Last night, women’s hockey team captain Aleca Hughes ’12 was chosen as a finalist for the NCAA Hockey Humanitarian Award for the second consecutive year. Hughes is the first person in Yale history to be nominated twice for the annual award.
Assistant coach Jessica Koizumi described Hughes as “a coach’s dream” and said she hopes Hughes will win the award.
“I want her to go out on a high note,” she said. “Aleca has put so much energy and effort into our program.”
But Hughes’ last season with the team has been less than a stellar send-off. The women’s hockey team is also on track to break another record this season. With only six games left this season, the women’s hockey team might post the worst record in the team’s history.
“Part of why it is so frustrating is that we can’t pinpoint something that we are doing wrong,” forward Stephanie Mock ’15 said. “There is lots of tension on the team right now. Everyone feels a lot of pressure to win.”
The Bulldogs’ current record is 1–22–0, 1–15–0 ECAC, and the last time they won a game was on Nov. 11 against Union. Even then, the victory came in overtime and earned only one point in the conference, instead of the two points earned for a win during the first 60 minutes.
Last weekend, the team lost 8–0 to Harvard, the largest margin the team has lost by this season, and 6–0 to Dartmouth. Of the team’s 22 losses this season, they have been shut out in 10.
The last time the team posted a winning record, 15–14–2, was 2006-’07 under the coaching of Hilary Witt. The worst season record for the team, which began playing in 1977, was during the 1995-’96 season when the Elis finished a disappointing 2–20–3.
Last year’s season record was a relatively respectable 9–17–3, 8–12–2 ECAC, which left the Bulldogs tied for eighth place in the 12-team conference.
The men’s hockey team, on the other hand, has finished the past four seasons with a winning record, and last year, the team won the ECAC Tournament, had a record of 28–7–1 and entered the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, though the team lost to Minnesota-Duluth in the NCAA East Regional Finals.
Mock said women’s hockey is a different world, as even in Division 1, there are far fewer female players to recruit.
While the men’s team has developed strategies to help it succeed on the ice, the women’s team has so far been unable to understand why it cannot hold its own.
“I just don’t know how we’re not scoring,” Mock said.
Goalkeeper Genny Ladiges ’12 said the team has been focusing on raising its intensity level in practice and working on the power play and penalty kill, as many of the goals against Yale have come when the team is one woman down. Still, the Elis have been unable to capitalize on their own power play.
SOMETHING YOUNG, SOMETHING NEW
Each year, the top eight teams in the ECAC compete in the ‘conference playoffs. However, the last time the Elis made the cut was in 2008, so none of the current roster has seen postseason play.
There are only four seniors on the team, compared with seven juniors, six sophomores and six freshmen.
“It definitely does take time to adjust to college-level hockey, so that may factor into why we are having such a bad season,” Mock said.
Mock’s freshman class is the first to be recruited by the current coaching staff. Head coach Joakim Flygh and his assistant coaches took over the reins of the team from former head coach Witt in the fall of 2010.
Assistant coach Jessica Koizumi said it is difficult to change the culture of a program and get the players to “buy into” the change.
“We’ve had a difficult time meeting our short-term goals, and we started to snowball,” Koizumi said. “We put ourselves in a lull at the beginning and just couldn’t get out of it.”
Despite a lack of positive results from the new staff, forward Paige Decker ’14 said the coaches are completely dedicated to the success of the program, and Ladiges added that the new coaches were a “welcome change,” bringing with them “a new philosophy and a fresh perspective.”
She declined to comment on what the new philsophy entailed.
Another school in a similarly turbulent coaching situation does not seem to be suffering from the same growing pains.
Last year, Brown placed next to last in the ECAC with a conference record of 1–17–4, with an overall record of 2-23-4. But the Bears have managed to turn around their game this year, to 7–9–7, 4–8–4 ECAC, with the help of their new head coach Amy Bourbeau, who joined the program in September.
Bourbeau declined to comment on how the Brown team managed to bounce back from its disappointing season last year.
A RASH OF INJURIES
Injuries have also helped to mar the season for the Bulldogs.
“We’ve had such bad luck with concussions this year, it keeps us guessing who will be able to play at each game,” forward Lauren Davis ’12 said. “We can’t keep our lines consistent, which creates a problem when you are trying to connect as teammates.”
Because of injuries, only eight players of the 23-member roster have played in all 23 games this season. At one point in October, six players were out of commission: four with concussions, one with a broken ankle and one with a serious illness. This statistic is staggering for women’s hockey, which is a non-checking sport, coaches said.
“I’ve never seen so many injuries in one season,” Koizumi said. “I just can’t put my thumb on what is causing the ‘concussion syndrome’ in our players. It’s hard as a coach to keep changing lines — it’s like a different team every night.”
Koizumi added that protocol regarding head injuries in sports is much stricter than it used to be, which may account for the numbers of players benched in order to recover.
Last semester, Ashley Dunbar ’14, normally a forward, played defense in response to the number of concussed defenders.
At the moment, five players are out with concussions — Dunbar, Jenna Ciotti ’14, Aurora Kennedy ’14, and Tara Tomimoto ’13 and Patricia McGauley ’14.
Madi Murray ’15 and Jackie Raines ’14 recently recovered from concussions within a week of incurring them.
Mock said the coaching staff ordered new helmets last year — ones specially designed to reduce the risk of concussions — and Koizumi added that the team also mandated mouthguards, which are designed to reduce cranial impact, for all players this season.
Neurosurgical fellow Roby Ryan, from the Cedars-Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, said while helmets and mouthguards can lessen a player’s risk, no helmet or other piece of equipment is able to prevent concussions in all cases, as they are caused by brain movement within the skull. He added that the speed of impact of crashes in hockey and the degree of contact makes hockey players particularly susceptible to concussions.
“There’s getting to be better recognition of concussions now, which is great because it is dangerous for players to return to the ice too soon,” Ryan said. “It is important that trainers know the signs and symptoms. Getting multiple concussions has a synergistic effect whereby each one is worse than the last, and it can take a long time to recover.”
Decker said that the team has had to deal with a much shorter bench this year, usually only with four or five defenders — a team normally has between six and eight — and with only three lines of forwards. She said sosing each weekend remains frustrating.
Although the team does not have any one major weakness, Mock added, it need to work on a few details of the game — in particular, playing quicker in the defensive zone.
Trent Petrie, director of the Center of Sports Psychology and professor of psychology at the University of North Texas, told the News Wednesday that it is impotant for sports teams not to be too focused on winning, as they can lose sight of the factors under their control, such as technique improvement.
“Winning is not an aspect under a team’s control. It is important to focus on things the players can control, like showing a positive attitude, giving their best effort and making sure they are fully present mentally,” he said. “Players need to recognize that losing can be frustrating, then let it go and focus on the next game or practice. Ultimately, you need to believe that you have the ability to make a difference, and hopefully that will lead to results.”
The team tries to have fun and loosen up with “pre-game dance parties” in the locker room before games, Mock said.
But it is not immune to the losing-streak blues.
“Once we get down, we don’t believe in ourselves,” Koizumi said. The team struggles to maintain full effort for all 60 minutes of the game, she added.
Decker described this season as a “rebuilding year” for the team, but she added that the team has found success off the ice.
In addition to Hughes’s nomination, the Yale women’s hockey team was named Sports Person of the Year by the New Haven Register, due to the team’s ongoing involvement in fundraising for cancer research in honor of former teammate Mandi Schwartz ’11, who died of leukemia last spring.
At the White Out for Mandi fundraiser in December, the team raised over $25,000 for the Mandi Schwartz Foundation, which seeks to support young athletes battling cancer.
“It’s nice that even though things aren’t going our way on the ice, we’ve been able to make a difference and have something to take away from the season,” Decker said.
Koizumi said the program will recruit six or seven players for next year, and the coaching staff plans to recruit seven or eight the following year. In two years, she said she expects the team to be “partically a whole different team.”
For the current season, however, the team has been unable to pinpoint how to improve, Mock added.
“Things aren’t going to change overnight, but hopefully over the next few years we’ll be able to turn things around and bring more success to the program,” she said.
The team’s practices have improved its defense, Ladiges said, “but at this point, we’re just trying to have fun.”