Good teachers guide their students to eventually surpass them. When women’s hockey head coach Hilary Witt faces her collegiate mentor and current University of Connecticut coach Heather Linstad tonight, the Bulldogs hope that time has come.
With Yale (3-4-2, 1-2-0 ECAC) and UConn (5-7-3) struggling to rise from the middle of their respective conference standings, today’s away match also marks the first time Witt opposes her former Northeastern University tutor as a head coach.
“It’s going to be interesting,” Witt said. “Any time you go and play the person for whom you played before you get a little nervous and you really want to win the game. My thoughts are going to be on the game and winning.”
Witt was a star player during her time at Northeastern. She began her collegiate career as a rookie on the 1996-1997 ECAC championship team and under Linstad’s tutelage set the all-time school record for goals and points.
Both women left Northeastern in 2000. Linstad accepted a headÊcoaching position at UConn while Witt spent a year with the U.S. Women’s National Team after graduation. Witt arrived at Yale as an assistant coach in 2001 and was promoted to head coach the following year.
In today’s game, Witt and her squad will have their work cut out for them against a Huskies team that is surpassing expectations.
After winning three of its last four games, UConn stands only one win shy of matching its entire Hockey East conference total from last year. Although today’s contest is inter-conference play, the Huskies — who do not play again until Jan. 9 — will try to enter their prolonged break on a strong performance.
“It’s definitely going to be a hard-fought game,” Yale forward Jenna Spring ’07 said. “[UConn] has just come off against a win against St. Lawrence and they are playing really well. They’re a hard working team and they play good defense so we need to do the same and get our offense going.”
The Yale attack can dog the Huskies — if it shows up. Despite great goaltending from Sarah Love ’06, the Bulldogs are on a two-game losing streak, largely due to their inconsistent starts. Yale has given up the first goal in the last five games. Still hurting from the heartbreaking 3-2 loss on Nov. 28 to Princeton, in which the Elis came back to tie the score twice but could not pull ahead for good, Yale will need a full game’s effort against the Huskies.
“[UConn] is going to be very scrappy and aggressive and they’re going to want to beat us,” Witt said. “Whoever works hardest will win. If our team plays three periods, which we’ve struggled with this year, we’re going to win.”
Though Witt said she will coach tonight’s game as if it were any other, the bench duel between Linstad and her former all-star player will be worth watching.
“She has a great work ethic both in practice and in games,” Linstad said about Witt in 1997. “Hilary is also craftier than most opponents gave her credit for. She always got in position to score a goal.”
In tonight’s showdown, the Elis will try to score a few goals for her.