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Athlete of the Week: Alex Westlund

JULIA TIERNAN/YH

Hockey team seeks hardworking, mentally tough, silent leader to create confidence among other team members, lead by example, and earn second-team All-America honors. Only goalies who wear lots of orange need respond.

If Coach Tim Taylor and the Yale men's hockey team were creating a personal ad to find a replacement at the end of this year for goalie Alex Westlund, SM '99, it might read something like the above. Westlund, whose goaltending has been a major factor in the team's post-Christmas improvement, is one of the most successful goalies in Yale history.

After making 29 saves in last Friday's 3-2 win over Vermont and another 30 in this Wednesday's 6-1 loss to Maine, he is only 15 saves away from catching Todd Sullivan, BK '95, for the all-time Yale saves record. The win over Vermont also gave him a school-record 35 wins, many of which came last year when Westlund ranked fifth in the nation in save percentage and was named first team ECAC and second team All-America.

Although neither the team nor Westlund has matched last year's magical accomplishments, Westlund has played a key role in whatever success this year's team has had. "We have to credit a lot of our success to his ability to play well in big games," captain Keith McCullough, BR '99, said. "It's a great feeling because you always know Alex is going to be there to save your tail whether you're playing good or bad. He's the ultimate safety valve."

When a team has a goalie like Westlund, the level of play of every team member rises. "The success of any hockey team starts from the goal out," Taylor explained. "[Westlund] gives the whole team confidence that we can go into any game and win it." Such confidence is especially important this year, when the team's defense is relatively inexperienced.

It will be hard to find a replacement goalie with Westlund's talent and mental focus. As a high school athlete, he played water polo, tennis, and soccer as well as hockey. At Yale, Westlund and the team have blossomed together. "Sophomore year there was definitely a feeling that we were going in the right direction," Westlund said. "The attitude was that every time we took the ice, we had something to prove."

Currently, Westlund and his teammates are trying to regain the attitude of his sophomore year. "I think it's a matter of getting that back. We're not going to achieve what we did last year the same way," Westlund said. "We have to figure out what's going to make us a better team and do it quickly. We have to wear our hearts on our sleeves a little bit."

Westlund's recent performances are a hopeful sign. "He was on a terrific hot streak after Christmas," Taylor observed. "He did everything in his power to put us in a position to win." If Westlund's teammates follow his example, they may be able to put together one more successful campaign before they start the difficult search for his successor.

--Deirdre Brill

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