ICE HOCKEY: Yale ice hockey gears up for return to competition
After an 18-month competitive drought, Yale’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams are preparing to open their seasons with enthusiastic new players.
Ingalls Ice Rink is set to reopen as Yale’s men’s and women’s ice hockey teams prepare to return to competitive ice after more than 18 months of absence.
From the Ivy League canceled all winter sports competitions in 2020, the Bulldogs were eager to don the signature blue and white sweater and face off in front of a roaring crowd at the Whale.
As the pandemic separated the majority of Yale’s women’s ice hockey team over the previous academic year, the Bulldogs eventually came together as a team for preseason training. After a year of duty hone their stick handling skills at home and search competition away from New Haven, Women’s Hockey Head Coach Mark Bolding is very happy to see his players enjoy the game as a team.
“It’s so difficult to reproduce happiness as a hockey player if you are not absent [on the ice]Bolding said at the Eastern College Athletic Conference, or CEAC, women’s hockey virtual media day. “I just can’t wait for them to smile, compete and get away with it.”
While veteran skaters like senior defender Greta Skarzynski ’22 and goalie Gianna Meloni ’22 will return for a fourth season as the Bulldogs, the squad this coming season will consist of a total of 13 first years. Despite their inexperience with college ice minutes, the newcomers add size and depth to the Bulldogs’ defensive core.
Canadian defenders Olivia Muhn ’25, Tijana Miskovic ’25 and Emma Decorby ’25 is expected to contribute to Yale’s blue line, while Vita Poniatovskaia ’25, from Russia, will be a “talented and fluid skating defender,” Bolding said.
Up front, the Blues and Whites have hosted six first-year forwards, including Anna Bargman ’25 and University of Minnesota transfer Addie Burton ’25.
Despite apprehension that an influx of new faces could bring, Bolding explained that he and the players are ready to start the season and hope to recreate the the momentum the team had developed at the end of their 2019-20 campaign.
“We are trying to turn a new leaf,” Bolding said. “The returning players are excited, they know there is nowhere to go but to ride.”
The 2021-22 Yale men’s hockey roster also features a number of new names. With the graduation of two upper classes, the transfer from Jack St. Ivany at Boston College and Curtis Hall’s ’23 signing with the Boston Bruins, the Bulldogs now find themselves with a total of nine skaters who had a game day at the Whale.
In the ECAC hockey coaches pre-season survey, Yale was ranked 10th out of 12 teams while Whitney Avenue rival Quinnipiac took first place.
Despite the various challenges this new team may face, men’s hockey head coach Keith Allain stressed during ECAC Men’s Hockey Virtual Media Day that energy or enthusiasm does not lack in the share of players who lost a year of hockey.
“Every chance that we have to be on the ice together is an opportunity that we really have to seize with a lot of weight because we have learned that it could be taken away from you in the blink of an eye. Said Allain. “I just think that appreciation… hits a little harder when you see two senior grades failing to represent their school in the last game and how painful that was.”
Junior goalie Connor Hopkins ’23 is set to start between the pipes for the Bulldogs this season. The keeper had already experienced success in the United States Hockey League with the Tri-City Storm after being deprived of his rookie and second season at Yale.
The leadership of captain Graham Lillibridge ’22 and his senior colleagues Justin Pearson ’22 and Kyle Johnson ’22 are expected to play a pivotal role this year as the squad welcomes a number of enthusiastic young Bulldogs.
“Our job is to build that enthusiasm, temper it a bit, and really focus on growing, both individually and as a team,” said Allain. “Our goal is always to be one of the most competitive teams on the ice.
In addition to new players, the men’s hockey program has added two assistant coaches behind the bench. Joe Howe joins the University of Alaska Fairbanks team after previously leading the University of Denver to a national league title in 2017. Meanwhile, one of Yale’s most decorated hockey alumni, Rob O’Gara ’16, makes a return to its old trampling patterns.
While both men’s and women’s ice hockey teams will have to wait until the end of October to sample the competition since early 2020, the busy schedules for both teams this season also include exciting tournaments such as the Nutmeg Classic on November 26. -27 for women and the Kwik Trip Holiday Faceoff on December 29 for men.
As a seasoned bulldog, O’Gara explained that he is able to empathize with players and has a unique understanding of their perspectives. After watching the skaters drift away from each other and from the competition for so long, the former NHL player can’t wait to see the rookies put on their skates for the Blues and Whites for the first time.
“These guys have sacrificed so much and the feeling of taking nothing for granted is palpable.” O’Gara told the News. “This moment is going to be the culmination of a lot of hard work, so that’s really what excites me the most.”
The Yale women’s ice hockey team will begin their home season on October 22 against St. Anselm. The men’s hockey team will face Brown on the road on October 30.