Playoffs await w. hockey

Today, the Yale women’s ice hockey team will strive to leave behind last weekend’s losses and come out ahead of their Cambridge foes for the first time this season.

This weekend, the sixth-seeded Bulldogs (15-12-2, 10-10-2 ECACHL) take on number three seed Harvard (21-6-1, 17-4-1) in a best-of-three series that will determine who moves on to the ECACHL semifinals and whose season will come to a painfully early end. The puck drops this afternoon at 3:30 p.m. at the Bright Hockey Center in Boston.

So far this year, the Crimson have proven themselves a tough opponent for the Elis, coming out ahead both times the two Ivy League foes met up during the regular season. Although the 5-1 November loss at Ingalls might have once foreshadowed a similarly difficult match this weekend, last Friday’s nail-bitingly close 4-3 overtime loss against Harvard indicates that the Bulldogs have come a long way since then. And that same loss may just give them even more fervent motivation to come out on top, forward Denise Soesilo ’10 said.

“After last weekend’s overtime loss, I think we’ll be coming out playing more confidently and with more of a tenacious urgency to win,” she said. “Last week, we started the game playing timidly, but this time we should be able to fix those problems and be ready to go.”

The second match of the series takes place tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m., and if necessary, a rubber match will be played Sunday to determine the victor of the series. The winner will go on to play a one-game semifinal on March 3, and the final match will be held the following day. The ECACHL champion is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Frozen Four tournament, which starts just five days after the conference title game.

Last year’s playoffs were tough for the Elis, who fell to then No. 1 St. Lawrence after two games. But the standings have shifted — this year Yale goes in two seeds higher than last season’s eighth-seed slot — and in the ECACHL tournament, nothing is ever certain, head coach Hilary Witt said.

“We’ve been in the ECACHL playoffs for six straight years,” she said. “Every year is different. But it’s always a battle in the playoffs — you never know what’s going to happen.”

If statistics are an accurate indicator, Harvard will not fall easily. Their offense is the highest-scoring in the country, at an average of 4.48 goals per game — not surprising, given that the top two scorers in the country in terms of points per game wear the crimson and white. U.S. Olympian Julie Chu and Canadian Olympian Sarah Vaillancourt have also been named finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, given to the top women’s hockey player of the season, and last week Chu garnered ECACHL Player of the Week honors. As if that wasn’t enough, Harvard is also third in the country in defense — perhaps thanks to Olympian defender Caitlin Cahow — and Crimson netminder Brittany Martin was last week’s ECACHL Goalie of the Week.

But the Bulldogs boast plenty of talent themselves. Goalkeeper Shivon Zilis ’08 made an outstanding 77 saves last weekend, bringing her total for the last seven games up to 224. This season, the squad has scored a record 94 goals, 21 of which came courtesy of forward Crysti Howser ’09. And Yale stands up against its archrival’s Olympic veterans with two Olympians of its own — Soesilo and defender Helen Resor ’09, who along with Witt was just named to Team USA again. Last November, the pair took part in the Four Nations Cup and returned to New Haven with silver medals.

And as for the Yale-Harvard rivalry, it can only make things more exciting, associate head coach Harry Rosenholtz said.

“Both teams have a healthy respect for each other and both teams know that their best efforts will be required to achieve victory,” he said. “Every game is hard-fought, and winning or losing can come down to one moment of focus or one very special play. We are hoping that we gave Harvard their last get out of jail free card last weekend. Now, it’s for real.”

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