(Photo courtesy of ncaa.com)
To say that goaltender Jeff Malcolm had a storybook ending to his four-year career at Yale University would be a bit of an understatement.
Not only did Malcolm, who has signed an AHL contract with the Hartford Wolf Pack, win a “Frozen Four” championship with the Elis in his last game as a collegian, he shut out the powerhouse Quinnipiac Bobcats in the National Championship Game, on his 24th birthday, no less.
Hard to imagine a better script than that.
“We were kind of joking about it after, me and some of my teammates,” Malcolm said in a recent telephone conversation from his hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta, “how I don’t think I’m going to have a better birthday present than winning a national championship and pitching a shutout for that. I just can’t say enough about that day.
“It was kind of a whirlwind, ending the college career, just trying to graduate and with all that stuff going on, it was kind of an amazing experience, to spend four years with some of your closest friends, and those relationships are going to last forever now. The memories we made this year, those are just amazing memories that we’re never going to forget.”
Now Malcolm is looking ahead to the next chapter of his life, having secured the AHL deal with the Wolf Pack via a strong showing at the parent New York Rangers’ Prospect Development Camp in early July.
“It’s a great opportunity, for me to start my professional career so close to where I went to school,” Malcolm said. “I’m very familiar with the area and I’m pretty excited to get things going.”
The 6-2, 185-pound Malcolm is entering some uncharted territory, too. For the first time in four off-seasons, he does not have the task of a full year of Ivy League studies ahead of him. He has his Yale Political Science degree in his pocket for the future, and can focus his energies completely on hockey.
“I feel like I can invest myself a lot more into the game, and I’ve been doing that this summer,” Malcolm said. “It’s kind of a different feeling heading into this year, not having to worry about school, so it should be an interesting change for me, that’s for sure.”
He got a head start on the transition to the pro game at the five-day Prospect Camp, sampling the amenities at the Rangers’ Tarrytown, NY practice facility and getting to know the organization’s goaltending coach, Benoit Allaire.
“It was an amazing experience, just to see the facility that they have up there in Tarrytown and meet some pretty extraordinary faces and just see what the next level of the game is all about,” said Malcolm about the camp experience. “I’m pretty excited, and I was pretty fortunate to be a part of all that.”
Malcolm was one of three netminders at the camp, and was impressed with the attention that the esteemed Allaire paid to him and his fellow youngsters.
“He was there every day with us, we had an extra goalie session, so I’m looking forward to working with him more down the line,” Malcolm said. “He seems like a great person and a very knowledgeable goaltending coach. I’m pretty excited to have him.”
Allaire’s anticipated tutelage of Malcolm will continue what Malcolm reports has been a career-changing run of fine coaching he has received. Yale head coach Keith Allain is a former Eli goaltender, and Malcolm credits another member of the staff with playing a big role in what was a breakout senior season for the Frozen Four All-Tournament Team selection.
“The addition of (volunteer assistant coach and, ironically, former Quinnipiac goaltender, Josh Siembida) on to our coaching staff this past year, he did a lot of work with me, right from September through to April,” Malcolm said. “Every day we tried to work on something different, so I feel like he helped me take that next step.
“What Keith Allain and his assistants have done with that program, and everyone who has put in the effort to make that program what it is today, it just speaks volumes. I’m just glad that I was a part of it for four years. It was an amazing run.
“His (Allain’s) pedigree is just second to none, I feel. He preaches professionalism, so for us to kind of give that championship to him, we just felt like, he’s an amazing coach, what he’s done for that program, I just can’t say enough about the guy. He’s helped me to get to where I am right now in my career, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without him.”
The NCAA title game triumph for Malcolm and his teammates came at the expense of a Quinnipiac team that had enjoyed a season for the ages. Buoyed by an incredible 18-0-3 run from November 9 through February 9, the Bobcats garnered a plethora of media attention and seemed poised to steamroll to a championship, while the Elis were a mere three games over .500 as late in the season as February 22. According to Malcolm, though, the Yale squad never doubted its potential as a Frozen Four contender.
“I don’t want to take anything away from Quinnipiac’s year, they had a heck of a year and a heck of a run,” Malcolm said. “But our coaches and our leadership group were saying, ‘Just try and get better each and every day,’ and we believed in ourselves and at the end of the tournament there, it was just a product of good team play, and it didn’t really matter what anyone else thought of us. We were just prepared to make a run at it.”
The run culminated in a 4-0 win April 13 in the Frozen Four Championship Game at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Quinnipiac outshot the Elis 36-31 in that game, but none of the Bobcats’ 36 tries got past Malcolm. That was the crowning touch of a senior season that saw him go 20-6-2 with a 2.24 goals-against average, a 91.9% save percentage and three shutouts. Malcolm finished his Yale career with a 36-21-4 record in 67 appearances, with a 2.60 GAA, 90.7% save percentage and six whitewashes. Those six shutouts tie Malcolm for the most in school history, and he owns the third-best career save percentage and win total in program annals, as well as the fourth-best career GAA.
While going to school in New Haven, Malcolm got a chance to take in some AHL action in Bridgeport, supporting former Eli teammates like Sean Backman with the Sound Tigers and Brian O’Neill with the Manchester Monarchs, as they made their way into pro hockey. And as Malcolm and the 2012-13 Yale team captured the first national championship in the 107-year history of Eli men’s hockey, those recent alumni made sure the current squad knew how proud they were of the accomplishment.
“A lot of them reached out to us, I don’t know if it was a little bit envious,” Malcolm joked. “But what they did for our program, when we were younger in our career, they really set the tone for us, and I think that our last year was a product of what they had built in the Yale program, along with Keith. They reached out to us, and they were pretty happy for us.”
Malcolm now will be joining the likes of Backman and O’Neill in the pro ranks, hoping that he can continue to ride the wave of success that made his senior college season an unforgettable success story.