Champ Yale Raises Banner, Looks Forward
by Joshua Seguin/Staff Writer
NEW HAVEN, Conn. It seemed like just yesterday that Yale won its first national title. Friday night marked the final chapter in what was a quiet offseason of celebration for the Bulldogs, as the team raised its championship banner to the Ingalls Rink rafters, in its first home game since last year's ECAC playoffs.
But to the Bulldogs, the night was more a reflection of success than a celebration.
"The pregame ceremony was nice and I enjoyed it quite a bit," said Yale coach Keith Allain. "Being able to reflect on what those guys did last year was nice."
Said Yale forward Jesse Root, "It was nice to see that banner raised but once it was up we were solely focused on this game."
With the reflection of a national title game over and done with, this year's Bulldogs has set its sights on repeating that success. It will be a work in progress, but so was last season, when the team finished as the No. 15 overall seed to the NCAAs.
If any coach can get his team headed in the right direction, it is Allain. But focus is often the undoing of any defending champion.
"We have been 100 percent focused on this season since we got this team to campus in August," Root said.
It was evident Friday night that this year's team will be a tad different, but the pieces are still present that will make it a contender once again, in the ECAC and nationally. It will still have its high-flying offense that ECAC observers have become accustomed to.
"I think we are going to be good at the end of the day," Allain said. "We have a long way to go, though. We have some young guys that we are trying to incorporate into roles on our team and we have some older guys whose roles have changed from last year."
One of the young guys that Allain spoke of was freshman goaltender Alex Lyon. His performance on Friday night was solid in a 3-3 tie with St. Lawrence, but he knows he was left in a good spot.
"It is a little daunting," Lyon said, speaking about coming into a big role on the defending national championship team. "At the same time, though, every recruit wants to go to a school that is the best, and right now we are the reigning champions, so I couldn't ask for a better situation."
Last weekend, Yale split a pair of non-league games against Ivy foes at the Liberty Invitational, with Lyon taking a loss before fellow freshman Patrick Spano won Saturday.
In an entertaining, yet nail-biting, third period and overtime against St. Lawrence, Lyon looked solid in making save after save. So did his counterpart on the other end, though, a tested senior in Matt Weninger. But Lyon's composure was evident.
"Alex did a great job," Allain said. "He made some big stops late and it is what we want to see. I am happy with his play."
Said Root, "Alex did a great job for us. We just have to do a better job cleaning up the front of the net. He was a rock for us."
With new faces dotting the lineup there are a few returning players that Yale has already seen return to last year's form. One of the tests of every college hockey team, year in and year out, is whether everyone can step into new and bigger roles, which includes the freshmen coming into the team.
"One of the greatest things about college hockey is you have big time seniors that graduate and you have young guys needing to fill more roles," said Root. "We have had that a little bit this year.
"We need everyone to continue growing and everybody needs to continue to step up. It has been a good start, so far but we would obviously like to see a little more from everyone."
If the beginning of the season is any indication, Yale is in good shape. But this season comes with more expectations and a big bullseye on its back. That is what winning a national title ultimately does. But getting re-focused is something Allain has again made sure of.