Roland Betts has followed Yale University men’s hockey through 28 losing seasons after graduating in 1968. Today, he and a group of 30 alumni travel to watch the Bulldogs play their first national semifinal game in 61 years.
The cross-generational group of Yale hockey enthusiasts includes Betts, former lead owner of the Texas Rangers and chairman of Chelsea Piers LP in New York, and Keith McCullough, founder of Hedgeye Risk Management LLC in New Haven, Connecticut. Betts, 66, played for the Bulldogs in 1967-68; McCullough was Yale’s captain 31 years later.
The group has tickets to Yale’s Frozen Four game against the University of Massachusetts Lowell at 4:30 p.m. in Pittsburgh, and many have plans to play golf in the area tomorrow. They haven’t yet scheduled a return trip in the hopes that the Bulldogs make it to their first National Collegiate Athletic Association title game on April 13.
“We’re leaving it open-ended,” Betts said in a telephone interview. “We didn’t anticipate being in the Frozen Four, but since they’re here, we wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Top-ranked Quinnipiac University (29-7-5), located in Hamden, Connecticut, six miles (10 kilometers) from Yale’s New Haven campus, plays Minnesota’s St. Cloud State University (25-15-1) in the second semifinal tonight. The winner of that game will face the winner of the Bulldogs (20-12-3) and River Hawks (28-10-2).
Yale is a 2-to-1 underdog to advance to the final, according to the Las Vegas Hotel & Casino sports book, meaning a $10 bet on the Bulldogs tonight would return $20 plus the original investment. UMass Lowell is the favorite to win the championship at 8-5, followed by Quinnipiac and St. Cloud State at 5-2, with Yale the longshot at 5-1.
It is the second semifinal appearance for the Bulldogs, the country’s oldest college hockey program. Founded in 1896, it was one of two representing the East at the 1952 national championships, before the NCAA adopted its current 16-team format.
McCullough was on the Yale team that went to the NCAA tournament in 1998, the school’s first postseason trip after 1952, and captain for his senior season the following year. He hosted Yale watch parties two weeks ago when the Bulldogs, the lowest seed in the West Regional, advanced to Pittsburgh.
“It’s like watching David versus Goliath,” McCullough said in a telephone interview. “It’s pretty amazing to see Yale beating teams like Minnesota, which has 15 players drafted by NHL teams, while Yale doesn’t even give athletic scholarships.”
Betts was the lead owner of baseball’s Rangers from 1989 to 1998, heading a group of investors that included future U.S. President George W. Bush. He was senior fellow of the Yale Corporation, served on the board of the U.S. Olympic Committee, and in 1992 co-founded Chelsea Piers LP, which developed and operates the sports and entertainment complex on Manhattan’s West Side.
Betts has been to many of Yale’s recent NCAA tournament games, including a 2010 loss to eventual-champion Boston College and a 2011 loss to eventual-champion Minnesota Duluth. He and McCullough spoke of a bond that exists between the current program and its former players.
When the Bulldogs beat Minnesota nine seconds into overtime to advance to the regional final, Betts said, he called Yale Athletic Director Thomas Beckett to brag that his wife, Lois, who he calls a “good-luck charm,” had turned on the television before the start of the extra period. Yale junior Jesse Root, who scored the goal, and senior Josh Balch, who scored the next day against North Dakota, were interns at McCullough’s risk- management firm last year.
“A lot of my colleagues watched the games at our parties, and here are our interns scoring two of the biggest goals in Yale hockey history,” McCullough said. “Now they all assume they’re going to go on and play for the New York Rangers.”
One former Bulldog is on an NHL roster at the moment -- forward Chris Higgins with the Vancouver Canucks. Four members of the current Yale team have been NHL draft picks.
Yale finished the regular season 16-10-3, with victories over Denver and Colorado College, who have 44 NCAA tournament appearances and nine national titles between them. The Bulldogs finished third in the ECAC Hockey conference and entered the NCAA tournament as an at-large bid, the No. 15 seed among 16 teams.
Much of the team’s recent success is owed to coach Keith Allain, a Yale graduate who took over the program in 2006, Betts said. The Bulldogs have made four NCAA tournament appearances in the past five years, versus two prior to Allain’s arrival.
“I truly thought that at Yale you could have the best of both worlds, the best education in the world and compete in hockey at the highest levels,” Allain told reporters last week. “So our mission is to consistently compete for championships.”
McCullough said he is reminded of that transformation when he coaches beginner’s hockey in Fairfield, Connecticut.
“These kids all want to be on the Yale hockey team,” he said. “That’s a new thing.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Eben Novy-Williams in New York at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Sillup at email@example.com