Long time comin'
Former Yale player recalls team's run in 1952 tournament
PITTSBURGH -– The last time Yale played for the college hockey championship, Harry Truman was stopping the buck in the Oval Office.
Twelve American presidents, including Truman, have called the White House home since Yale lost to Colorado College 4-3 in the 1952 NCAA Division I men’s ice hockey tournament -- it hadn’t yet picked up the Frozen Four nickname. Think about that for just a second, everything that’s taken place in those 61 years.
Wars have been fought in Korea, Vietnam, the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan. The Cold War came and went.
President Kennedy was assassinated, and so were his brother, Robert Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.
Twelve men walked on the moon. There was 9/11.
So, sure, it’s been a while since Yale was in contention for the sport’s biggest prize. Even so, the school is still one up on the other three vying for this year’s crown -- none of them had ever made it this far.
Mike Robinson was a defenseman on that ’52 Yale squad, and he was at Consol Energy Center on Thursday to watch as the Bulldogs scored a thrilling 3-2 overtime victory against Massachusetts-Lowell in their semifinal game.
From the first time he saw Yale play this year, Robinson was sure they could make it to the Frozen Four.
“I didn’t believe it,” Robinson said just before game time. “I watched then in New Haven [Conn.] this spring, and I didn’t think they had it. Some games would be good, some games very so-so.”
Now, however, Robinson is on board.
“They have put it together -- very exciting,” he continued.
The NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament was just four years old when head coach Murray Murdoch led Yale to the top of the Pentagonal League – yes, that was actually the name of the league -- in 1952. None of the players had been “recruited,” per se.
“We were very well-balanced,” Robinson said. “We had three lines. Anyone could’ve been the first line, and we had a hell of a goalie [in Paul Cruikshank].”
If talent on the ice got Yale to the tournament that year, their relationship off it was one of those intangibles that is hard to capture for any team, then or now.
“It was a very good bunch of friends,” Robinson said. “We had a good team and we could win games, so that was fun.”
Robinson is on a roll now. Asked if the players from ’52 are still close, he’s got a quick answer. Then again, he doesn’t appear to be the sort to mince a lot of words.
“We could play together as a unit, as a team,” he added. “It wasn’t you or me. It was a team. That has continued today. They’re all very good friends today.”
Murdoch had been coaching Yale since 1938. The first player ever signed by the NHL’s New York Rangers, Murdoch lasted 27 years at the school with an overall record of 278-236-20.
Playing for Murdoch was “a joy.”
“We all came from a bunch of schools in the New England area, and we all got to New Haven -- didn’t know one another. None of us had been recruited. There wasn’t such a word then. We went down, met the coach and started trying to get on the team. We had a very compatible bunch of guys, very good friends.”
The obvious thing might be to compare Yale’s two most recent teams to make it to the men’s hockey championship, but not for Robinson. He’s not one of those so-called old-timers who pine for the good ol’ days, insisting that then was better than now.
Not by a long shot, actually.
“These guys, a lot of them [went] to places to get polished up before they went to Yale,” Robinson said. “It’s a different world, totally. Totally. I don’t think any of [my] contemporaries could’ve made the Yale team today. We were just a bunch of students who were good friends.”
A history major, Robinson spent two years in the Navy after Yale and then returned to Pittsburgh where he worked in the manufacturing business. Six decades passed between Robinson’s first and second championship hockey games.
It’s now only two days until his next.