After struggling through six- and four-win seasons as freshmen and sophomores, Chris Legg, Keith Kirley, Tye Korbl, Paul Esdale, Owen Walter and Jason Wilson saw their perseverance begin to pay off last winter, when the Bears finished .500 in the ECAC and made their first playoff appearance in three years. This winter, though, the Bears truly turned the corner. They had their first winning season since 1995, their first win in a playoff game since 1998, and most significantly, their first appearance in the ECAC Final Four since 1994.
“When we were struggling [in 2000 and 2001],” says coach Roger Grillo, whose team finished 16–14–5 overall, “I thought we were still playing pretty good hockey; we just didn’t have quite enough firepower to pull games out. But [the seniors] stayed true to themselves, true to the program, and true to the University. They brought a lot of intensity to the table every day. They’re going to be sorely missed.”
The Bears finished fifth in the ECAC at 10–8–4, and in the opening round of the playoffs swept last-place Princeton, 2–1 and 3–1, in a pair of games at Meehan that turned out to be more difficult than expected. That sweep set the stage for a quarterfinal series at fourth-seeded Yale—as well as for some of Brown hockey’s finest moments in a decade.
The Bears won game one, 4–3, on a Brent Robinson ’04 goal at 9:40 into overtime. The unflappable Yann Danis ’04 turned aside forty-one shots in the Bears’ first victory at Ingalls Rink in seven years. The Bulldogs won game two, 2–1, but game three belonged to Brown. The Bears took advantage of a pair of Yale defensive lapses in the second period to grab a 2–0 lead on goals by Robinson and Wilson, then sealed a 4–0 win with two empty-net goals in the third period. Danis, who this season finished ninth in the country in goals-against average (2.31) and third in save percentage (.929), was spectacular again in the cage, stopping thirty-five shots while earning his fifth shutout of the season and the eighth of his career, both Brown records. Danis’s defense was also superb in front of him: Yale had just six third-period shots on goal.
However, the Bears’ magic dried up in the ECAC Championships at the Pepsi Arena in Albany. Cornell, the tournament’s top seed and the country’s second-ranked team, limited the Bears to one shot on goal in the first period and a season-low eleven for the entire game. After the 2–0 Cornell victory, the Bears faced Dartmouth in the consolation game the next day, losing 4–2.
Next year’s team should be at least as good. Returning with Danis will be four starting defensemen and six of this season’s top-ten scorers, including Robinson, who led the team with fifteen goals and twenty-three assists.
“I think we can be better next year, without question,” says Grillo. “The program is to the point now where, with the recruits we have coming in and the kids we have returning, we feel very good about things.”