Behind the Jersey: Yale University National Champions 2013

by Chuck Eckels

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The Yale University Bulldogs decided many years ago that the emphasis of their University would be on academics and not athletics. Ivy League schools offer no athletic scholarships unlike other Division One Schools. This is a recruiting nightmare for any Yale coach. It is no different for former Yale goalie and Yale hockey coach Keith Allain.

While the no scholarship is no longer the burden it once was there are still very high academic standards a student must have to gain admission to the university. The final hurdle is competing with Harvard. Given a choice of Yale or Harvard, most recruits will pick Harvard. Recruiting is an issue for all Ivy League coaches. Unable to recruit the 6′ 5″ Eric Lindros types, Yale opted for the smaller guys with speed. This move paid off. The 2011 squad had 28 victories, was ranked number in the hockey polls but unfortunately the season ended much too soon.

The 2012-13 season started off like a roller coaster. The Bulldogs lost badly to Dartmouth 7-4 but were so distraught with that performance they went out the next day and pounded Harvard 5-1.  They then went out in their next game and laid an egg against the doormat Clarkson. This team could skate with anybody. The issue was consistency.

Goalie Jeff Malcolm was a huge piece to the Yale puzzle. In February Malcolm went down with an injury when a Princeton player slammed into him in the crease. Malcolm was out 5 games with a knee injury. The Eli’s lost five straight games because neither back up goalie could carry the load. The lost both games to number one ranked Quinnipiac which caused a substantial drop in the national rankings. Malcolm returned and the Bulldogs ripped off three consecutive victories.

They opened the ECAC playoffs by easily eliminating the St. Lawrence Saints in two games 4-1 and 3-0. In previous seasons the ECAC playoffs had been held in Albany with very sparse attendance. The playoffs were then moved to Atlantic City which proved to be an even bigger blunder. The ECAC did not travel well to the new location. The tourney was moved back to Lake Placid in 2014.

Yale then lost 5-0 to the Union Dutchmen and lost again 3-0 to the Quinnipiac Bobcats. That last loss was a devastating loss because it could have very well knocked the Bulldogs out of the tourney. Michigan had not missed an NCAA tourney in 22 years. Michigan has the most national championships in  Division One NCAA hockey. The Wolverines were below .500 for the season but because they had gone on a 9-0 run if they could defeat Notre Dame in the CCHA final they would assure themselves a spot in the national tourney. The Irish won 3-1 and the Bulldogs were in !

No one picked the number 15th ranked Bulldogs to win the national championship. They were the lowest ranked team in the tourney so they were always the away team. It’s the reason they only wore their blue jerseys in the tourney. No one gave Yale a chance against the number two ranked Gophers. Yale’s strategy was to skate a fast paced game, put pressure on Minnesota’s players so they would cough up the puck. Kenny Agostino scored first for Yale in the second period followed up by a power play goal by defenseman Gus Young. Minnesota tied it up in the third. Jesse Root scored the OT winner just 9 seconds in which is the fastest in NCAA history.

The Bulldogs had to face another Goliath in the North Dakota Fighting Sioux. North Dakota scored in the first period despite being out skated by Yale. Josh Balch tied it in the third with 7 minutes left in the game. Two minutes later Jesse Root scored a power play goal. Wilson knocked in a juicy rebound and Agostino later got an empty net goal. Yale was going back to the Frozen Four  for the first time since 1952.

The Las Vegas odds makers had Yale the dark horse at 5-1. The UMass Lowell River Hawks were the favorites at 8-5.  The Bulldogs skated to an early 2-0 lead but the River Hawks tied it up in the second period. UMass had 3 shots on goal while Yale had 9 shots on goal in the third period. UMass was being out skated so the ice was tilted toward their goalie. Yale continued their dominance in the OT as they led in shots 7-0. Andrew Miller put the biscuit in the basket in OT and it was time for the River Hawks to pack their bags. The oldest collegiate program in the nation was about to skate for their first national championship.

Yale was skating against cross street rival Quinnipiac. They had already lost three times to the Bobcats this season. The first period ended in a scoreless tie. The second period was about to end the same way, with seconds left, Gus Young put a shot on net that Clint Bourbonais deflected through Hartzell’s five hole and the period ended with Yale up 1-0. The air had been let out of the balloon. Orzetti scores, Miller scores, and Root adds an empty net goal as the Yale University Bulldogs become NCAA Hockey Division 1 National Champions 4-0.

The jersey pictured below was worn by Trent Ruffolo (ruff-uh-loh) He is the first hockey player to skate for Yale from Florida. He had 7 goals and 6 assists through 32 games. The jersey is a size 48 and shows light wear. I wrote this after reading ” Hockey Haven ” by Chip Malafronte and Jim Shelton of the New Haven Register.