The Yale Whale


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It is there, at the corner of Prospect and Sachem Streets in the almost four centuries old New England city of New Haven, Connecticut, that stands what is easily the most single most amazing ice hockey arena not just in all the United States of America but, indeed, the entire world, itself.

To this very day, architects across the globe still marvel at as well as seriously study the spectacular DAVID S. INGALLS RINK, which is, technically speaking, not actually on the campus of YALE UNIVERSITY, itself, but neither a building that exactly blends in with the rows of three-story houses in the working-class neighborhood it neighbors, either.

For more than half a century old now, the very distinct YALE WHALE, as the unique hockey arena is widely known in common parlance, has faithfully served as the home ice of every consensus First Team (East) All-America and / or future National Hockey League skater that the long and storied Yale Bulldogs varsity has ever boasted.

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Not long after the Yale varsity brought the third place trophy won at the 1952 NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament in Colorado Springs all the way back to New Haven, it was decided that the Ivy League school required a proper rink of its own if the Bulldogs could be fairly expected to compete year in and year out with the skaters of traditional arch-enemy to the north in Massachusetts, Harvard University. And so a very talented graduate of the Yale School of Architecture (Class of 1934) was recruited by JUAN TRIPPE, the innovative Chairman of the Board of Directors for Pan American World Airways who also just so happened to be a Yale alum, to design a brand new facility for a Bulldogs team then trained by MURRAY MURDOCH, the former New York Rangers left wing who had set the National Hockey League record for consecutive games played. Once Yale University president A. WHITNEY GRISWOLD had approved the architect’s plans as well as overcome the fierce opposition put forth by some of the alumni and faculty, construction on the ambitious project began in 1956.

The “exciting and prolific” EERO SAARINEN had been born in Finland but moved to the United States with his family at an early age and grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, the very same place which would, one day, also serve as the hometown of one ANDREW MILLER, the captain of the 2012/13 Yale University ice hockey team. Back in in 1953, no less of a publication than The New York Times had already described Saarinen as “the most widely known and respected architect of his generation.” Indeed, Saarinen had already designed the would-be iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis (which was not actually built until the early 1960s) and, among other things, would also be responsible for the “ultramodern, wavelike” TWA Terminal at Kennedy International Airport in New York City, the Dulles International Airport near Washington, D.C., as well as the CBS corporate headquarters building in downtown Manhattan.

The distinguishing architectural characteristic of the Yale Whale is Saarinen’s arched roof, which has a maximum height of 23 meters and is considered to be a hallmark of the classic Modernist style. The reinforced concrete which serves as the novel ice arena’s humpback spine is 90 meters long. An innovative system of cables attached to the arch supports the timber frame inside the rink while another set of exterior cables, conceived by project engineer FRED N. SEVERUD, connect the arch to the outer edges of the aluminum roof in order to address forces caused by asymmetrical wind loads.

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The final tab for the Yale Whale came to $ 1.5 million dollars (which turned out to be twice as much as the original cost estimate) with the lion’s share of the financing for the new ice rink in New Haven being generously provided by the prominent Ingalls family.

DAVID S. INGALLS, SR., had enrolled as a freshman at Yale University in the fall of 1916 but was inducted into the United States Navy as an aviator by the very next spring. The native of Cleveland, Ohio, found himself in France by the fall of 1917 and eventually would earn the Navy Distinguished Service Medal for his efforts during First World War. Ingalls shot down six German planes, a total which made the Bulldogs frosh the one and only U.S. Navy fighter pilot to attain the coveted “ace” status.

Ingalls returned to Yale just in time to captain the Bulldogs varsity for the two February games in Brooklyn (the loss to Harvard and the victory over Princeton) that comprised the entire 1918/19 ice hockey schedule. The decorated World War I hero also skippered Yale again when the Bulldogs compiled a record of four wins against five losses during the 1919/20 campaign. It is interesting to note that Yale University’s outdoor rink was unplayable in February of 1920 and so the Bulldogs contested all three of its home games in Philadelphia.

By the early 1950s, after again serving as an officer in the U.S. Navy during the Second World War, Ingalls had become a member of the Board of Directors for Pan American World Airways but probably had not forgotten that he, himself, had never actually skated a home game for Yale University ice hockey team in the city of New Haven, itself.

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It was not even until the long since gone New Haven Arena appeared in 1926 that the Yale varsity began to stage all of its “home” games at the same physical location with any consistency. An indoor hockey of the very same name had been originally been constructed on Grove Street in 1916 but had never really been embraced by the Bulldogs before burning down eight years later. A replacement rink was quickly re-built, however, primarily in order to house the fledgling New Haven Eagles of the new Canadian-American Hockey League.

No fewer than five of the original New Haven Eagles had spent the previous 1925/26 season skating for the Boston Bruins in the elite National Hockey League. One of those players, the Canadian forward NORM SHAY, later settled in neighboring Hamden, Connecticut, and would become a linesman in both the Can-Am circuit and its successor, the American Hockey League. Shay’s son, Ted, later became a prominent player for the Yale University squad that finished in third place at the 1952 NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament.

The blue-shirted Bulldogs were still sharing the New Haven Arena downtown with the minor league professionals when one DAVID S. INGALLS, JR., arrived on the Yale University campus and was chosen as the captain of the freshman team for the 1952/53 season.

Dave Ingalls, like his father had before him, also became the skipper of the Yale varsity in his senior season. It was, indeed, the captain Ingalls who made a fine pass from behind the net to provide linemate JOHN AKERS with the chance to score the only goal of the game early in the second period when the Bulldogs defeated fierce rival Harvard by the minimum scoreline on March 3, 1956. This historic result would prove to be the very last time that Yale ever did beat the hated Crimson at the old New Haven Arena.

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Saarinen’s masterpiece, which was christened the DAVID S. INGALLS RINK to honor the father and son who had both captained the Bulldogs varsity, was completed in time to begin the 1958/59 campaign. Although Yale featured would be First Team (East) All-America GERRY JONES between the pipes and went on to finish that season with a respectable record of 12 wins against nine losses with one tie, the inauguration contest against Northeastern University on December 3, 1958, was not a triumphant occasion. A meager crowd of only nine hundred spectators (it was a midweek match, for the record) showed up at the newly-opened Yale Whale (which has always maintained the official capacity to hold 3,486 fans) to watch the visitors from Boston vanquish the Bulldogs 4-3.

As for the very first ever Harvard – Yale confrontation at the corner of Prospect and Sachem Streets in New Haven, at least the Bulldogs did not bow to the despised Crimson as the two teams skated to a 5-5 draw on March 7, 1959, in what was the last game of the season for both sides. Yale defenseman CHARLES SMITH had scored two quick goals to give the the hosts a 2-0 advantage after only 48 seconds but the Bulldogs would still require a second goal of the game from two-time All-Ivy League selection ED MCGONAGLE with twenty seconds remaining in order to claim a share of the spoils. Much to the chagrin of the Yale supporters, it would not be until February of 1966 (the season following the retirement of the long-time bench master Murdoch) that the Bulldogs were finally able to register a victory over its great arch-rival on the ice surface at the David S. Ingalls Rink.

It was in the 40th year of play at the legendary ice arena in New Haven that the Bulldogs varsity was, at last, able to secure an Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference regular season championship banner to hang in the Yale Whale’s faithful belly and, despite being knocked out of the 1997/98 ECAC playoffs by the eternal enemy Harvard, Yale did earn an invitation to the annual NCAA men’s ice hockey tournament for the first time in almost half a century.

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