After struggling to find consistent play in recent games, the women’s hockey team faces one of its toughest challenges of the season this weekend: playing 120 minutes of hockey against the same opponent.
And not just any opponent. Yale (6-11-2, 2-6-0 ECAC-Northern) travels this weekend to face No. 6 St. Lawrence, (15-7-2, 7-1-0) whose league record puts it atop the ECAC-N after having advanced to the NCAA finals a year ago.
Still, the Bulldogs feel that playing the Saints two games in a row could possibly help them create what would be this season’s biggest win.
“Without a doubt this can be a weekend that we can be the spoiler for one of the top teams in the nation,” said goaltender Nicolette Franck ’04.
Earlier this season, Yale played six straight periods against Wayne State, emerging with a tie and a win from the two games. Eli players said two consecutive games against the same opponent allow for easier adjustments.
“I think playing back-to-back games against them will be good for us,” Symington said. “At the beginning of the year when we played Wayne State we showed we could adjust well and come out better the next day.”
Still, Yale’s biggest obstacle will be their own inconsistencies, and the players agree that they will need to avoid the lapses that usually hurt them.
“When we don’t play for the entire 60 minutes, we give the opposition a mental edge,” Franck said. “It only hurts us on the score board.”
For Yale, which has already doubled last year’s three wins and has seen much improvement in play over the season, the key to the games will be the first period.
In several losses this season, most recently to Princeton, the Elis came out sluggish and had to fight back from early deficits. Princeton scored three goals in the opening period Sunday, making it nearly impossible for the Bulldogs to come back into the game.
“We were not ready to play when we stepped on the ice at Princeton and I think we realized we cannot go up to St. Lawrence and not be ready to play,” said captain Katie Hirte ’02, who recorded 27 saves in the loss.
With a combined 28 goals and 44 points, the line of Sara Wood ’02, Deanna McDevitt ’03, and Nicole Symington ’05 will need to continue their dominance in order to put some points on the board for the Elis.
“We have really tried to concentrate on foot speed this week in practice,” said Symington, who leads the team in scoring. “In order for us to have success we have to be quick and beat them to the loose pucks.”
The Saints will almost certainly capitalize on any opportunity they are given. Of their seven losses, five have come against the nation’s top three teams: Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth, and Northeastern.
“We had a great year last year and you kind of set your goals from one year to the next based on where you finished, so we set some lofty goals for ourselves,” said St. Lawrence coach Paul Flanagan, last year’s ECAC and AHCA Coach of the Year.
The Saints’ Gina Kingsbury, who rejoined the team in January after trying out for the Canadian National Team, has quickly climbed up the scoring list and was named the ECAC Player of the Week last week.
“She’s already fourth on the team in scoring,” Flanagan said. “She’s a world class player with tremendous speed. I’m surprised she didn’t make Team Canada but they went with more experience and she’s only 19.”
Both teams seem happy to be playing each other twice in a row, although it is nothing new for St. Lawrence.
“Because we’re up here without a travel partner we’ve gotten used to playing two-game series,” said Flanagan. “It’s nice to prepare for just one team for the weekend and look at strengths and weaknesses, but also from one game to the next you can go right back and fix things.”