By Joshua Boyd / NCDCHockey.com
College hockey players all over the United States are deeply indebted to a former Yale tennis player, and probably 99 percent of them don’t even know it.
It was Malcolm Greene Chace who was introduced to hockey on a tennis trip to the border city of Niagara Falls, N.Y. When he came back, he formed a team that also included students from Brown, Columbia, Cornell and Harvard. This group toured and played in Canada, and then went back to their respective schools to form the first college hockey teams, just as Chace did at Yale itself. He captained his team to a 2-2 tie in their first-ever game against a team from Baltimore on Feb. 15, 1896. The next day, they beat Johns Hopkins University in the United States’ first intercollegiate hockey game.
Former Connecticut Jr. Ranger (and Yale Bulldogs AAA) player Reilly Connors will be the 127th player to serve as Yale captain since Chace first led that inaugural Elis team through the pioneer days.
“I am honored to be elected Captain by my teammates,” said Connors, via e-mail from a European tour, where Yale is playing against two European pro teams while touring Germany, Austria and Slovenia. “I am incredibly lucky to be surrounded by such a dedicated class of seniors who lead our team every day on and off the ice. The history of the program drives our team to build upon the accomplishments of past teams. We strive to make our fans, alumni, and students proud of the 2023-24 Yale Men’s hockey team.”
“Looking at past captains, I have seen that they love to compete, are selfless, and above all attempt to be the best teammate possible every day.”
Connors, who grew up as a fan of Yale while growing up in Madison, Conn., 20 miles east down Long Island sound. Yale really was the school of his dreams.
‘Coach Jim Henkel’s devotion to development through video, on-ice skills in practice, and presence on the bench during games helped me become more prepared for college hockey.’ – Former Jr. Ranger Reilly Connors
“The diverse student body is full of so many talented, driven, and charismatic students. Meeting people from all around the world with such different backgrounds has been an incredible privilege,” added Connors. “As a local kid, playing for my favorite childhood team has been nothing but a special experience. Competing alongside such hardworking and dedicated teammates makes going to the rink everyday a blast.”
Connors first joined Yale in the 2021-22 season, putting up nine points in 30 games before improving to 12 points in 31 games this past year, also improving from four goals in his first season to seven this past year.
“With a shorter season than that of junior hockey, every game, practice, and workout is that much more important,” Connors said. “Being able to balance academics with our hockey schedule allows us to give our best effort in every facet of our schedule at the rink.”
Connors joined the Connecticut Jr. Rangers in the most unique season of NCDC hockey so far – the 2020-21 year, when the entire league moved to Florida to play the bulk of the second half of the season. Every player was put up in condos at the prestigious and beautiful Saddlebrook Resort in Wesley Chapel, Fla., and they played most of their games at the AdventHealth Center Ice facility in the same town. Due to the COVID-19 virus still raging at that time, before vaccines, the Hub City Tampa initiative saw players restricted to moving only between the rink and the resort in a “closed community” setting.
Connors played all 22 of his games with the Jr. Rangers in Florida, posting an 8-7-15 line. Back home, he put up a 2-3-5 line over four playoff games against Utica and the Jersey Hitmen, the latter moving on to win that year’s Dineen Cup.
Having already committed to Yale in 2018 out of the Loomis Chaffee School, Connors was also named to play in the first of two NCDC All-Star events in Florida, scoring a goal in the game as well.
“Having the opportunity to play in the ‘bubble’ down in Florida gave me the chance to not miss out on a year of competing on the ice. I was able to complete my second semester of my freshman year while still competing with a regular season junior hockey schedule,” added Connors. “With every new team, you learn from the guys around you. I was lucky to be able to learn and grow from the great leadership present when joining halfway through the season.
“Jim Henkel and Vincent Montalbano were amazing coaches that wanted nothing more than their players to develop,” he said. “Coach Henkel’s devotion to development through video, on-ice skills in practice, and presence on the bench during games helped me become more prepared for college hockey.”
His time in Florida with the Jr. Rangers was not the only time he wore the Red, White and Blue jerseys. He had also skated for the Jr. Rangers 16U team in the USPHL 16U Conference during the 2015-16 season as a 15-year-old.
“I was coached by [Jr. Rangers Owner] Bob Crawford and [NHL alum] Peter Ferraro my 16U year,” said Connors. “They have been incredible mentors to me and I can’t thank them enough for what they have done for my hockey career. When the opportunity presented itself [in 2020-21], it was an easy decision to go back to play for the program that connected me with such amazing coaches and people.”
This fall, he’ll be back with even more amazing coaches and people with Yale, getting ready to push the program to the highest level and keep the championship in the ECAC and in Connecticut, after seeing fellow statesmen Quinnipiac University win the National Championship this past spring. The trip to Europe is just part of the long road of preparation for the grind of a long but always rewarding season of hockey.
“With whatever role I am given, I am hoping to master it to the best of my ability,” said Connors. “Specifically, being a nuisance on the forecheck has always been a part of my game. I am going to work on creating more dirty offense and playing a 200-foot game to help our team win games. We, as a class, strive to be great teammates, spread confidence, and bring excitement to the rink everyday.”
The NCDC congratulates Reilly Connors on being named Captain of Yale University for the 2023-24 season and wishes Reilly the very best of luck!