Yale looks for fresh start with goaltenders, revamped defense

There’s an old rule, mentioned by Boston College coach Jerry York during last year’s national tournament, that holds true for virtually any college hockey program: Get a good goaltender.

Yale had one two years ago in Ryan Rondeau and was the No. 1 seed in the Bridgeport regional of the NCAA tournament. Last year? Not so much, as the Bulldogs finished an even .500 overall and in ECAC play, losing in the quarterfinals to Harvard.

The Elis were second in scoring during conference play but were seventh in goals allowed, with much of that damage coming after an ugly 7-6 loss to Sacred Heart on Nov. 22. After that loss to the Pioneers (who entered the game 0-11), Yale gave up four or more goals 11 times the remainder of the way, including 12 in the final two quarterfinal games at Harvard.

Seniors Jeff Malcolm and Nick Maricic split time in net last season, with sophomore Connor Wilson seeing brief action as well. But none of that matters entering this year, according to coach Keith Allain.

“All three are going to get an opportunity to play,” Allain said. “They’ll all be better because of the competition, that’s for sure.”

Whoever is in net this season should have the benefit of a revamped defense in front of him, as Allain is hopeful that Yale’s three freshman defenders should play a key role this season.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they made an impact on the top six,” Allain said of newcomers Mitch Witek, Ryan Obuchowski and Rob O’Gara, the latter a fifth-round pick of the Boston Bruins in the 2011 draft.

If there’s one thing Yale has been able to do recently, it’s absorb the loss of a top forward, be it the program’s second-leading scorer in Brian O’Neill entering this year; Broc Little, Denny Kearney and Chris Cahill following 2011; or Mark Arcobello and Sean Backman at the conclusion of 2010.

“We’ve got a little experience in replacing top forwards,” Allain said. Yale certainly has plenty of firepower returning as well, led by seniors Andrew Miller and Antoine Laganiere and junior Kenny Agostino.

“The thing about Kenny is that he has improved his consistency,” Allain said.

With 16 underclassman, including eight freshman, consistent performances night in and night out by the Bulldogs’ top forwards and whoever emerges from the timeshare in net will be essential if Yale hopes to move back into the top four this season.

“The expectation is that we will be better than we were last year,” Allain said.

About the Bulldogs

2011-12 overall record: 16-16-3

2011-12 ECAC record: 10-10-2 (sixth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fifth

Key losses: F Brian O’Neill, F Chad Ziegler, D Kevin Peel, D Nick Jaskowiak

Players to watch: F Andrew Miller, F Antoine Laganiere, F Kenny Agostino, D Tommy Fallen

Impact rookies: D Rob O’Gara, D Ryan Obuchowski, D Mitch Witek

Why the Bulldogs will finish higher than the coaches’ poll: One of the trio of goalies emerges a la Ryan Rondeau two years ago. The freshman defenders bolster the blue line and Yale does what it has done for the last few years: score.

Why the Bulldogs will finish lower than the coaches’ poll: The goalie situation ends up worse than last year. Miller, Laganiere and Agostino do their thing but the offense becomes top-heavy as a young Bulldogs team is forced to rely on its top three scorers too much.