In the past few years, the Yale women’s hockey team has gotten into the habit of putting bad history to rest. Last year, the Bulldogs beat Harvard for the first time in two decades. This year, longstanding Dartmouth, Brown and Harvard home winning streaks over the Elis also fell.
If the Bulldogs (11-13-5, 8-8-4 ECACHL) hope to advance beyond the first round of the playoffs this weekend, they are going to have to break yet another pattern: losing to No. 2 St. Lawrence (28-3-2, 16-2-2).
The eighth-seeded Elis travel to Canton, N.Y. this weekend for a three-game series with the Saints, whom they have never beaten. St. Lawrence is 24-0-1 all-time versus Yale, dating back to when the teams first met on Nov. 16, 1986.
But the heavily-favored Saints aren’t looking at this as an easy series. As the U.S. Olympic women’s hockey team learned so painfully earlier this month when it lost to Sweden for the first time ever, every winning streak has to end sometime.
“[Yale is] going to beat us one day for sure,” Saints head coach Paul Flanagan said. “I hope its not this weekend. We’ve had real good games with them the past few years.”
Program history isn’t the only thing stacked against the Bulldogs. ECAC playoff history looms, too. No eighth seed has ever won a game against a one seed in the history of the three-game quarterfinal format, and eighth seeds have been outscored 58-5.
But other eight seeds haven’t been like this year’s Yale team.
“They’re the best eighth-place team I’ve ever seen, that’s for sure,” Flanagan said.
Yale’s sub-.500 record belies the Elis’ performance this season. The team scored more and allowed fewer in-conference goals than last year’s team, which finished fourth in the league.
St. Lawrence’s power-play unit, which scores more often than almost every other team in the country, could present problems for the Bulldogs this weekend. It was the power play that led to all four goals when the Saints beat the Elis in Canton in January. The crucial first two goals of what turned into a 7-1 rout in New Haven in mid-February also came on the man advantage.
Because of the strength of the St. Lawrence power play and Yale goalie Sarah Love ’06’s almost preternatural ability to stop even-strength shots, the Bulldogs are going to have to stay out of the box in Canton if they hope to win. But when they do take penalties, they’ll be ready to try to stop the Saints.
“We’ve been working a lot on our penalty kill,” forward Jenna Spring ’07 said. “They killed us on power play the last time we played them, and they have a very strong power play, so that’s something we’re definitely focusing on.”
The Saints feature two of the nation’s top goaltenders, senior Jess Moffat and sophomore Meaghan Guckian, sharing time in net. But in Love, the Elis have a goaltending threat of their own, and almost every time Yale has broken a program losing streak, it’s been Love who has had the standout game.
“I can remember when we were shaking hands after we beat them a few weeks ago and she looked really disappointed,” Flanagan said. “I said, ‘Get your head up — you’ve had a great career and a great year.’ I hope that doesn’t come back to bite me. She’s very, very good and she’s capable of big things, so hopefully we’ll be prepared for her. It’s going to be tough to beat her.”
The Elis have to hope Love is as hard to beat as Flanagan thinks she is. But Spring knows her team has a chance to win.
“Everyone thinks if we stick with our game plan we give ourselves the best chance possible,” she said. “They have been beaten by teams like Colgate that we can play with, so we’re pretty excited and pretty optimistic.”