By Vlad Vainberg
Most athletes have heard the cliched axiom that defense wins championships. But the Yale women’s ice hockey team will have to rely heavily on its blue-line corps to win its next two games this weekend.
Both Yale’s opponents are entering this weekend with winning records. Northeastern (3-1-2) will try to extend its five-game unbeaten streak this Saturday at Matthews Arena in Boston. On Sunday, the Elis (1-0-1) will travel to the Kelley Rink to face Boston College (2-1-0), which defeated Yale in both of their games last season.
“I don’t think [our opponents] are expecting us [to be good] and it will be to our advantage,” forward Natalie Babony ’06 said. “We’ve been getting really focused in our practices and in the games. I’m hoping we’ll catch them off-guard.”
The two Boston teams have played extremely well without the puck so far this season. In its first six games, Northeastern sported a miniscule 1.20 goals-against average and has posted three shutouts. Boston College’s defense is not far behind the Blue Hens, holding opponents to an average of only 1.25 goals a game.
But if Yale executes its system well this weekend, its opponents may see an Eli defense that is a mirror image of themselves. Yale head coach Hillary Witt has repeatedly stressed the importance of solid defensive fundamentals to her players this season.
“We’re much more defensively oriented this season,” Witt said. “We’re mostly making use of a 1-2-2 formation to fore-check. I’d rather win a game 3-1 than 6-5 any day.”
A 1-2-2 formation is one in which four skaters form a box in neutral ice with a single skater — usually a center — inside the offensive zone. This defensive style clogs up central ice and prevents break-out passes by opposing teams.
The Bulldogs’ performance so far this year confirms Witt’s emphasis. With Sarah Love ’06 manning the net, the team shut out the University of Maine 1-0 in Yale’s home-opener last Saturday. The Elis tied Maine 2-2 the next day. The win on Saturday was the Bulldogs’ first-ever victory over the Black Bears.
“We’ve learned from the past weekend that we will need to play six solid periods of hockey to come away with two wins,” forward Suzanne McGoey ’06 said. “[Northeastern and Boston] are good programs. We have been sound in our end and are looking forward to scoring some goals against them.”
With goals at a likely premium in the looming defensive showdown, the Bulldogs will have no shortage of scoring options. Forward Kristin Savard ’07 was named ECAC Rookie of the Week on Nov. 3 for scoring the game winning goal on Saturday and leading Yale with seven shots on goal. Fellow rookie Kelsey Johnson ’07 lit the goal lamp on Sunday, raising hopes that this year’s freshman class will be as offensively gifted as last year’s crop, which scored the majority of the team’s goals.
With its loaded roster, Yale will be primed to avenge last season’s painful losses to Northeastern and Boston College.
“I think we’ll be able to sneak up on them,” Babony said. “It’s fun to be in this position.”