January 29, 2009 PRINT Bookmark and Share

Team of the Week: Yale

by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor

Freshman Brian O'Neill has eight goals this season.

Freshman Brian O'Neill has eight goals this season.

It's a move that in retrospect makes Yale coach Keith Allain look like a genius. Maybe he is.

But at the time, he was just trying to get something going.

Down 4-0 to Colgate last Saturday in the third period, Allain pulled his goaltender. It didn't result in a goal right away, but after a couple times putting him back and forth into the net, it did pay off.

From there, Yale went on a flurry, scoring three more times to tie — with the goalie back in the net — and then winning in overtime.

"It was absolutely thrilling. The players reacted like they just won a league championship," Allain said. "Hopefully moving forward it will be positive for us."

"Colgate was playing a great transition a game against us," Allain said. "Colgate is a very good hockey team. They scored a couple of nice goals, and they deserved to be ahead."

"You don't see it happen very often, but our kids were still playing hard," Allain said. "I wanted to do anything I could to help them. I could do it 50 more times and not get that result."

It capped a glorious week for the Bulldogs, one of the longest-running programs in NCAA history, but one without a lot of recent success. Friday, Yale won at Lynah Rink, where Cornell hadn't lost this season. In fact, it was Cornell's first league loss of the whole year.

The wins lifted Yale to 13-5-1, and even within striking distance of an at-large spot in the Pairwise. Not to get too carried away, but last time Yale made the NCAAs was 1998, when it won the regular-season ECAC title. The Bulldogs have never made the ECAC tournament semis since it moved to Albany in 2003.

That Cornell game, Allain started sophomore Ryan Rondeau in net on a hunch, and he picked up his first ECAC win. Allain looked like a genius again.

Of course, not so much the next night, when Allain went back to Rondeau, who then allowed four goals on nine shots. That brought senior Alec Richards back, and he shut down Colgate the rest of the way, when he wasn't being pulled for the extra attacker.

That's also part of Allain, a former goaltender at Yale in the early '80s, trying to settle on a No. 1 goalie for the playoffs. In the mean time, he is playing Richards — who has struggled this year somewhat despite an 8-2 record — Rondeau and junior Billy Blase.

"I play the kid that gives us the best chance. It's an old cliche but that's it," Allain said. "Odds are the rotation will lessen. Goaltending is a lot about rhythm."

This is Allain's third year at the helm, moving from being an NHL assistant back to his alma mater, and taking over for the legendary Tim Taylor. Things had gone sour for Taylor in New Haven, and he was unceremoniously let go. But Taylor hasn't allowed those ill feelings get in the way of his support for him former player, Allain. That relationship remains strong as ever, Allain said.

"I talk to Tim quite a bit," Allain said. "He talked me into getting into coaching. We've spent lots of time talking about our team. Tim is rooting for us. I got a great e-mail from him Monday morning."

Allain has continued some parts of Taylor's philosophy — particularly when it comes to the types of small, speedy forwards Yale has been known for.

"What I like about our team is our guys absolutely love to compete," Allain said. "I place an emphasis on speed. If I have 6-2 players that can skate like the 5-9 players, they'd be attractive as well.

"We made a decision early on that we didn't need all the best players, we just needed the right players. Four year players are very valuable."

One of those players is 5-foot-8 freshman Brian O'Neill, himself an interesting story because he came out of the unheralded Philadelphia High School system, where in a championship game his sophomore year, he was cheap-shotted and tore a knee ligament. His plans of going to the USHL went on hold for a season, but he recovered, got the Division I commitment he sought but that is rare for Philly-area kids, and now has 8 goals.

"Brian epitomizes what we're looking for," Allain said. "He has skill, a fair amount of speed, and he's tenacious on the puck. It took him a little while here to get his confidence that he could score at this level, but he's contributed more and more."

Allain must now turn his attention back to this week. He says the team will be prepared.

"We worked pretty hard down here this week to keep these guys grounded."

To really go far this season, though, Allain said the biggest thing — in addition to settling the goalie situation — is shoring things up defensively, and getting more balanced offense.

"I still think we can be better (defensively) recognizing situations quicker," Allain said.

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