W. HOCKEY | Defense improves, but not enough

Despite having lost four games over Thanksgiving recess and ranking last in the Nutmeg Classic tournament, the women’s hockey team has reason to be thankful: it is showing a marked defensive improvement from earlier in the season — and earlier in the week.

And that is quite a feat for a team that is down three defenders due to injuries — Tara Tomimoto ’13, Aurora Kennedy ’14 and Emily DesMeules ’13 are all out of commission, and defender Heather Grant ’12 is back on the ice but not up to full speed.

On November 18 and 19, the Bulldogs (1–12–0, ECAC 1–5–0) took on the Mercyhurst Lakers (6–7–1, 5–1–1 Atlantic Hockey) in back-to-back games, losing 9–1 and 6–2. This past weekend, the team played in the eighth annual Nutmeg Classic tournament, losing to Robert Morris University 1–0 on Friday and to UConn 3–1 on Saturday.

“Our second game at Mercyhurst was much better than our first there, and I feel like we have made visible improvements in each game since,” forward Lynn Kennedy ’15 said.

The Elis suffered a rough start to their sojourn in Erie, Penn., as the Lakers scored twice in the first 45 seconds of the first game, and four times in the first seven minutes.

“We really struggled from the beginning and just couldn’t recover,” head coach Joakim Flygh said.

Freshman goalie Jaimie Leonoff ’15 was called on to relieve Genny Ladiges ’12 after the fourth Mercyhurst goal, and she made 52 saves in the duration of the game.

Forward Stephanie Mock ’15 took advantage of a power play to score the Bulldogs’ only goal in that game at 14:31 in the first period, but the Lakers responded with one more goal in the first period, followed by one in the second and three in the third. Yale was outshot 65–20.

In their second battle against the Lakers last Saturday, the Bulldogs were similarly outshot 69–23, and Leonoff made 63 saves, but they upped their defensive prowess, allowing only six goals and scoring two themselves. For two and a half minutes in the first period, the Blue and White led the scoreboard 1–0 due to a goal by forward Jackie Raines ’14, her fifth of the season, but the Lakers managed to finish the period 1-all.

“We responded with a much better defensive effort [in the second game], but you have to give [Mercyhurst] credit — they are a good team,” Flygh said.

Mercyhurst scored three goals early in the second, but forward Jenna Ciotti ’13 managed to bring the score up to 4–2 going into the third period. However, the Lakers scored two more goals in the final four minutes of the game, sealing their victory.

But the Bulldogs’ continued to improve in the Nutmeg Classic tournament this weekend in Storrs, Conn, and the team put up a couple of good fights against the Colonials and the Huskies — unfortunately, the scoreboards were not in their favor.

“Our team defense was solid for the most part this weekend, and [on Saturday] we started to generate some more offense as well,” Lynn Kennedy said. Ladiges added that the last three games have boosted team morale and optimism. The Bulldogs allowed only four goals this weekend — the best defensive effort so far this season.

Yale was undoubtedly the underdog going into Friday’s game with only one win this season, whereas RMU had only one loss. The Bulldogs struggled to make an offensive effort and were outshot 11–2 in the first period, but managed to even out the shots-on-goal disparity to 8–6 and 12–5 in the second and third.

The Bulldogs’ defense was able to keep the puck out of the net and leave the score tied at 0–0 until early in the third period, when the Colonials took advantage of a power play and scored at 3:04. Yale tried desperately to even the score — Mock, Raines, and forward Alyssa Zupon ’13 each took shots midway through the last period, all hitting the bar, and Ladiges was pulled in the last minute of play — but luck was not on its side, and RMU came away with the win. Ladiges made 30 saves in the game.

On Saturday in the consolation game against UConn, the Blue and White showed a strong offense and was outshot only 31–29, the team’s lowest shots-on-goal differential of the season. Yale outshot UConn 12–10 in the first period, and the second and third periods were similarly tight, with 10–13 and 7–8 shots on goal, respectively.

“We generated probably the most scoring chances we have had all year,” Flygh said, adding that the team fought through until the final whistle.

“It was an important game for our team because we continued the improved defensive play we started during our second game against Mercyhurst and RMU,” Ladiges added. “We put forth two 60-minute efforts this weekend.”

Despite Yale’s multiple scoring opportunities, the team did not monopolize in the first or second periods. The Huskies scored in each period, and then just one minute into the third, they made good on a power play and led the scoreboard 3–0. At 6:05, team captain and forward Aleca Hughes ’12 scored off an assist from Lynn Kennedy, bringing the Bulldogs back into the game. They made a strong effort to even the score in the last 14 minutes of play and pulled Leonoff, who made 28 saves, for an extra man, but the Huskies got the win.

“We’re not complacent, but we can see this improvement and we’re going to continue to practice hard and hopefully get the results we’re working for,” Kennedy said.

Ladiges said the team will work to capitalize on more of their scoring opportunities and cut down on the number of offensive zone penalties it takes.

“Losing is never fun, but when you put forth a solid effort and battle right until the end, you can at least walk out of the rink with your head held high,” Ladiges said.

Quinnipiac beat RMU 3–2 and UConn 4–2 to win the Nutmeg Classic Championship this weekend.

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