Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Know Your Enemy: Yale

For years, this next installation of "Know Your Enemy" was a guaranteed afterthought when it came to sizing up the ECAC. No longer. After decades as an irrelevancy in the league, the Yale Bulldogs are riding a offensive renaissance to the upper echelons of not only the ECAC, but of the college hockey world as a whole. As we discussed with Adam Wodon last week, Yale should be among the favorites in the ECAC this season, but they aren't quite bullet-proof.

Yale
Nickname: Bulldogs
Location: New Haven, CT
Founded: 1701
Conference: ECAC (Ivy League)
National Championships: 0
Last NCAA Appearance: 2010
Last Frozen Four: 1952
Coach: Keith Allain (5th season)
2009-10 Record: 21-10-3 (15-5-2 ECAC, 1st place)
Series: RPI leads, 51-38-6
First Game: January 22, 1909 (Albany, NY)
Last RPI win: January 30, 2010 (New Haven, CT)
Last YU win: February 14, 2009 (Troy, NY)

2010-11 games: December 3, 2010 (New Haven, CT); January 29, 2011 (Troy, NY)
Key players: F Broc Little, sr.; F Denny Kearney, sr.; F Brendan Mason, sr.; F Brian O'Neill, jr.; F Andrew Miller, so.; F Kenny Agostino, fr.; D Jimmy Martin, sr.; D Kevin Peel, jr.; D Gus Young, fr.

Key losses: F Mark Arcobello, F Sean Backman, D Thomas Dignard, D Ryan Donald, G Billy Blase

That's certainly a lot of names that Yale is losing from their arrival on the doorstep of the Frozen Four last season, but the Bulldogs aren't rebuilding - they're certainly reloading.

Yale's arch-nemesis Harvard may have been part of the first college hockey contest to take place in the northeast between two schools that still offer hockey, but Yale's history dates back even farther - to the very first game of hockey played between two different schools. On February 1, 1896, a day after dropping a 3-2 game to the Baltimore Athletic Club in their first ever game, Yale took part in the first intercollegiate ice hockey game in history, skating to a 2-2 tie against Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. While hockey at Johns Hopkins would die out only two years later, the Yale Bulldogs have been going strong for 115 consecutive seasons - the only program in the country that can claim to have survived World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II without missing a single year.

The Bulldogs lay claim to what are essentially some of the oldest titles in college hockey, essentially claiming de facto national titles in 1899, 1900, and 1902. Their first indoor game came in 1911, when the concept was still a novelty, and hired their first full-time coach in 1922. The 1920s in general produced some very good Yale teams, as the Bulldogs went a combined 32-4-2 in 1924 and 1925, and 60-7-3 from 1928 to 1931. That's not only an impressive record for that time period, that's a lot of games played for that time period.

Like Harvard, Yale has a pair of well-known and well-respected long time coaches. The first is Murray Murdoch, who came to Yale in 1938 after an outstanding career with the New York Rangers ended. He would coach the Bulldogs for the next 27 seasons. During Murdoch's tenure, Yale had a few solid eras, including the early 1940s and early 1950s, the latter of which included Yale's first NCAA tournament appearance in 1952, an appearance that ended with a third-place showing and a 17-8-0 record. Murdoch would stay in New Haven until 1965, seeing the team into the creation of the ECAC in 1961. After Yale's peak in 1955, the Bulldogs started to become a middle-of-the-pack team, respectable, but never in the doldrums.

That changed after Murdoch's departure. An interregnum of 11 seasons after Murdoch's departure saw Yale's fortunes drop off significantly, as the Bulldogs earned only two winning seasons between 1966 and 1976 under two different coaches, including the final three seasons of that period, which saw Yale compiling an overall record of 13-58-2.

In 1976, however, a new tradition of coaching excellence began at Yale as former Harvard captain Tim Taylor was named the new head coach, and Taylor began turning around the Bulldogs' fortunes immediately - Yale's win over Penn in Taylor's very first game behind the bench was Yale's first Ivy League victory in over two years. Taylor ultimately got Yale to much the same level Murdoch had - his teams became competitive, but not frequently in the hunt for titles. In 1981, in Taylor's fifth season, the Bulldogs did win their very first official Ivy League championship, and they won a share of the title in 1985 as Taylor brought Yale their very first 20-win season, a feat he duplicated the following year.

But Yale struggled through the remainder of the 1980s and into the 1990s, until the 1997-98 season. From 1994 to 2002, the Bulldogs had only one winning season, but in 1998 they won a school record 23 games on their way to a first place finish in the regular season standings, their very first ECAC title of any kind after 37 years in the league, and it led to Taylor's first (and only) NCAA tournament appearance.

Taylor would leave Yale in 2006 to take a job with USA Hockey as a well respected elder statesman of American hockey, but his final two seasons in New Haven were rough - a combined record of 15-45-5, the first time the Bulldogs had lost 20-games in consecutive season since the two years before Taylor became head coach. Taylor lost 91 more games than he won during his 28 seasons at Yale, but he won the school's first six Ivy League titles and their first ECAC honors. His replacement was one of his former players, Keith Allain, who would almost immediately bring the Bulldogs to new highs.

Allain, a former Yale goaltender who graduated in 1980, had plenty of coaching experience. He had previously been an assistant at Yale in the early 1980s, and had been working in the NHL since 1989 when he was summoned back to his alma mater. His first season was the 8th losing season in the 9 campaigns since the Bulldogs had finished first in the ECAC, but a shift in the paradigm in New Haven was fully underway, as Yale split the Ivy League title with Dartmouth. In 2008, Yale finished with a winning record, and in 2009, reached heights the program had not seen in the modern era - they finished atop the ECAC standings, won their first ECAC championship, another Ivy League title, and went to the NCAA tournament for the third time, and set a new school record with 24 wins. Last season, they nearly repeated the feat. They repeated as regular season champions, repeated as outright Ivy League champions for the first time in school history, and reached the doorstep of the Frozen Four as they advanced to the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive season for the first time - making Allain the only coach in Bulldog history to reach the NCAAs twice. All that after only just four years as head coach.

Yes, Yale is clearly reaching one of the greatest peaks in their program history - and they aren't slowing down in the slightest. Their main weakness last season was goaltending, and it was on display in their final game last season, as there aren't too many teams out there that will score 7 goals in an NCAA regional final only to lose. Yet, just one night before, a goaltender who hadn't played since November had done well enough to upset the WCHA champions.

The Bulldogs, despite all of their wild success, were hit or miss sometimes last year. RPI swept them with seeming ease, yet Yale ran wild over the rest of the league. They were upset by Brown in the playoffs, and nearly reached the Frozen Four anyway. Much of the success was powered by the offense, which was freakishly good - the best in the nation at 4.15 goals per game, and despite the loss of Backman and Arcobello, they've still got a lot of firepower coming back, especially with Broc Little, who led the ECAC in goals scored last year. The team shoots often and usually shoots quite well, and they make efficient use of passing lanes. Frequently, when you have an offense as potent as Yale's, you don't need much defense in order to win, and the Bulldog defense was definitely average in the long run - which was usually enough.

The goaltending situation is still somewhat sketchy. Yale used four different goaltenders last season, all with a fairly decent amount of ice time. They return three - Nick Maricic and Jeff Malcolm will be sophomores, and Ryan Rondeau will be a senior. Maricic and Malcolm both had GAAs around 3.00 last season, and Rondeau was at 4.06 for the year, and yet it was Rondeau who did enough against North Dakota to earn the win.

The bottom line is that if Yale gets any decent goaltending on any given night, they're probably going to win more often than not with the dazzling barrage they have up front. The Bulldogs are easily the odds-on favorite to win a third consecutive Cleary Cup as regular season champions, because on paper, they appear to be in a league of their own when it comes to the ECAC. What's more, they do it with style and flair, making for interesting hockey games.

The key to beating Yale, obviously, is in shutting down their offense, and RPI had the knack for doing that last season, allowing only two goals in the 120 minutes the teams had on the ice together - both of those goals coming in Troy in the span of 2:12 of game time. If they can do that again, they'll need to victimize the Bulldog defense to get wins, but more likely than not, they'll need to do it quite a bit, because that offense of theirs is going to be tough to completely squelch out.

If you've never been on an ECAC road trip before, the trip to Yale is highly recommended if only for their beautiful rink. Ingalls Rink is easily one of the wonders of college hockey, designed by famed architect Eero Saarinen (who also designed the Gateway Arch in St. Louis) and opened in 1958. It is called the "Yale Whale" because, well, it looks kinda like a whale. But the building itself is beautiful, inside and out, and is a true experience for any college hockey fan to take in. If you've never been, circle December 3rd on your calendar. You'll probably get an entertaining game to go with the majesty.

3 comments:

  1. A really great blog.Regretfully, though,Yale was not the ECAC champ in 1997-98. The 2009 ECAC championship was its first. Greetings to all from sunny Scottsdale. Yaledoc.

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  2. That's what I get for writing at 1am - I confused the regular season and tournament titles. It has been fixed, thank you for the catch.

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  3. Thanks for the great blog, and the nice post about Yale. Yes, the offense was "freakishly good" last year--blasting shot after shot after shot. The ratio of goals/shots may not have been all that impressive, but the sheer, relentless volume more than made up for it.

    I agree with your assessment overall, but I actually think the loss of Arcobello will hurt quite a bit. Even though he had a bit of an "off" year, I think he made everyone around him better. And, when he had a six point game in the NCAA, it showed he could still deliver on his own.

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