Yale won its only ECAC regular-season championship in 1998. The Bulldogs also made the NCAA tournament for only the second time in school history, led by future NHL players Ray Giroux and Jeff Hamilton
. Since then, the Bulldogs have been unable to repeat either feat and have only two winning seasons.
But over the last three seasons, coach Keith Allain has instituted a winning environment at Ingalls Arena. This weekend, Yale (19-6-2; 14-4-2 ECAC), ranked No. 10 in the NHL.com poll, will have a chance to win its first Cleary Cup since 1998 and pave the path to what would be only its third NCAA tournament appearance, with 1998 and 1952 the other seasons the Bulldogs played into late March.
"The best way to improve in any organization is to get good people with a strong work ethic, set high standards and make them accountable," Allain said. "I have been fortunate enough to be surrounded by high-character individuals. We believe very strongly in the value of daily practice habits. Our guys are extremely competitive and constantly push themselves and each other to improve."
Rebuilding a struggling program would be hard, but Allain's attitude and idea of how he wanted the program to run didn't just reach the players he was about to coach, but also those who were pondering whether they should come to Yale. That's why their current leading scorer, sophomore forward Broc Little (28 points), decided to come to Yale.
"I chose Yale because at the time that I was looking at schools, they were not having much success," Little said, "but I knew they had a good class coming in the year before me as well as a new coach, so it seemed that they were bound for a turnaround and I wanted to be apart of it.
"When I came on my visit, I really enjoyed hanging out with the guys on the team. They seemed like they all liked it here and that helped me make my decision. I also really enjoyed the atmosphere at Ingalls when I went to a game; the band and the fans are great."
In his two seasons at Yale, Little has seen that chemistry grow stronger and has also witnessed the work ethic and daily practice habits Allain preached in the beginning become second-hand nature for the players.
"Coach does a great job making sure the team is focused day in and day out," Little said. "We all know that it is hard to win in this league and even when things are going well, coach makes sure that we are being productive everyday in practice and striving to get better. It's a good philosophy because it's a long season and every team is going to have its ups and downs, so keeping an even keel is important."
The Bulldogs have been consistent with that philosophy all season, but it really paid off during an eight-game win streak from Jan. 23-Feb. 14, that propelled them into their current spot in the ECAC standings and gave them national recognition in the polls.
"I think the biggest thing that we were doing right during the streak was that our day to day approach never changed," Allain said. "We celebrated each victory and then got up the next day and went right back to work."
Allain still saw that from his team in a tie with Quinnipiac and a 2-0 loss to Princeton last weekend.
"I really don't think that has changed over this weekend even though we had a tie and a loss," he said. "The loss at Princeton was a high-level hockey game between two good teams. They were able to get the win on a third period power play goal and we give them credit for that, but I was proud of the way our kids played."
As they enter the weekend with a chance at cementing themselves in Yale hockey history, Allain, Little and the rest of the Bulldogs know what's at stake, but they also know they won't continue this improbable season deep into March if they don't maintain the approach that got them to this point.
"I think the fact that we are fighting for the ECAC regular season championship this weekend is more than enough to make sure we are focused this weekend," Little said. "Friday night is going to be the biggest game of the year for us so far, so nobody is looking past that. I am sure we will have a packed house at Ingalls and it should be a great environment to play such a big game in."
On Campus clips
— UMass-Amherst sophomore forward James Marcou
was named Hockey East Player of the Week. Marcou had a five-point weekend in the sweep of Maine. He recorded three assists in Friday and a goal and an assist in Saturday's victory. ... The Bank of New York Mellon Hockey Humanitarian Award has announced the 10 finalists for the 2009 award, presented annually to college hockey's finest citizen. Here's the finalists: Ryan Adler, Senior, Hobart College; Andrew Brolsma, Senior, Castleton State College; Greg Copeland, Senior, Marian University; Ethan Cox, Junior, Colgate University; Missy Elumba, Senior, Northeastern University; Eric Greene, Senior, SUNY Plattsburgh; Crysti Howser, Senior, Yale University; Jerad Kaufmann, Senior, University of Nebraska at Omaha; Jeff Lerg
, Senior, Michigan State University; Dagney Willey, Senior, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities.