Yale hockey ain't what it used to be. Though home games are
still held in a splendid old whale-shaped building near the
heart of campus and the audience still includes gray-haired men
in tweed jackets who rise to their feet to celebrate Bulldogs
goals, now these old-school types must jostle for standing room
when the 3,486-seat Ingalls Rink opens an hour before face-off.
Now there are argyle-sweater-clad students--Y's painted on their
faces, hair dyed Yale blue--who erupt when the Elis so much as
clear the puck on a penalty kill. Oh, and now the Bulldogs are
winning. "Amazing," says senior Ray Giroux, Yale's top
defenseman. "We knew we were good, but we never expected this.
The buzz around campus is unbelievable."
At 20-5 (15-3 in the East Coast Athletic Conference) with four
games left, these Bulldogs are having the best season in Yale's
103-year hockey history. They're 12-0 at home, where they've
sold out an unprecedented six games, and with a four-point lead
in the 12-team ECAC, the Bulldogs could win their conference for
the first time. An ECAC preseason coaches poll predicted that
Yale, which was 10-19-3 last season, would finish 10th in the
conference. Through Sunday, Yale was ranked fifth in the nation.
All of this has happened in part because Tom Beckett took over
as athletic director in July 1994 and set about improving the
testy relationship between Yale's athletics and admissions
departments. By opening up the lines of communication and
insisting that the two branches make their needs clear, Beckett
ensured that, as university president Richard C. Levin says,
"coaches didn't waste time recruiting guys who had no chance of
getting in here."
By honing in on players they know will make the grade with
admissions, the Bulldogs have been more successful in
identifying--and recruiting--the players they want. This has
enabled Yale to assemble a deep cast that includes Giroux, a
likely All-America; sharpshooting sophomore center Jeff
Hamilton, who has a team-leading 21 goals; and outstanding
junior goaltender Alex Westlund, whose .920 save percentage is
fifth in the nation. Coach Tim Taylor has used 30 players this
year and says, "our fourth line plays as many strong shifts as
any of our other lines."
In the often jubilant Bulldogs' dressing room, there is a sign
that reminds players to THINK LAKE PLACID, the annual site of
the ECAC title game. Since 1993, when the message was put on the
wall, Yale has not even advanced past the conference
quarterfinals. Now, however, Giroux says, "Lake Placid would not
Levin, for one, has cleared his schedule for the weekend of
April 2-4, when the NCAA Final Four will be held in Boston. "I
want to be there in case we go all the way," he says. "You never
know. It's been that kind of year."
Michigan State Goalie
HE CAN PASS THE PUCK TOO
Chad Alban's stats are impressive--as of Sunday he led the
nation with a 1.53 goals-against average and a .926 save
percentage--but they don't explain why Alban, a Michigan State
senior, should be the first goalie since Minnesota's Robb
Stauber in 1988 to win the Hobey Baker Award as the top college
player. Not counting saves, the peripatetic Alban handles the
puck some 30 times a game for the Spartans (26-4-5), who were
ranked No. 2 in the nation. He doesn't just stop the disk behind
the net on dump-ins--he snaps bang-on passes to defensemen or
wingers on the breakout. "I try to take pressure off our
defense," he says.
Michigan State coach Ron Mason, who has been around the college
game for 32 years, calls Alban "the best stickhandling goalie
I've seen," and says that the Spartans' system is structured to
take advantage of Alban's skills. Opponents often make
adjustments as well, changing the way they dump in the puck.
Forwards typically win the Hobey, and Boston University center
Chris Drury and Michigan right wing Bill Muckalt (box, right)
are leading candidates who are worthy of the trophy. But only
Alban, who hails from Kalamazoo, Mich., plays 60 minutes a game
and makes an impact on all areas of the ice. He deserves the
ANOTHER SORDID EPISODE
It isn't easy being Maine. The Black Bears' athletic program has
operated under dark clouds since a two-year NCAA investigation
began 13 months after the Maine hockey team won the 1993
national title. The probe uncovered 13 recruiting and six
eligibility violations in a number of sports, but it especially
rocked the hockey program: The Black Bears were forbidden to
play in the '96 and '97 NCAA playoffs, and lost six scholarships
over two years; coach Shawn Walsh was suspended for a year; and
five regulars, including two All-Americas, bolted Maine.
Nevertheless, the Black Bears kept winning, going 72-25-11 from
'94-95 to '96-97. With the playoff ban lifted, Walsh back in
charge and junior captain Steve Kariya (brother of Mighty Ducks
leading man Paul) on the verge of stardom, Maine seemed poised
this season to regain some of its lost luster. Instead the Black
Bears, who were 13-13-3 and in sixth place in Hockey East
through last weekend, have endured a season of inconsistent
play, blowout losses and one horrible phone call.
In December three white players--goalie Bryan Masotta,
defenseman Shawn Mansoff and center Matt Oliver--were charged
with leaving a message replete with racial slurs on the
answering machine of a black Maine football player. Masotta
pleaded no contest to charges of criminal threatening and was
fined $1,000. Charges against Mansoff and Oliver were dropped
and both deny involvement. All three players, however, face
federal civil rights charges.
The players were also suspended from Maine for one year, and the
school directed counselors to meet with the hockey and football
teams to discuss race relations. "That phone call was awful,"
says athletic director Sue Tyler. "As a group we needed to work
things out, to heal."
The hockey program's healing isn't complete: In addition to
having to come to grips with the implications of the racial
incident, the Black Bears won't have a full complement of
scholarships available until next season. "We're still a great
program with a great tradition," says Kariya. "I like to think
the bad times have finally passed."
COLOR PHOTO: LOU CAPOZZOLA Holding on James Chyz is part of a Yale defense that has allowed only 2.2 goals a game.