WOMEN’S HOCKEY | Defense on the upswing

The yale defense has improved its goals against average by 1.85 goals since last season and has already doubled its win total from last year with more than half the season remaining.
The yale defense has improved its goals against average by 1.85 goals since last season and has already doubled its win total from last year with more than half the season remaining. Photo by Maria Zepeda.

The Yale women’s hockey team looks to maintain its momentum from two weeks ago as it heads to Union and RPI this weekend.

The Elis (2–10–0, 1–5–0 ECAC) won in a thrilling overtime contest against the University of Connecticut in the semifinals of the Nutmeg Classic on Nov. 23 for their second victory of the year before falling to Boston College in the tournament finals. But they hope to do even better this week.

“Wins this weekend will not only get us crucial points against teams in similar standings as us, but they will give us confidence and momentum going into the second half of the season,” captain Alyssa Zupon ’13 said.

Yale is currently in a four-way tie for ninth place in the conference, and only eight teams make the conference playoffs at the end of the season. Both Union and RPI are also in ninth with two points apiece.

“Our team has had one goal for the past two weeks … to come out on Saturday with a four point weekend,” defenseman Jamie Gray ’13 said.

Union (3–8–2, 0–4–2 ECAC) has averaged fewer than one goal per game in conference matchups this year, leading the Elis to hope that their defense can rise to the challenge of shutting down the Dutchwomen.

The vastly improved Bulldog defense, which is allowing 3.39 goals per game so far this season compared to 5.24 last year, is a result of defenders’ better understanding of the team’s systems, goaltender Jaimie Leonoff ’15 said.

Leonoff’s improved play has also contributed to the revamped defense. Her .915 save percentage is .050 points higher than her mark last season, when she saw spot action across eleven games.

Zupon credits some of the team’s improvement to more defensive diversity.

“Everone brings something different to help our team. We’ve also focused on quicker and more accurate puck movement, starting from the defense,” Zupon said.

New players on the defense have also been a strength. The additions of defenders Kate Martini ’16, the team’s leading scorer, and Tara Tomimoto ’14, who missed last season with a concussion, has helped bolster the team’s depth.

“The biggest difference between last year’s defense and this year’s is depth,” Gray said. “We have a well rounded group in which everyone plays a specific role.”

After taking on Union on Friday, the Bulldogs face RPI (3–11–2, 1–5–0 ECAC) on Saturday afternoon. Despite their record, the Engineers’ offense is averaging over a goal per game more than Yale but has yet to pick up a point in games in which it trails after the first period.

Since the Elis played no games last weekend, their practice schedule changed as well.

“Practice has been a bit shorter this week. Hopefully this light week of practice rests our legs for the weekend,” Leonoff said.

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