeau is beginning to allay fears of another chaotic year in the crease, maintaining (and indeed, improving on) a 2.34 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage.

And those are just the individual accolades. As a team, Yale is or is darned near the best in the country in team offense (first, 6.00 goals per game), scoring margin (first, plus-3.25), power-play percentage (10th, 24 percent), and — of course — winning percentage … a perfect 4-0-0.

Whether he’s more Bill Walsh or Phil Jackson is open to debate, but there’s no denying that coach Keith Allain has amassed a formidable arsenal in the belly of the Whale. Like Guy Gadowsky with injuries or Joe Marsh and e-mail, Allain is reticent when it comes to his own formidable beast: the weapons of mass production that call Ingalls Rink home. A well-known Man of Few Words, Allain opened up for us just a little bit in discussing his team’s incendiary start.

“Number one, we’ve got talent,” he said of his team’s offensive capabilities. “We’ve got some good offensive players and our guys practice extremely hard. They compete against each other every single day, and I think that translates to success during games.”

The fifth-year head coach feels confident in saying that his burgeoning superstars aren’t making out like bandits on the score sheet through individual talent alone … but talent helps.

“I think we play a solid team game, and I think that’s one of our strengths: Our guys are very unselfish, they share the puck, we play with speed, and they support each other very, very well on the ice,” he said.

Last year’s Bulldogs claimed the regular-season crown with relative ease, but stumbled mightily against Brown in the second round of the playoffs, costing themselves a shot at a double-title and a playoff repeat. Yale recovered enough to stun North Dakota in the Northeast Regional’s opening game, but fell to eventual champion Boston College in as wild a game as one could imagine in the regional finale.

“I think we’re very similar” to last year’s squad, Allain said. “We returned 12 forwards and seven defensemen from our team last year, and three goaltenders, so you wouldn’t expect there to be a big change in the character of our team.”

One early improvement has been the play of the goaltenders, especially Rondeau. Allain never admitted it, but last year’s Elis never found a dependable netminder despite a stable of four. No one could seem to string together multiple quality outings, and combined with spotty defense, it proved to be their downfall against BC.

“We’ve said all along that we have a lot of confidence in all three goaltenders, and we do,” confirmed Allain, a former Yale goalie himself. “It’s not a concern of ours, and I thought Ryan had a good weekend. Each player competes for ice time every single game, and our goaltenders are no different than anybody else, so as long as he’s good, Ryan’s the right guy to play.”

With a 24-11 goal differential, it would seem that the Blue and White hasn’t engaged in too many close games. Even the results would imply that: 7-4, 7-3, 5-3, 5-1. How will the ‘Dogs handle themselves under higher pressure in a tight contest?

Oh wait. They already have.

“I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I believe the Dartmouth game was a one-goal game going into the third period, the Quinnipiac game on Saturday was a one-goal game going into the third period, and the Princeton game was a one- or two-goal game going into the third period,” Allain said. “So the ECAC, the league itself, is so darned competitive that we expect most games to be one-goal games going to the third period.”

As for last weekend’s wins over Princeton and Quinnipiac, Allain was happy with the results of course, but admitted that the team needs to start the game with a little bit more intensity: Yale is playing even with its opponents in first-period play, but is a plus-7 in the second frame and plus-6 in the third.

“It’s certainly something we’ve addressed,” Allain said. “I think the guys understand that we have to be better at the drop of the puck, and we’re going to work on that.

“I think we played well in both games this weekend. I thought we could’ve had a better start on Saturday night [against Quinnipiac]. We’ve been getting contributions from lots of different guys, and that’s what’s helped us so far.”

This year’s leadership has picked up right where last year’s led off: as a committee.

“I think our entire senior class” has a strong presence, Allain said. “We’ve got a great group there, and with our captain Jimmy Martin, they’ve done a fantastic job. Mike Matczak is a leader. Denny Kearney has really emerged as a leader. That group really sets the tone for everybody.”

There is still a long, long road ahead of the Bulldogs, and this weekend should be a significant early-season litmus test as Yale takes on Colorado College and Air Force in the Rockies. Would a sweep bolster the Blue to a first-ever first-place position in the polls? Will the offense continue to light foes aflame? And will the defense and goaltending ultimately mature into contender-grade units in their own rights?

“It’s way too early in the season to write the book on this team; we’re four games into a long season, and we like where we’re at right now, but we’re not where we want to be,” Allain stressed.

Where they’re at is No. 3 in the nation. The quiet conductor behind the Bulldogs bench isn’t even sure he likes that position. Too high? Too low? Do the pollsters have it right, with Yale in third?

“Ask me in April,” he said slyly.

243 COMMENTS

  1. I’m tired of hearing about Yale. They play in an inferior league compared to HE,WCHA and CCHA so naturally they will look great….take a look at their wins…enough said.

    • It’s not a matter of inferior league, it’s a matter of the style of play they play against: Clutch and Grab. Once a team takes their game and sticks it down their throat, they crumble. Just look at how RPI made them look foolish last year, and they are, according to your post, inferior.

      • FD8, If Yale is so inferior, then how did they beat a red hot North Dakota last year in the tournament???? Yale is fast and talented. If they settle the golatending and so far it has been good, then they will challenge for the title.

        • I didn’t see North Dakota play last year, therefore I don’t know their style, and I can’t answer that question. Be aware I did not call Yale inferior, I was merely quoting the poster to whom I responded. I don’t disagree with you that Yale is fast and talented. I’m just saying that if they play a team that plays with the same speed and drive, Yale usually gets burned. Remember, this is coming from a fan of a team that shut them out in a game last year.

          • Everybody has bad nights. I think Yale lost twice to RPI, didnt they? But overall they play a great brand of hockey.

    • Why don’t you clowns actually watch an ECAC game? Yale just beat QU, who had split with St. Cloud (in St. Cloud) the week before. Yale is about to go out and play CC and Air Force. Did you even know that? Prob not, otherwise you would have kept your mouth shut until after that.

      Second, there are teams in all three of the other conferences that are far inferior to Yale’s opponents. You really think Yale wouldn’t spank everyone in the HEA, WCHA, and CCHA other than the top 2 or maybe 3 teams in each?

      Yes, the ECAC has no North Dakotas, Wisconsins, Michigans, Miamis, BCs, or BUs. Other than those schools though, the rest of the country doesn’t have anything on the ECAC. And Yale is becoming a dominant program. If Miami can be held in such high regard even though they have never won a championship, then Yale should be as well.

    • These comments are ridiculous. I especially love the HE bias when the supposedly worst conference in America, the AHA, has teams that have beaten Northeastern three times already, tied Maine, tied UMass Lowell (twice), tied Merrimack, and also beaten Western Michigan and Ohio State. There is parity in college hockey. On average are there conferences that are stronger? Obviously. That said, Yale is legit…in any league in college hockey.

          • yup ..just what I thought…a Yale/ECAC fan totally in the dark….let me think…Hmmmmm…VT switched to HE a few years ago because ECAC was better competition…..notttttt. ECAC shouldn’t even be in D1 hockey!!

          • Oh man! First of all, I’m not a Yale fan or an ECAC fan for that matter, I have just seen most, if not all, of the top teams in college hockey and have a great deal of respect for Yale. Secondly, I’m not going to enter into further debate with you because, clearly, you are ignorant. I would be interested in hearing about the hockey background from which you have attained so much “knowledge”, however.

          • cmass, your an idiot. First of all, Vermont as much as I love them, hardly dominated ECAC while they were there. Since going to HE they have done about the same as before, which is proof that the leagues are not as far apart as you suggest. Given by your name, I’m going to guess that your a bandwagon BU or BC fan. Yup, I’ll admit it, Boston has some good teams. However, didn’t the national champion lose to Saint Lawrence last year? BC, the national champs, losing to a team at the bottom of the ECAC. Heck, even Clarkson, who was the worst ECAC team last year, lost to BC 6-5, which is a real close game. Until HE can beat the low level ECAC teams consistently, you can shut the hell up.

          • nice name hellz….no I’m not a boston hockey fan…huge maine fan and HE fan…nice try though….sounds like you know everything….go blue

      • It is not surprising to find these comments on the site that treats the ECAC like it does not exist. USCHO has more coverage of the women’s SUNYAC (if that exists) than the ECAC.

        USCHO decided to fire its only legitimate ECAC league reporter, leaving them with one legit beat writer (Daniel Greene of the Union Hockey Blog) and one Hockey East writer posing as someone who follows the ECAC (Sullivan). Really, ever since Adam Wodon left and Jayson Moy stopped playing a meaningful role at the site, the ECAC coverage on USCHO has become a joke.

        The poll is all they have right now to keep ECAC fans coming back. USCHO of course remains a meaningful one-stop source for archived information like rosters, stats, and schedules, though the new scoreboard is too bulky and I prefer the old model where you could view much more on the screen. However, the amount of meaningful, non-fluff type reporting is minimal and scarcely half the games nationally have recaps.

  2. OTHER TEAMS EXIST IN THE ECAC… Sullivan do you even watch the ECAC games each weekend, or do you do a minimal amount of investigation to right a sloppy article on one team? For once, I beg of you, offer insight to at LEAST half the teams.

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