by Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publicity Director
Last January at Hamilton, N.Y., the Bulldogs pulled off one of
the more improbable comebacks in the history of Yale Athletics. The
Elis trailed Colgate 4-0 midway through the final frame before
tallying five straight times and taking a 5-4 OT win.
Tom Dignard ’10, a blueliner who sometimes seems like a quarterback on the ice, helped engineer one of the greatest wins of a magical championship season in New Haven. He scored two times and handed out one assist that night to keep a young win streak alive.
Twenty-four hours earlier at raucous Lynah Rink, Dignard, who had a goal, played one of his best games to help end Cornell’s 10-game unbeaten streak and give the Blue its first win at Ithaca since 1999.
These are two examples of his impact on the Yale program, but the Reading, Mass., native has made his presence felt since scoring a goal and handing out an assist in his first collegiate contest, a win at No. 8 New Hampshire in 2006. It has developed into 13 goals and 49 points in 86 career games, but his effect on the Blue is far beyond the numbers. Even an economics and math major like Dignard can see that.
“He has been important to the resurgence of the hockey program, and he has many of the qualities that are important to us,” said Keith Allain ’80, Yale’s Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach. “He is very skilled, has a high hockey IQ, can log lots of ice time and can play in all situations. But, most what’s most important, he is ultra-competitive.”
Dignard, known as “Digs” among his teammates, was in a vulnerable position near center ice at Ingalls Rink a week after the win at Cornell when a Quinnipiac player rammed into him and sent the Bulldog to the hospital for a week with a lacerated spleen that ended his season and jeopardized his future on the ice.
“I was amazed how many people came to visit me in the hospital. I knew my teammates were good friends, but that’s when you really know how special they are,” said Dignard, who attended practices and games when he was healthy enough to be back on campus and has since made a full recovery.
Yale was in the middle of an eight-game win streak and suddenly was facing a stretch run without its play-making, tempo-controlling blueliner. Dignard, who had five goals and 17 points, was among the top scoring defensemen in the country. He went on to earn second-team All-ECAC Hockey honors despite playing in just 22 games.
“Digs goes on the ice every day with a purpose… to get better. He makes the players around him better as well. When No. 15 is in the lineup, we are a better team,” said classmate Sean Backman. “When we lost Diggs last year, other guys knew they were going to have to step up to fill that big hole. Other guys did step up and we were able to win the ECAC championship for him.”
One thing that wasn’t missing from the lineup with Dignard out was a big voice.
“Digs tends to be soft spoken but leads by example very well. When he went down last year it was a huge blow, but it gave us something to rally around,” said Yale captain Ryan Donald. “Knowing that we had a teammate who would give anything to be back on the ice brought the importance of every shift into perspective. I think that everyone stopped taking things for granted and pushed themselves a bit harder every day.”
Backman, who has been the recipient of many quality Dignard passes and has been a good friend for four years, must do most of the talking himself.
“I don’t think he has said more than 17 words to me in that time,” said Backman.
“I’m not a talking guy,” said Dignard, who has yet to skate in a game this season because of a leg injury. “I like to lead by example. I would like to be known as a solid defenseman who steps up at the right time.”
Dignard has had a chance to observe Yale hockey operations from both sides with the injury time. His explanation for the continued progression of the program has two primary elements.
“Every day at practice everyone is fighting for their spot and pushing each other. Everything is left on the ice,” said Dignard, who relishes that scenario. “We also have become closer as a team because we all eat dinner together on campus now.”
Play-making blueliners tend to feed their teammates well, but Dignard can take that skill to a different level. The former Phillips Andover Academy Cum Laude and honor roll student-athlete, who has been an academic All-ECAC selection each year, loves to cook. He prefers not to use recipes (onions are off limits), and says people get mad at him for not using them. Dignard, who is back in Branford College after being able to cook off campus the last two years, didn’t put down the idea of becoming a “skating chef.”
Right now, all his teammates want from Dignard, who won the John Poinier Award for Yale’s top defensive player his sophomore year, is a steady diet of rubber -- in the form of pucks heading for their sticks or the net.
That could be the Bulldogs’ recipe for success in 2009-10.