March 26, 2009

By Amy Farnum Novin

Sometimes, a little differentiation from the routine can give you a unique perspective of everyday life. 

It was definitely a break from the ordinary when the Yale University men’s ice hockey team was led outside the friendly confines of Ingalls Rink by head coach Keith Allain to a frozen pond on the Course at Yale to “practice” on Jan. 20. 

“It was surprise that day,” said senior Patrick Brosnihan.  “It came up pretty quickly.  We had all planned on being at practice for our regular practice at the rink, and then we got here that day and found out there was a change of plans. 
Everybody was ecstatic to have that opportunity to switch it up from the daily grind of hockey season and go out and have fun for a day.”

Allain’s daughter Josefine gave him the idea to practice outdoors, and with assistance from team staff and athletic administrators, the idea came to fruition.  Two areas of the pond were cleared of almost a foot of snow, and nets and equipment were brought over from the indoor rink.   “Operation Pond Hockey 2009” was completed with a fire burning in a 50-gallon metal can, and hot chocolate and Powerade were served as refreshments.  It was believed to be the first time since the 1920s that the Yale squad officially practiced on natural outdoor ice.

The opportunity to loosen up could not have come at a better time for the Bulldogs.  They had just come off a weekend where they fell to Clarkson, 4-3, and then lost a 2-0 lead to tie St. Lawrence. 

“I definitely think it gave us a little spark,” said Brosnihan.  “It was a good refresher for us because I think sometimes when you’re playing all these games you focus on the wins and losses and forget why you’ve played the game as long as you have.”

Immediately following the outdoor session, Yale kicked off an eight-game winning streak with an upset of then-No. 3 Cornell University on Jan. 23.   The Bulldogs moved into first place in the ECAC Hockey standings during the winning streak, and eventually clinched the program’s first regular season championship since 1998.

“(Practicing outside) took some pressure off of everyone on the team, and definitely contributed in some way to the run we went on after that,” said Brosnihan.  “I think everybody was mentally refreshed and in a good state of mind and enjoyed the games after that a lot more, too.”

Yale (24-7-2) went on to claim the school’s first-ever ECAC Hockey Tournament title as the Bulldogs handily defeated Cornell, 5-0, on March 21.  The victory earned an automatic berth in the NCAA Division I Championship – the program’s first since 1998.

"The whole thing is just incredible,” said Allain after the NCAA selection show. “You dream about moments like this and now we have a chance to do something special.”  Allain, a former Bulldog goaltender (1976-80) is in his third year as Yale’s head coach and was recently named the ECAC Hockey and College Hockey News Coach of the Year.

The Bulldogs will face Vermont on March 27 in the NCAA Hockey East Regional at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.  Game time is 6:30 p.m.

“It’s a tribute to this group, and how we’ve handle each step of success because with each milestone that we’ve reached, everyone has been hungrier for more,” said Brosnihan.  “We know we’re a good hockey team, but our work is not finished and we need to keep getting better heading into this weekend because we have some very stiff competition coming up.”

The Yale-Vermont winner will meet the winner of Michigan-Air Force on March 28 for an opportunity to advanced to the 2009 Men’s Frozen Four.