National Champions


No offense to composer Cole Porter, but that famous refrain of “Bulldog, bulldog, bow, wow, wow,” which is the heart and soul of the school fight song he wrote while attending Yale University during the early 1900s, needs a little tweaking.

After watching Yale feast on the competition to capture its first ever NCAA Men’s Division I Hockey Championship Saturday night, Handsome Dan (XVII), Yale’s bulldog mascot, showed his bite is definitely worse than his bark. So, Mr. Porter, here’s the deal: Less “bow,” more “wow.”

In fact, “Wow” would be a great place to start in describing Yale’s climb up the tournament ladder from nearly worst to first … its ascension from the 15th seed in a 16-team field to the last team standing … to being the first team in tourney history to defeat three number-one regional seeds … Minnesota, UMass Lowell and Quinnipiac, has “wow” written all over it. Then, it all culminated Monday night, back home in Ingalls Rink, where, in front of more than 1,000 adoring fans, the Bulldogs took a bow. Among the players making a curtain call were two former Big Green standouts: Antoine Laganiere ’09 and Alex Ward ’11.

For Laganiere, however, this college stuff was just the tip of the iceberg. He no sooner had turned one dream into reality then saw a second come to fruition. On Tuesday night, the native of Ile Cadieux, Quebec, signed a free agent contract with the National Hockey League’s Anaheim Ducks. Laganiere’s signing now gives Anaheim two former Deerfield Academy players, as defenseman Ben Lovejoy ’02 is also on the Ducks’ roster.

“It’s exciting,” said Laganiere, of his signing an NHL contract. “I think it’s something every kid who’s ever laced up a pair of skates has dreamed about. I’ve got my chance to do something I’ve wanted to since I was a kid. Now, I just have to go out and make the most of that chance.”

“I’m really excited to be a part of the Anaheim organization,” added Laganiere, who chipped in an assist during Yale’s 4-0 win over Quinnipiac in the championship game and scored a goal during a 3-2 semifinal-round overtime win over UMass Lowell. “In the end, it was really a difficult decision, as many teams offered good opportunities and were very respectful and kind in every way.

“But, I saw a great potential in Anaheim for me, both to develop as a player and as a person,” continued Laganiere, who finished the season as Yale’s third leading scorer with 29 points on 15 goals and 14 assists and finished his four-year career there with 46 goals and 39 assists for 85 points. “I love the organization and the people there, and I know I will have the opportunity to work hard and hopefully one day play for them.”

One guy who can see that scenario happening is Brendan Creagh, who was Laganiere’s coach at Deerfield.

“Antoine’s an extremely talented and motivated athlete,” said Creagh, who watched his former charge ring up 68 points in 58 games while playing for the Big Green, “and those are two assets you have to have to be successful at the level of hockey he is about to be playing at. He showed he was a very talented and motivated athlete when he was here and during his collegiate career, so I’m quite confident he will do the same on the professional level.”

Although Ward, a sophomore, hasn’t logged the skating time, nor the statistics that Laganiere has accumulated, his attitude is a well-known commodity by the Yale coaching staff, “and that’s why they really love Alex down there,” said Creagh, who is well aware this Bulldog pup is able to put points on the board after posting 54 of them in 68 games at Deerfield. “Like Antoine, he’s a very determined and driven athlete and he’s one of those team-first guys as well … he’ll do anything to help the team and they love him for that at Yale.”

That attitude, drive, and determination would probably go a long way in explaining why Ward is the only Yale walk-on to make the varsity roster during the seven years Keith Allain has been coaching the Bulldogs.

“It’s been a blast playing hockey here at Yale the last two years,” said Ward, who was the recipient of the Deerfield Hockey Cup–the team’s MVP award–in 2011, “but the last couple of weeks, that’s been awesome.

“It was surreal being a part of all the celebration,” added Ward. “You grow up watching these championship games on TV, but never figure you’ll be a part of one of them … until this. I remember thinking that I never wanted to leave the ice … that I wanted this celebration to last forever.”

And it nearly did.

“After a locker room celebration, we got on the bus and headed back to the hotel, where … I’ll never forget it, … there were about 300 Yale fans waiting to greet us … it was just an awesome night,” remembers Laganiere. “I don’t think any of us got any sleep.”

And is often the case, morning came early for the weary Bulldogs. The bus departed the hotel at 7 am sharp for an 8:30 am charter flight home. “We got a police escort from Bradley (airport) to the campus,” said Ward. Then, it was suddenly back to reality–the books never close on an Ivy League campus. Ward had to prepare for a French class at 9:20 Monday morning, while Laganiere had an economics seminar at 10–and don’t bother blaming the mascot for eating your homework.

“It was really kind of cool,” said Laganiere of his seminar. “The professor, whom I never thought of as a sports enthusiast, gave me a shout out and all the kids started clapping.”

That night, the love fest culminated with a rally at Ingalls Rink. More than 1,000 fans attended. They had pictures taken with the championship trophy and their favorite players.

“Then,” said Laganiere, “all the players sat down at a long table and signed autographs for the fans as they filed past … it was a lot of fun.”

It better be–where he’s headed, he’ll be doing a lot more of it.