Women’s hockey rides a three-game win streak into the second semester

The women’s ice hockey team proved over break that a month is not too short a time to come together and stage a successful turnaround.

The Bulldogs (7-6-4, 5-5-2 ECAC) left the ice for their 20-day hiatus back in early December with a record below .500 and a squad riddled with injuries. After a brief setback in the form of a tough 3-2 loss to No. 10 UConn (15-4-2) in the final round of the Nutmeg Classic Tournament on Dec. 30, they bounced back. A 1-0 overtime victory against Northeastern (4-13-2) led to two back-to-back victories this weekend, and now the Elis enter the new semester on a three-game winning streak and with the team once again at full strength.

“We were successful during the break because we played as a cohesive unit,” forward Sarah Tittman ’09 said. “Every player stepped up and contributed to our team’s success.”

The Bulldogs entered the Nutmeg Classic as defending champions, having won the Connecticut tournament for the first time last year. However, they took the ice for the battle against Niagara (6-10-4) with their ranks thinned by the absence of three key players. Forward Crysti Howser ’09 and defender Helen Resor ’09 were in Lake Placid, NY, attending USA Hockey’s Holiday Camp, while forward Denise Soesilo ’10 sat out with an injury.

The empty spaces in the roster did not remain empty for long, though, as the Elis present stepped up and battled hard, ending regulation knotted at four. Overtime was scoreless, and for the first time this season, the Bulldogs found themselves in a shootout. Goaltender Shivon Zilis ’08 was up to the challenge — after an impressive 31-save game, she kept the Purple Eagles scoreless through six shootout rounds. It was only then that forward Bray Ketchum ’11 fired her sixth-round shot past Niagara goalie Jill Zelonis to give the Bulldogs the sudden-death victory. And although the Elis fell in the final round against the UConn Huskies, ceding the title to their in-state foes, the Nutmeg Classic gave them the avenue they needed to come together as a team.

January 5 saw the Elis facing the Northeastern Huskies at the Whale. Rejoined by Howser and Resor, they nevertheless faced an obstacle that nearly proved insurmountable: Northeastern goaltender Leah Sulyma. Despite an offensive onslaught courtesy of the Elis, Sulyma held the home team scoreless, saving 43 in 60 minutes. Bulldog goaltender Jackee Snikeris ’11 stopped the Huskies’ 14 attempts on goal to send the game into overtime. Sulyma saved four more before she was finally beaten by forward/defender Maggie Westfal ’09, who knocked in a rebound off Tittman’s shot with just six seconds to go.

After that, it was full speed ahead for the Elis, who headed to Princeton (8-8-4, 6-6-1) for their first conference game in over a month. The showdown, tied at 3-3 as late as the third period, finally went the Bulldogs’ way when forward/defender Caroline Murphy ’10 put away her first goal of the season – while the Tigers were on a power play. And when Princeton pulled goaltender Kristen Young in an attempt to tie it up, Murphy fired in an empty-netter to clinch the victory 5-3 for her second goal of the match and the third of her career.

“We won the Princeton game because we played as a team,” captain and defender Ann-Renée Guillemette ’08 said. “We never gave up on one another, especially when we had to kill our penalties. We do need to work on staying out of the box, but we came out with a win because we all worked together to overcome tough situations.”

And Saturday’s match against conference rival Quinnipiac (3-14-4, 0-10) was the epitome of teamwork, with off the sticks of five separate Elis. The game, a close 2-1 match until the final period, broke open with Tittman’s goal at 2:23 in the third. Resor and Westfal added their own goals to give the Bulldogs a comfortable 5-2 victory. Snikeris kept the Bobcats offense at bay with a formidable 28 saves.

“We knew we were the better team, and our third period proved that,” she said. “It was great to see five different people step it up and score in that game.”

Now, a game above .500 and rising in the ECAC standings, the Bulldogs will seek to hold on to the unity they found over the winter break as they enter the second half of their season with their eyes on a playoff slot.

“Our record over break will definitely help us keep up the intensity for the upcoming games,” Guillemette said. “Earning a playoff spot this season is not as easy as earlier years, but if we keep improving as we did this weekend, there is no doubt in my mind we can secure that spot.”

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