Elis put 5-1 run to the test

Following triumph after triumph over winter break, the women’s hockey team takes its sizzling 5-1 streak into the Whale tonight and gladly welcomes a Cornell squad that has not been on the winning end of a game in seven weeks.

The Bulldogs (10-8, 6-7 ECACHL) lace up their skates to take on badly struggling league rival Big Red (2-16-1, 2-10) at 7:00 p.m. Tomorrow, they will have the chance to snag some more league points when they face the Colgate Red Raiders (10-10-1, 9-3) at 4:00 at Ingalls.

Cornell is coming off a painful five-game losing streak entering tonight’s matchup. Moreover, recent history is against the Big Red, as the Elis faced them earlier in the season and emerged with a 4-1 victory, their first win of the 2006-’07 season. Still, Oct. 28 was a long time ago, and much can change over the course of 16 games, head coach Hilary Witt said.

“We played [Cornell and Colgate] at the beginning of the season,” she said. “A lot changes during the year — the Cornell and Colgate teams we see this weekend will be very different from the teams we saw previously. We need to play our game and focus on the little things. These will be very tough games.”

Colgate, unlike the slumping denizens of Ithaca, is 5-1 for its last six games — a record which mirrors Yale’s. The last time they faced each other, the Raiders eked out a 4-3 win in overtime, but forward Crysti Howser ’09 said the Elis’ recent streak will hopefully mean a different outcome in this Saturday’s rematch.

“Both Cornell and Colgate are good teams,” she said. “Hopefully, we will be able to play as well as we played in the third period of the Clarkson game and will be able to come out of the weekend with two more wins.”

Yale currently is in seventh place out of the 12 teams in the ECACHL with 12 points through the first three months of the season. Colgate is tied for fourth with 18, and Cornell lags behind in 11th place with four points.

The ECACHL quarterfinals begin on Feb. 23, slightly more than a month away. The top eight teams in the conference qualify for the postseason, with the top four hosting first-round matches, making this point in the season all the more crucial. With the Elis just clinging to the No. 7 spot, the playoffs are inevitably on the players’ minds.

“At this point in the season, we can’t help but think about the playoffs,” defender Regan Gilbride ’07 said. “Each win now puts us in a better position not just to secure a playoff berth, but perhaps to win home ice advantage in the first round of the tournament. [This weekend’s games are] vitally important in determining our standing in the league at the end of the regular season.”

These games will be the third and fourth in a surprisingly lengthy seven-game home stretch that will take the Bulldogs all the way through the end of January. Even then, they will play just two away games before returning to Ingalls Rink again for two more matchups.

Although the squad’s record since the beginning of the new year reflects the players’ increased focus and revitalization, Gilbride said she is by no means discounting the effort the upcoming games will require.

“We need to show up to win and be prepared to play hard from the drop of the puck,” she said. “We need to figure out how to put opponents away early on in the game and not give them the opportunity to come back.”

And while it may be tempting to look ahead to the playoffs, Witt said, the team should not lose sight of the game it is playing.

“At this point, it feels like every game is a playoff game,” she said. “So we need to take one game at a time.”

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