Yale hockey ain't what it used to be. Though home games are
still held in a splendid old whale-shaped building near the
heart of campus and the audience still includes gray-haired men
in tweed jackets who rise to their feet to celebrate Bulldogs
goals, now these old-school types must jostle for standing room
when the 3,486-seat Ingalls Rink opens an hour before face-off.
Now there are argyle-sweater-clad studentsY's painted on their
faces, hair dyed Yale bluewho erupt when the Elis so much as
clear the puck on a penalty kill. Oh, and now the Bulldogs are
winning. "Amazing," says senior Ray Giroux, Yale's top
defenseman. "We knew we were good, but we never expected this.
The buzz around campus is unbelievable."
At 20-5 (15-3 in the East Coast Athletic Conference) with four
games left, these Bulldogs are having the best season in Yale's
103-year hockey history. They're 12-0 at home, where they've
sold out an unprecedented six games, and with a four-point lead
in the 12-team ECAC, the Bulldogs could win their conference for
the first time. An ECAC preseason coaches poll predicted that
Yale, which was 10-19-3 last season, would finish 10th in the
conference. Through Sunday, Yale was ranked fifth in the nation.
All of this has happened in part because Tom Beckett took over
as athletic director in July 1994 and set about improving the
testy relationship between Yale's athletics and admissions
departments. By opening up the lines of communication and
insisting that the two branches make their needs clear, Beckett
ensured that, as university president Richard C. Levin says,
"coaches didn't waste time recruiting guys who had no chance of
getting in here."
By honing in on players they know will make the grade with
admissions, the Bulldogs have been more successful in
identifyingand recruitingthe players they want. This has
enabled Yale to assemble a deep cast that includes Giroux, a
likely All-America; sharpshooting sophomore center Jeff
Hamilton, who has a team-leading 21 goals; and outstanding
junior goaltender Alex Westlund, whose .920 save percentage is
fifth in the nation. Coach Tim Taylor has used 30 players this
year and says, "our fourth line plays as many strong shifts as
any of our other lines."
In the often jubilant Bulldogs' dressing room, there is a sign
that reminds players to THINK LAKE PLACID, the annual site of
the ECAC title game. Since 1993, when the message was put on the
wall, Yale has not even advanced past the conference
quarterfinals. Now, however, Giroux says, "Lake Placid would not
Levin, for one, has cleared his schedule for the weekend of
April 2-4, when the NCAA Final Four will be held in Boston. "I
want to be there in case we go all the way," he says. "You never
know. It's been that kind of year."
Issue date: March 2, 1998