New Heights in New Haven
Yale is No. 1 in the Ratings and Polls
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
When it came to the much ballyhooed matchup between Yale and Union this past weekend, it looked a lot like Monday's Patriots-Jets game.
Yale's 5-0 win put a stamp on a start to this season that has — outside of five minutes in Colorado Springs — been near-flawless. Not since Cornell's 2002-03 run to the Frozen Four has an ECAC team been rated No. 1 this late in the season, in the polls and the mathematical computations like KRACH. And not since that Cornell team has an ECAC squad been in such position to dominate the league.
"It's the best team we've seen," Union coach Nate Leaman said, following the loss. "I haven't seen BC or Duluth on tape, but I'd be hard-pressed to imagine a better set of forwards."
Yale was one game away from the Frozen Four last season, though that one game was an ugly 9-7 loss to Boston College, during which the Bulldogs used three goalies. It was said that if they only had decent goaltending, a Frozen Four was theirs. But some key forwards were graduating and those same goalies were coming back, so there was no reason to expect bigger things from Yale.
A couple things have happened, however. The evolution of the forwards that remained more than made up for those who left, and the evolution of the defense has more than made up for the goaltending. Furthermore, senior goalie Ryan Rondeau seems to have progressed past the adequate stage to something more like "legitimate," while enjoying the fruits of strong defense and a tenacious offense that keeps the puck at the other end.
The 24-year old Rondeau has a 1.89 goals against average so far this season, and .926 save percentage, much better than he's ever done before.
"I talked to people, they said, 'Get to Rondeau.' It was tough to get to Rondeau," Leaman said. "We got to some dirty areas with some pucks, but they did a good job blocking shots and had good stick on puck in those areas, and it was tough to penetrate in those areas."
Meanwhile, the offense remains filled with players like Broc Little, Denny Kearney, Brian O'Neill and Chris Cahill — who already have 29 goals among them.
"They're a good skating team, they pressure you well," Leaman said. "But I thought we turned way too many pucks over against them. And when you turn pucks over, they're going to be able to counter and get opportunities. ... They're great when you turn the puck over. Probably the No. 1 team in the nation when you turn the puck over."
That said, Cornell needed a disallowed third-period goal and double overtime against Boston College to reach the Frozen Four in 2003 — so there are no guarantees. And ECAC teams don't get many cracks at the prize — just ask Cornell and Princeton.
Head coach Keith Allain, of course, is the one who puts this all together. He took over five years ago from a legendary coach, Tim Taylor, who was being shoved out the door. It was a tough situation for the one-time Taylor pupil, but he got Taylor's blessing and hasn't looked back.
"What I've always said is I wanted to sustain excellence, and be good on a regular basis," Allain said. "As far as rankings go, the only one that matters is the one in April."
Like the Patriots, Yale has a coach who treats wins like nothing more than a trip to grocery store — and that getting excited would somehow give him the flu. If Allain was remotely excited about his team's victory over Union and subsequent ascendency in the polls, you wouldn't know it by asking. When pressed on the issue, and reminded that Yale has never been No. 1, he only dismissively said, "OK."
"He's a quiet man," Yale athletic director Tom Beckett said.
Beckett was at least willing to acknowledge the accomplishment after Sunday's win.
"If people along the way who know the game view us as one of the premier teams in the country, that's quite an accomplishment," Beckett said. "I think it's a thrill for everyone. Everyone who roots for Yale will be ecstatic.
"Keith and his staff work very hard at finding those players that fit the system. He knows how he wants to play this game, to play college hockey. He works very hard at identifying those skills, and he wins a lot of those battles."