All student-athletes have to balance academics and athletics, but perhaps even more so at an Ivy League school, such as Yale. The Bulldogs players have to deal with a rigorous academic grind while trying to play against the best college hockey teams in the nation.
Keith Allain took over at Yale seven years ago during a tumultuous time for the program. Legendary coach Tim Taylor had some success, but it had waned in his final few years at the helm. Allain, a former Yale player who graduated in 1980, said he believed that his alma mater could excel at both academics and hockey.
"I've always believed that you could combine excellence in athletics with excellence in academics. When I came back to Yale, one of the thing that's I wanted to try to prove was that you could go to the best university in the world and compete in college hockey at the very highest level," said Allain.
The players receive financial assistance like any other student going to an Ivy League school, but do not have the benefit of athletic scholarships like most other schools playing Division I hockey.
The players must make time to go to class and study while also playing big-time college athletics. "I'd agree the academic standards are very high, and I'm sure in all the Ivy League schools it's tough to balance the hockey life and education. I don't know what other schools are like. I just know that it's pretty hard for us, and we have proven that we can do both and excel both education‑wise and athletics‑wise," said senior forward Antoine Laganiere.
Laganiere, from Ile Cadieux, Quebec, is a testament to players being able to excel at both academics and athletics. The six-foot-four-inch power forward is a hot commodity among NHL teams. He will be one of the most coveted college free agents once the season ends Saturday night.
Allain has spoke of progression and development a lot since the NCAA Tournament began. "As a program, one of the things we want to be is about growth. We want our players to get better as individuals each and every day, and we want our team to get better as a team each and every day," said Allain.
Progression and development is one thing Laganiere has done well in his career in New Haven. He only had 12 goals in his first two seasons. He scored 19 last year and has 15 this season.
It's not always easy to balance the academics and athletics. Players find themselves dealing with adversity as the academic grind picks up. "Mentally it can wear on you throughout the season, but it's gotten us to this point," said senior goaltender Jeff Malcolm.
Freshman Carson Cooper said it wasn't easy for him to adjust to the difficulties of balancing the education with the hockey. He said it was tougher for him the first semester. "I've been able to, this second semester, really find a groove, and it's helped me in my personal game," said the Bow Island, Alberta native. "Having older guys like Antoine and Jeff, they showed me the ropes, showed me how to balance schoolwork with hockey," added Cooper.
The extra dimension of focus and the need to always make the most out of each situation could help Yale Saturday night as it goes for the first NCAA Hockey Championship in school history. The Bulldogs take on in-state and ECAC rival Quinnipiac at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN2.
Jeff Cox covers college hockey for SBNation. Follow him on twitter @JeffCoxSBNation coverage of the 2013 Frozen Four in Pittsburgh.