Yale goes into break on top of the heap
There is more than a little excitement surrounding the Yale men’s hockey team, which is ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in program history.
The Elis (11-1-0 overall, 6-0-0 in the ECAC) wrapped up the first semester with a 3-0 victory over Vermont Wednesday, and fans are basking in the early success.
But coach Keith Allain, who will spend the break coaching the US National team at the World Junior Championships in Buffalo, is not getting carried away.
Asked if he’d allowed himself any time to enjoy the ride, he said, “No, I have not. To be honest with you, if we’re ranked first or 100th, our approach doesn’t change. It can’t change. Our job is to get ready to win the next game.’’
He did acknowledge that the acclaim is a boon for the school and the area.
“Everyone from the athletic administration to the professors to the students are all very excited,’’ he said. “We get great community support in New Haven.’’
Senior forward Broc Little and sophomore Andrew Miller lead the team with 19 points. The bad news is that forward Jeff Anderson was lost with a possible right leg injury against Vermont.
“Fortunately, we have great depth up front, and we all understand through the course of a hockey season, this happens to everybody and it’s our turn right now,’’ said Allain.
The coach said there is strong leadership on the squad, and the players are all pulling in the same direction.
“It’s the approach that we’ve taken over the last couple of years,’’ he said. “As a group, we have to come and practice hard every single day to try to get better, and if we do that, the games will take care [of] themselves.
“We do have a veteran team. They’ve been through it all before a little bit, so they know how to handle it.’’
One place they are particularly strong is in net. Senior goaltender Ryan Rondeau is coming off back-to-back shutouts (the first for the Bulldogs since February 1998), and his shutout streak is up to 134 minutes 37 seconds.
“All summer long, everyone I talked to wanted to talk about how that was the weakness of our team,’’ said Allain. “I told anyone who would listen that we were confident in our goaltending, and we were and we are. Ryan has come in and played very well for us right from the start.’’
The coach expects that to continue and that the team will come back from the break refreshed and ready to go.
“We’ll give them a pretty good workout schedule,’’ said Allain, “and we’ll use this time to get them away from the ice a little bit, but get stronger and quicker off the ice so we’ll be in better shape when we get back.
“It kind of rekindles your desire to be on the ice. A hockey season can be a grind, and for our students, it can be more of a grind. We’ll come back with rejuvenated hunger.’’
“We said afterwards, when we score four goals or five goals, we should win the game,’’ said NU coach Greg Cronin.
“Our goaltender [Chris Rawlings] is very reliable, and we’re defensively a very solid team.’’
The Huskies have scored four goals in a game only twice this year. Cronin said the message he passed along to his players before the break was finding a way to produce more offense.
“We don’t score enough,’’ said Cronin, whose team averages just 2.19 goals per game, eighth in the league.
“Defensively, we’ve been really good. We have nine losses, and seven of the nine have been nail-biting, down to the end.
“It gets old talking about that, but I like the way we were playing in the Providence game [Nov. 20]. We played well up in Maine [Nov. 12 and 13]. Vermont is a tough place to play and we [tie], and Merrimack is a tough place to play and you win.
“[Agganis Arena] is a tough place to play. It would’ve been terrific if we would’ve won, because then we’re 4-5-3 in the league. I told them at the end, they’d better start getting their claws out and prepare to scratch their way back up into the upper echelon of the standings.
“It’s eerily similar to what happened last year. We did it last year, we came back, we faltered at the end, but we’ve got to start climbing.’’
“He’s always on the board on special teams but he hasn’t been producing much five-on-five,’’ said Cronin.
“I thought he skated harder than I’ve seen him skate. He actually was physical and he was getting pucks and he was skating with them, which is something we’ve been encouraging him to do.’’
“I talked to Coach Cronin as we shook hands at the end of the game,’’ said Parker. “I said, ‘You know, they should shoot the two of us for calling ourselves college hockey coaches after that game.’ ’’
Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.