W. hockey holds its own on the road

The women’s ice hockey team proved this weekend that it can hold its own against a tough opponent — due in no small part to a stellar pair of performances by its goaltenders.

The Bulldogs (8-7-4, 5-5-2 ECAC) snapped their three-game winning streak after dropping a hard-fought 5-3 game to No. 6 Mercyhurst (17-5-2) Friday night. But they overcame the blow in short order, traveling to New York and rolling over Niagara (6-12-4) 3-0 in a shutout the very next day.

The Elis entered the Mercyhurst Ice Center carrying with them a rough history versus the nationally-ranked Lakers. Despite standing at 0-9-1 in the lifetime series, they came out strong from the moment the puck hit the ice. While Mercyhurst is a team known for its strength on the power play, with 29 goals in 24 games, it was the Bulldogs who made a splash in the power play Friday night. At 7:35 in the first period, forward/defender Maggie Westfal ’09 snapped one past Laker goalie Laura Hosier, assisted by forward Crysti Howser ’09 and forward Sarah Tittman ’09. Just eight minutes later, with the Elis once again skating with an extra attacker, Howser put in a goal of her own, giving the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead that they held until the end of the period.

But Mercyhurst fought back almost immediately, and just under three minutes into the third, Laker forward Meghan Agosta fired the puck past goaltender Shivon Zilis ’08, putting the home team on the board. The offensive barrage from the home team did not cease, and they continued to pepper Zilis with shots. She held them at bay for another twelve minutes as the Bulldogs struggled to regain control of the offense. But at 15:02, Laker Geena Prough slipped another into the net, knotting the score at two. And in the third, Mercyhurst broke the game open, putting away one goal at 6:35 and two more in the final five minutes of the game, giving them the definitive victory in spite of Tittman’s goal at 16:12. Zilis came away with an incredible 45 saves. Added to the 50 she made facing the Lakers last year, it gives her a phenomenal 95-save history against Mercyhurst.

“I thought we played with a lot of effort,” head coach Hilary Witt said. “We scored early because we got to the net, and we got the puck to the net. Those were goals that came from hard work. Later, we made a couple of mistakes that really hurt us. They have a couple of players that make you pay for your mistakes.”

The game against Niagara started somewhat less promisingly for the Elis. Although both teams fired off a solid number of shots in the first two periods — the Bulldogs attempted 13, just a few behind the Purple Eagles’ 15 — the game remained scoreless until the final stanza. At 3:50 in the third, defender Alyssa Clarke ’10 took advantage of a power play to put the Elis on the board. As netminder Jackee Snikeris ’11 continued to stop every Niagara shot that came her way, Howser increased the Bulldogs’ lead to two at 8:13. That alone would have been enough to give them the victory — but then, with just three seconds left to play and the Elis skating short-handed, Clarke added a second goal to her tally, putting the final score at 3-0. It was Snikeris’s third shutout of the season.

“[Snikeris] played a great game to keep us in there,” Zilis said. “Our defense did a good job of moving men away from the front of the net and preventing odd man rushes.”

“Sometimes we tend to play down to the other team’s level and not focus on our game,” Snikeris added. “In the third, we played our game, got pucks to the net and scored big goals.”

Next weekend, the Bulldogs will return home for the weekend to face conference rivals Colgate (8-11-3, 5-5-2) and Cornell (8-9-1, 5-6-1) as they seek to move out of their current sixth-place ECAC slot. And if Zilis and Snikeris perform as strongly as they did this weekend, they could do just that.

“Both goalies,” Witt said simply, “were fantastic.”

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