This Championship Season: Yale Hockey And The Ducks

Justin K. Aller

I wouldn't be a fan of the Ducks if it wasn't for the Yale hockey team.

It has been more than 24 hours, and it still hasn't completely sunk in.

My Yale Bulldogs are national champions. And without them, I wouldn't be a Ducks fan (more on that later).

Yale beat rival Quinnipiac University, 4-0, for college hockey's greatest honor on Saturday night at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. The championship game was billed as "The Battle of Whitney Avenue," but "The Battle Of York Street" might be a better title. Every Saturday, Yalies and Quinnipiac students converge upon a grimy dance club on the latter street called Toad's. The Quinnipiac students are bussed in from Hamden, CT, mere miles from Yale's location in New Haven. Toad's, specifically, is known for its sticky floors, go-go dancers, and penny drinks. And there's a stage, too (I've seem some questionable things happen on that stage).

The rivalry is mostly playful, but it rears its head in certain classist and sexist ways. A lot of Yalies unfairly categorize Quinnipiac students as "guidos" and drunk, easy girls who zigzag across the intersection of York and Elm in leopard prints - even in the dead of winter - and stilettos. Some Quinnipiac students think that Yalies are nasty and entitled.

Respect was at stake on Saturday night. Quinnipiac had been a Division II school until the mid-nineties, and wanted to show that their number one overall seed was not a fluke (despite their loss, it wasn't) - and that they weren't just a party school. Yale had been knocking on the door for several years, and wanted to kick it in. Both Quinnipiac and Yale are in the ECAC, a conference that is widely thought of as one of the weakest in college hockey. Regardless of the outcome, the NCAA champion would be from an ECAC school, a feat that had not occurred since 1989, when Harvard (boo!) won it all.

The play was even for the first 20 minutes of the game. Quinnipiac goaltender Eric Hartzell and Yale goalie Jeff Malcolm each did their best Jonas Hiller impressions, and skaters were forced to crash their respective creases to generate scoring opportunities. There were also a ton of power plays that neither team converted. Excellent stick work from Yale's defensemen also averted some near-goals from Quinnipiac.

Finally, Yale forward Clinton Bourbonais scored with 3.5 seconds left in the second period. That goal opened the floodgates, and Yale never looked back. Charles Orzetti and captain Andrew Miller added to the total before the third period was halfway over, and Quinnipiac began to unravel. Their two biggest scoring threats - Matthew Peca and Jordan Samuels-Thomas - had no answer. Finally, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold pulled Hartzell with 7:35 left in the period. This was a gutsy move from a coach desperate to generate offense, but it only resulted in an empty-net goal for Yale forward and Pittsburgh native Jesse Root. By this point, Quinnipiac's fate had been sealed.

This was the culmination of what many had regarded as the ultimate Cinderella story. Yale was the 15th seed in the tournament, and the last team selected. We didn't score a single goal in the ECAC Tournament (ironically, the NCAA championship was a rematch of the ECAC Tournament consolation game). Had Michigan beat Notre Dame in the CCHA championship game, Yale wouldn't have made the field of 16. Despite the luck and serendipity that got us into the tournament, once in, we took complete advantage of the opportunity, dominating every team in our midst. We were expected to crumble to Minnesota in the first round, and we beat them. Same goes for North Dakota and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

I couldn't make it to Pittsburgh to see the Bulldogs win in person, but I watched the ESPN broadcast with a mixture of shock and delight (as one usually watches ESPN). When the boys raised the championship trophy, I thought about that day in Fall 2011 when the dining hall workers shook the players' hands as they entered Commons (the big dining hall on campus) to eat lunch. At that time, Yale was undefeated at home, and had just been named the number one team in the country. When Andrew Miller was interviewed, I thought of how we compared problem sets in Statistics.

These are guys that I saw everyday - in seminars, rollerblading up Science Hill, walking to practice, and even stumbling around frat houses in too-tight pajamas (it's called "Jammy Jam"). It was thrilling to see people I knew profiled in the national media. There is a certain intimacy that comes with this championship - this is Yale's team, and their championship is ours, too. Which is why I texted an ecstatic "WE DID IT!" to anyone who might care (sorry for the spoiler, Chris!). And that "WE" not only includes the current crop of Yale players and fans, but the previous classes of players who laid the groundwork for Saturday's victory.

I was in the stands in Worcester, MA, during Yale's 2010 NCAA tournament appearance, when Denny Kearney placed the team on his back to win the regional semifinal against North Dakota. And when Mark Arcobello scored a hat trick in a losing effort to Boston College the next day. I was there in 2011 when Chad Ziegler won the regional semifinal with an lunging overtime goal, and the next day, when Brian O'Neill was ejected from the regional final against Minnesota-Duluth. And when we failed to make the tournament in 2012, my senior year, I was crushed.

As I alluded to at the beginning of this piece, I am a fan of the Ducks because of Yale hockey. I learned to appreciate the game while sitting on the hard wooden benches at the Whale (aka Ingalls Rink), beneath its vaulted, wooden ceiling. I loved watching their tape-to-tape passes, their speed, their elegance. (When I say I like "pretty hockey," this is what I mean). During the spring of 2010 - when I first became really serious about hockey - I noticed two players that epitomized the "Yale style" - Cam Fowler and Emerson Etem. And when the Ducks drafted them, I became a fan of their organization.

Stick tap to Joe Fortunato, Editor of Blueshirt Banter. His lovely "My Love For Quinnipiac Hockey" post last week inspired me to write this one.

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