I've already blabbed about Quinnipiac, so let me tell you about Yale. About 10 years ago, back when I would skate for Yale Youth Hockey six days a week, anyone who walked into Ingalls Rink (the Yale Whale) through the wall of doors on Sachem Street would see a couple of metal-and-glass cases, on legs maybe four and a half feet high, more or less parallel to the ground. If I had enough time to dilly-dally before getting dressed for practice, I'd walk over to the cases and take a look. In there was a little bit of Yale memorabilia (sepia photos of white guys wearing inadequate pads), and then there were a couple of felt boards with insertable plastic letters, which displayed ECAC standings. It looked like the directory at a low-rent office building, or the posted menu at a diner. The cases are still there, I've learned, but who knows if the felt boards are.
The women would occasionally pop to the top of their board, but the men, well, almost never. Aside from one miracle season in 1997-98—which landed them in the NCAA tournament, only to get spanked by Ohio State, 4-0, in the team's first game—the Bulldogs when I was there would lose, lose, lose. And they would lose despite a handful of really talented—by ECAC standards, at least—players (Ray Giroux, Alex Westlund, Jeff Hamilton, Chris Higgins) passing through the program. They would never make their way up that felt chart.
Looking back on it, the Yale program of that era—recall, this was the nation's oldest college hockey program—seemed to have shrunken ambitions. Tim Taylor kept his job, which he had held for nearly 30 years, despite his considerably sub-.500 record. The rink had a tiny, wooden press box that likely gave every working print hack splinters. (Everyone else in attendance would get splinters, too, from the ratty bleachers.) The locker rooms weren't much to look at, and I doubt there was a single piece of fully functional electronic equipment in the whole place. It was the kind of place, and the kind of program, that would display conference standings on a felt board with movable plastic letters and numbers, under a glass case.
In the no-scholarships Ivy League, though, a half-assed program can look appropriately modest. (It's just like WASPs who fill their houses with wicker furniture.) And the games were still insanely fun to attend. I'd throw on my dark blue Dickey 88 jersey and heckle the Quebeçois opponents with funny names, and I'd circle around the concourse and bump into a teammate or two, gleefully swilling Surge, which was a thing back then.
But eventually the people with the money speak up, and pay up, and get what they want. Taylor, the old coach, was forced out in 2006, and administrators picked Keith Allain—a former Yale goalie, then an assistant with the NHL's St. Louis Blues—to take his place. A year later, the school approved $23 million for a massive player-centric extension to the rink, and by 2009, the Whale was as pristine as a beluga. Allain's team, too, had won its first ECAC championship, and it would soon earn its first No. 1 overall ranking ever and its first NCAA tournament win since 1952. They were on their way.
This win is for them, yes, for Jeff Malcolm, Andrew Miller, Antoine Laganiere, Jesse Root, Kenny Agostino, and everyone else that turned the Bulldogs into a national powerhouse under Allain. But it's also for Higgins and Giroux and Westlund and Hamilton and Nick Deschenes and Ryan Steeves and Tim freaking Taylor, the ones who busted their asses for all of us—long before the university honchos in Woodbridge Hall decided to give the hockey team a big shot—even though the prospect of ascending through the ranks on that cheap felt board, locked though it was only a few inches under a sheet of protective glass, felt so incredibly distant.