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Yale's hockey team invades Watson Rink February 26 to tangle with the Harvard icemen in an Ivy League matchup. So who cares? This isn't football season and besides, the Crimson throttled the Bulldogs in the last six contests. Who can get excited about an annual "laugher" for Harvard hockey enthusiasts?
This year the Bulldogs and new head coach Tim Taylor are excited, and they sniff victory. The Elis have already won five games this season to surpass their victory total of last year's dismal 4-21 season and are optimistic about their remaining games.
Taylor is the major catalyst of this optimism. Taylor, a former Harvard hockey captain in the early '60s, skated into New Haven to save the losing Yale hockey program after guiding the Crimson freshmen to 79 victories in six seasons.
Taylor is certain of his role as the new Eli mentor injects life into the Bulldogs. He said there is an expectation of things being different when a new coach takes over. "I'm a firm believer in attitude. My first goal was to change the losing attitude of Yale hockey."
"The kids have responded beautifully. The team and the fans approach every game with the feeling that we can win. For the first time we feel we have lost games we could have won."
Two weeks ago in New Haven the fans witnessed another change--a triumph at Yale's Ingalls Rink. After four victories on the road, the Elis edged a strong RPI team, 5-3, for their first home victory of the season.
Taylor said, "The RPI game opened people's eyes to Yale hockey. It's the first time Yale won decisively this year and now the fans are beginning to come."
Until this winter, Yale's ice hockey program provided few wins to cheer about.
The Elis did not triumph in an Ivy League contest in the past two seasons.
The last time they topped the Crimson was February 23, 1974 when the Bulldogs pounded a flu-ridden Harvard squad, 6-1.
The losing reputation of Yale hockey makes it difficult to recruit high school stars. That is why the remaining games, especially in the Ivy League, are so important to Taylor. A few victories will improve the appeal of the Yale hockey program.
Taylor said he feels the future success of the Yale team lies in his ability to get into the New England and Massachusetts' areas of hockey talent and compete for recruits against the successful college clubs.
"It's tough to recruit, especially when a kid sees a place like Dartmouth or is accepted at Harvard," Taylor said.
Still, Taylor is confident that he can sell Yale as the place where a promising young star should play collegiate hockey. After all, Taylor bought it. It was a difficult decision for Taylor to leave Harvard with his strong ties to Crimson coach Bill Cleary and the hockey program but Taylor does not regret the move.
"Bill Cleary and I developed our styles together but I felt it was a good opportunity. There's a lot of inner spirit at Yale. I love it here."
A victory at Watson would bring special satisfaction to Taylor. The excited coach claims his squad will be ready. "This is the biggest game of the year for me. I'm really looking forward to it."
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