October 19, 2011

ECAC Hockey Journal: Yale has weighty issue to overcome

By Dan Guttenplan

The Yale men's hockey team is getting its due this preseason as it waits for its opener Oct. 28. Both the USA Today and the USCHO.com polls have the Bulldogs in the top 10 in the Division 1 rankings. 

Forward Brian O'Neill of Yale (photo: Yale Athletics)

Forward Brian O'Neill of Yale (photo: Yale Athletics)

For Yale coaches and players, this news is likely irrelevant. The Bulldogs were ranked No. 1 in both polls for the majority of last season before falling to Minnesota-Duluth in the Eastern Regional final. It marked the second year in a row in which Yale fell one game short of the Frozen Four.

Last year's early tournament exit was certainly a heartbreaker for the Bulldogs, who finished 28-7-1 and had the lowest loss total of any team in the NCAAs. They were looking to break an ECAC Hockey drought in the Frozen Four that dates back to Cornell's appearance in 2003.

The way in which Yale lost to UMD was particularly painful. The Bulldogs fell behind 3-0 midway through the second period. They then appeared primed for a rally when leading scorer Brian O'Neill netted a goal at 11:30.

Eight seconds later, their season suffered what proved to be a devastating blow when O'Neill delivered a high check to UMD's Jake Hendrickson near center ice. CCHA refs gave O'Neill a five-minute major and a game misconduct. UMD netted two goals during the 5-on-3 period and eventually won, 5-3.

Yale hockey fans have likely spent the last six months debating whether the call on O'Neill was just. A two-minute minor would have kept Yale's top scorer in the game, and given the Bulldogs a chance to continue their comeback.

For Yale, it is now time to look forward. O'Neill is back, along with fellow preseason All-ECAC Hockey forward selection Andrew Miller. Coach Keith Allain (Worcester, Mass.) replaced eight graduating seniors with seven freshmen.

The Bulldogs are expected to be at the top of the ECAC again. Still, it would be difficult to imagine anything short of a Frozen Four would be considered a success for the Bulldogs. No preseason poll can remove the string from the way last season ended.

Game of the Week

RPI at Notre Dame, Friday

Notre Dame is bound for Hockey East come 2013, and RPI is rumored to be in the league’s sights as well. RPI was courted by Hockey East when it was formed in the early 1980s and again in the mid-1990s, and decided against it both times.

ECAC Hockey power ratings

1. Yale (0-0): Goaltending will be the key when the Yale season starts next weekend.

2. Union (1-0-2): There's no shame in tying two games against Western Michigan, another top 15 team in the nation.

3. Cornell (0-0): The Big Red may have the most returning players and the best recruiting class in the ECAC.

4. Dartmouth (0-0): This should be Dartmouth's first NCAA tournament appearance under 15-year coach Bob Gaudet.

5. Quinnipiac (4-1): Quinnipiac's 4-1 record includes a win over Ohio State.

6. Colgate (3-1): After starting last season 3-24-2 in its first 29 games, Colgate is 11-5-1 over two seasons.

7. RPI (1-3): Not a good start for a team that made its first NCAA appearance since 1995 last year.

8. Princeton (0-0): Guy Gadowsky had the program rising through the ECAC ranks before leaving for Penn State last offseason.

9. Harvard (0-0): Coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.) has a New England-heavy freshman class that will play its first game that counts Nov. 4 against Princeton.

10. Clarkson (2-1-1): A couple of wins over Sacred Heart are not enough to boost the Golden Knights quite yet.

11. Brown (0-0): Senior goalie Mike Clemente will have to be sharp to give this team a chance for a winning record.

12. St. Lawrence (0-4): More concerning than the 0-4 start is the team's 25 goals allowed in four games.

Dan Guttenplan can be reached at feedback@hockeyjournal.com.