May 14, 2013

From NEHJ: Allain the architect of a champion

By Dan Guttenplan

Yale head coach Keith Allain (with trophy) celebrates with assistants Dan Muse, Red
Gendron and other staffers. (Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)
 

When Keith Allain (Worcester, Mass.) accepted the head coaching position at Yale in April 2006, he mapped out an aggressive course for the program’s future.

The former NHL and Olympic team assistant wasn’t returning to his alma mater to maintain the status quo. The Bulldogs had logged a cumulative record of 27-64-5 in the previous three seasons, including just 5-25-0 against Ivy League rivals.

“If you look back at my original press conference, I set two goals,” says Allain (Yale Class of 1980). “I wanted to prove that you could go to the best university in the world and compete at the highest level of hockey. And I wanted to have sustained excellence for the program.”

Allain has answered the question as to whether Yale can compete at the highest level of hockey. This winter, he took Yale on one of the most unexpected runs to a national championship in college hockey history. The Bulldogs, who needed outside help from other teams during championship weekend of the conference tournaments just to get in to the NCAA tournament, caught fire in the NCAA tournament. They won the school’s first national championship — in any sport — since 1986, and played in the school’s first Frozen Four appearance since 1952.

After seven seasons, Allain can even make the case that he also has achieved the goal of building a program that has sustained excellence. His teams have gone 138-84-19 in seven seasons, and they have appeared in the NCAA tournament four times in the past five seasons. The Bulldogs won ECAC tournament championships in 2009 and 2011 and regular-season titles in 2009 and 2010. But perhaps most important to Allain is the fact that his team has taken back control of the Ivy League, earning five championships — including the last three — in his seven seasons.

“You see a lot of the Ivy League teams go to the top, and then they take a step back for three or four years,” Allain says. “Our first goal is always to win an Ivy League championship. Then we talk about the ECAC Hockey regular season, the conference tournament and the NCAA tournament. To have sustained success, we want to compete on all of those stages every year.”

Part of Allain’s focus on the Ivy League title can be attributed to the level playing field in which the teams compete. Like Yale, the other Ivy League schools do not offer athletic scholarships. Still, Allain has found a way to attract top recruits despite his lack of financial resources.

“I’m not going to say it’s easy,” Allain says. “The key to that is I have great assistant coaches. They do most of the recruiting, and we always say we don’t have to sell Yale. The school’s academic excellence speaks for itself.”

 

BROWN

The Good: Brown coach Brendan Whittet (East Providence, R.I.) seems to have established a sustainable formula for success in his fourth season. He took his first recruiting class — now juniors — to the ECAC championship game for the first time since 1993. Brown finished with a winning record for the first time since 2004-05.

The Bad: Needing a win over Union in the tournament championship to clinch their first NCAA tournament berth since 1993, the Bears (16-14-6) fell just short in a 3-1 loss to the back-to-back ECAC champions in Atlantic City. Brown also had the second-worst penalty kill (77.7 percent) in the conference.

The Future: The Bears will miss graduating senior Anthony Borelli, who posted a record of 14-9-4 with a 1.84 GAA and .942 save percentage. However, they will return top forward Matt Lorito, a sophomore, who led the team with 22 goals and 15 assists. Whittet has stated emphatically that the Bears will not be satisfied with runner-up finishes in ECAC Hockey.

 

CLARKSON

The Good: The Golden Knights should have their top 10 forwards in terms of scoring back for a team that sat at 8-8-3 in the conference with three games remaining. They showed signs of improvement late in the season, logging a record of 4-3-1 in the month of February.

The Bad: For the second year in a row, Clarkson finished its season with a thud. This year, the Golden Knights lost their last five games, including a two-game sweep against Brown in the ECAC tournament. Last year, they lost their last four, including a sweep against RPI.

The Future: Junior forwards Allan McPherson (9-16-25), Jarrett Burton (12-8-20) and Ben Sexton (5-15-20) all finished the season with more than 20 points. Freshman Greg Lewis figures to improve in net after allowing 3.02 goals per game while posting a record of 9-18-6.

 

COLGATE

The Good: The Raiders (14-17-4) remained the top scoring team in ECAC Hockey despite graduating Hobey Baker finalist Austin Smith and losing linemate Chris Wagner (Walpole, Mass.) to the Anaheim Ducks. They averaged 3.09 goals per game and had the second-best power play (23.2 percent) in the conference.

The Bad: The wide-open scoring attack came at the expense of the defense. The Raiders allowed 2.70 goals per game, which ranked ninth in the conference. They allowed four or more goals in eight of their last 11 games, including their last four.

The Future: Freshman forward Tyler Spink was a bright spot, becoming the first Colgate rookie to lead the team in points (31) since 2008. The Raiders also recently named Spiro Goulakos a captain for 2013-14. Goulakos was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in January and returned to the ice late in the season.

 

CORNELL

The Good: The Big Red (15-16-3) salvaged a disappointing season with a strong finish. From Feb. 15 to March 15, Cornell went 7-1-1. The Big Red won an ECAC Hockey tournament opening-round series at Princeton before bowing out in three games to Quinnipiac.

 

The Bad: Cornell had its first losing season since 1998-99, also the last time the team played on the road in the first round of the ECAC Hockey tournament before this season.  Historically, a top-tier defensive team in ECAC Hockey, the Big Red ranked sixth in the conference in GAA (2.47) under coach Mike Schafer.

The Future: The Big Red will lose their best player in senior forward Greg Miller, who was named ECAC Hockey’s Best Defensive Forward and was the team’s leading scorer for the past three seasons. Miller and sophomore linemate Brian Ferlin were the only two players on the roster ranked in the top 30 of the conference in plus-minus rating.

 

DARTMOUTH

The Good: Dartmouth (15-14-5) appears to be building something. After finishing ninth in the ECAC Hockey standings in 2011-12, the Big Green finished fifth this season. Sophomore Tyler Sikura continued his ascent to ECAC Hockey stardom with 12 goals and 20 assists, earning team MVP honors.

The Bad: The Big Green played their best hockey in October and November. They started the season 5-0-1 in their first six games with wins over Yale, Brown and Union. When they needed a strong performance on the final weekend of the regular season to earn a first-round bye in the ECAC tournament, they went 0-1-1 against Princeton and Quinnipiac.

The Future: Dartmouth has much of its core returning, with Sikura, junior Matt Lindblad, junior Eric Robinson (Foxboro, Mass.), sophomore Eric Neiley, freshman Tim O’Brien and sophomore Brandon McNally (Saugus, Mass.) serving as six of the team’s top seven forwards. Goaltender Charles Grant posted a 7-7-2 record as a freshman in 18 starts. He posted a 2.77 GAA and a .911 save percentage with one shutout. His 440 saves this season were the most by any of the team’s three goalies.

 

HARVARD

The Good: The Crimson ushered in a talented freshman class that included Jimmy Vesey (North Reading, Mass.) and Brian Hart (Cumberland, Maine). Both Vesey and Hart finished the season with 18 points, which ranked tied for third on the team. Sophomores Tommy O’Regan (Needham, Mass.) and Colin Blackwell (North Andover, Mass.) also finished in the top seven on the team in scoring.

The Bad: The Crimson (10-19-3) took a big step back after advancing to the ECAC Hockey tournament championship game in 2011-12. Much of the disappointment could be traced back to November, when senior forward Max Everson, sophomore defensemen Patrick McNally and Mark Luzar, and sophomore goaltender Steve Michalek (Glastonbury, Conn.) took leaves of absence from the university due to their involvement in a cheating scandal.

The Future: It’s very much unclear as a program that seemed primed to serve as a perennial ECAC Hockey championship contender — like Yale — a year ago, came unglued this season. Coach Ted Donato (Dedham, Mass.) even had to answer questions about his own job security at season’s end. There has been no announcement as to whether the players involved in the cheating scandal will return to the team next season.

 

PRINCETON

The Good: Junior forward Andrew Calof improved after strong freshman and sophomore seasons. He ranked fifth in the ECAC in scoring with 14 goals, 24 assists and 38 points. He was the National Player of the Month in January and the 14th player in program history to score 100 career points. Senior goalie Mike Condon (Needham, Mass.) also had a nice season after losing the starting job as a junior. He made 22 starts and posted an 8-11-4 overall record. He finished the season with a .923 save percentage and a 2.48 GAA.

The Bad: The Tigers (10-16-5) were the lone home team to fall in the opening round of the ECAC Hockey tournament. Expectations were far higher for a team that went 9-16-7 in 2011-12 with one of the youngest rosters in the conference.

The Future: Princeton coach Bob Prier will have Calof for one more year, and sophomore Tyler Maugeri had a breakout season with nine goals and 14 assists. Junior goaltender Sean Bonar has plenty of experience as a starter, as he beat out Condon for the job during his sophomore season before struggling through an injury-plagued campaign this winter.

 

QUINNIPIAC

The Good: Quinnipiac (30-8-5) had the best season in school history with an ECAC Hockey regular-season title and an appearance in the national championship game. Coach Rand Pecknold (Bedford, N.H.) was named New England Writers Association National Coach of the Year, and senior goaltender Eric Hartzell was tabbed as first-team All-America goaltender.

The Bad: Not much to complain about for the Bobcats, but if we’re getting nitpicky, they fell to Yale in the national championship game after spending much of the year ranked No. 1 in the Pairwise. And they finished third in the ECAC Hockey tournament after winning the regular-season title by double-digit points.

The Future: The Bobcats will miss graduating seniors like Hartzell and Jeremy Langlois, who led the team in scoring each of the past three seasons. Still, with returning forwards like Matthew Peca, Jordan Samuels-Thomas (West Hartford, Conn.), Kellen Jones and Connor Jones — all of whom recorded 26 points or more on the season — the Bobcats will be a safe bet to return to the NCAA tournament next season.

 

RENSSELAER

The Good: RPI (18-14-5) finished second in the ECAC Hockey standings — the highest for the Engineers since the 1992-93 team also finished second. The Engineers finished the regular season 10-2-0 in their last 12 games, including a six-game winning streak. Coach Seth Appert was a finalist for ECAC Hockey Coach of the Year, and senior defenseman Nick Bailen was named first-team All-America.

The Bad: The ECAC Hockey tournament was one to forget for the Engineers. Needing a series win against seventh-seeded Brown to clinch a berth to the NCAA tournament, RPI was upset on its home ice, and the Engineers were forced to watch the national tournament from home.

The Future: Appert was rewarded for the worst-to-second place jump in the ECAC standings after the season, when he received a contract extension through 2020-21. Freshman goalie Jason Kasdorf flashed plenty of potential, earning ECAC Rookie of the Year and second-team All-ECAC.

 

ST. LAWRENCE

The Good: St. Lawrence (17-16-4) had more selections to the All-America teams than any other school in the East. Senior forward Kyle Flanagan was a first-team selection while senior defenseman George Hughes and junior forward Greg Carey earned second-team honors. The Saints also improved by three wins in Greg Carvel’s first season as head coach.

The Bad: The Saints struggled defensively all season, allowing a conference-high 1,116 shots. They also allowed 106 goals; only Clarkson allowed more in the ECAC. The defensive woes surfaced at the worst time for St. Lawrence in the ECAC Hockey tournament. Yale outscored the Saints 9-1 in a two-game sweep.

The Future: The loss of Flanagan and Hughes to graduation will be significant, although the Saints will return four 20-point scorers, including Carey, who led the conference with 49. Junior goalie Matt Weninger will return after an up-and-down season that saw him play in every game and lead the conference in saves. If the Saints want to make a deep run next season, they’ll have to do a better job of protecting their netminder.

 

UNION

The Good: The Dutchmen (22-13-5) showed some resolve after a rocky start to repeat as ECAC Hockey tournament champions. When Union beat defending national champion Boston College in the opening round of the NCAA tournament March 30, the Dutchmen were boasting a seven-game winning streak. Union has three NCAA tournament wins in the last two seasons.

The Bad: Union struggled all season to put its 2011-12 Frozen Four run in the past. The Dutchmen started 15-12-5, and needed a sweep of Clarkson and Dartmouth on the final weekend of the season to earn a first-round bye in the ECAC Hockey tournament. The early season record didn’t make much sense, as Union had the best power play (23.9 percent), second-best defense (2.00 GAA) and second-best offense (3.08 GPG) in the conference.

The Future: At this point, it seems safe to say the Union second-year coach Rick Bennett (Springfield, Mass.) has a perennial national championship contender. The Union administration seems to believe the same thing, as Bennett’s contract was recently extended through the 2019-20 season. The program is humming, and second-team All-America sophomore defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere has two years remaining with the Dutchmen. Junior goaltender Troy Grosenick will not return after signing an entry-level deal with the San Jose Sharks.

 

YALE

The Good: The Bulldogs (22-12-3) made one of the most improbable runs in postseason history for the school’s first NCAA championship in any sport since 1985. They were the first No. 4 seed to win the national title since the introduction of the 16-team field in 2003. Prior to this season, Yale last participated in NCAA Championship weekend in 1952. Coach Keith Allain (Worcester, Mass.) was a finalist for National Coach of the Year, and senior forward Andrew Miller was named second team All-America.

The Bad: Tough to complain about anything during a national-championship season, but you could start with the Bulldogs’ defense, which ranked seventh in the conference in GAA (2.50). Yale also no-showed ECAC Hockey tournament championship weekend in Atlantic City, N.J. The Bulldogs were outscored by Union and Quinnipiac 8-0.

The Future: Top forwards Miller and Antoine Laganiere will move on, as will senior goalie Jeff Malcolm, who played the best of any goalie in the NCAA tournament. Junior forward Kenny Agostino, who tallied 17 goals and 41 points, will likely play on the first line next season, but the Bulldogs will not return a single goalie with a college victory on his record.

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Twitter: @Dan_Guttenplan