W. hockey fights for playoff bid at home

With only weeks to go until the regular season ends, the women’s ice hockey team has this weekend and next to determine not only whether they will win home ice privileges in the ECACHL playoffs, but also whether or not they will be part of those playoffs at all.

The Elis (13-10-2, 8-8-2 ECACHL) face off against Rensselaer (12-16-1, 8-9-1) at 7 p.m. tonight at Ingalls Rink. Tomorrow, they take to the ice again to face Union (4-22, 0-18) in a battle that could give them a few more league points at a critical time. In the tight ECACHL ranks, even a single point could mean the difference between a trip to the quarterfinals or a season with all too early an ending.

The Engineers are a single point behind the Bulldogs in the ECAC standings, hovering within seventh place with 17 points. Even though the Rensselaer squad is hot on the Elis’ collective heels, it does not make this game any different from the other three games left in the season, forward Kristen Stupay ’09 said.

“The fact that RPI is neck-and-neck with us in points doesn’t much alter our view of the game,” she said. “At this point in the season, we only have four matchups left to secure the best possible playoff spot that we are able to, which implies that every game, be it versus RPI or Harvard, is a must-win. No matter who the opponent is, we are going into the game with that attitude.”

The Dutchwomen may be just the opportunity the Bulldogs need to take another step in securing that playoff slot. They have yet to win a league game this year, leaving them bringing up the rear of the ECACHL pack with zero points. The 5-0 Eli victory in early January against the struggling denizens of Schenectady only reinforces the bright outlook for Saturday.

At best, the next two weekends could yield eight points for Yale and witness the squad scooting up as high as fourth place, which would mean the Whale would play host to a first round playoff game. At worst, they could drop to ninth, placing the Bulldogs out of the tournament and ending the season.

If the Bulldogs do not end up with home ice in the tournament, this weekend will be the final pair of home games for the seniors of the team.

And for the class that earned the “most victorious in Yale history” title way back on Jan. 13, a perfect weekend would be a most appropriate Ingalls finale, defender Berit Johnson ’10 said.

“It’s senior weekend, so I think we’re all focused on coming away with two wins for them,” she said. “This class deserves a sweep for their last regularly scheduled weekend at home.”

Senior forwards Kelsey Johnson, Kristin Savard, Christina Sharun, Jenna Spring and Sheila Zingler, along with defenders Regan Gilbride and Nina Resor, have racked up 52 wins over their four years, leaving the Class of 2006’s record of 49 in the dust. Two wins this weekend would not only add to that impressive number but would also guarantee a winning season for only the second time since 1986.

As in past years, Yale will honor the departing seniors in a ceremony to be held following Saturday’s match. Head coach Hilary Witt said she hopes this will be a special weekend for the girls who have put their hearts and souls into the game for four years.

“These kids have worked so hard over the last four years, and they deserve all the best,” she said. “It is always hard for seniors to play their last home game. As a coach, you just hope the younger kids can appreciate that and do everything they can to help win the game. I think our younger players understand and will work really hard for the seniors this weekend.”

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