Sarah Love ’06 is well aware of pressure.

“As a hockey goalie, you are the backbone of the team,” Love said. “You are depended on the most, and there’s a lot of pressure on you.”

But Love has no objections.

“I like pressure,” she said.

Good thing, too, because the women’s hockey program’s present, and future, are riding on her shoulderpads.

“Defense wins championships,” head coach Hilary Witt said. “Right now, we’re averaging two or three goals against good teams, and that’s nothing without a good goaltender.”

Love, part of arguably Yale’s most touted and talented hockey class, already has expectations lined up for the next three years.

“[Love] is our building block,” Witt said. “Her senior year, we plan to contend for a national championship.”

This year, the Elis are willing to settle for a sixth place finish in conference standings, but Love’s presence has been palpable nevertheless.

“Sarah [Love] had done a great job for us this year,” teammate Deena Caplette ’06 said. “She’s come up big for us in big games.”

But the big-time player had small-town beginnings. Love, who grew up in Bayfield, Ontario, started playing hockey when she was 5.

“I wanted to be like my big brother, who had signed up for hockey, so I signed up too,” Love said. “He quit before the first game, but after he saw me play, he rejoined the team. We both have been playing since.”

As a member of the Team Ontario Red in 2000, Love won the Canadian National Championship. Along the way, she faced teammate Caplette and Team Western in the semi-final round.

“We beat her 1-0,” Love said. “I got the shutout.”

But national supremacy was nothing new for Love. She led the Kitchener Spirit to a national championship the year before — in soccer. Love also played basketball and volleyball for her high school in Ontario.

“I guess it was one of those things I was born with,” Love said.

Love battled injuries at the beginning of the season, but she has unassumingly asserted herself as one of the top goalies in the league.

“In my opinion, she is the best goalie in the league,” Erika Hockinson ’04 said. “She makes the saves that aren’t supposed to be saved.”

Love, averaging 3.20 goals allowed per game, was named ECAC Goaltender of the Week Feb. 17 for her 37-save performance in the Elis’ 3-1 win over nationally ranked No. 8 Princeton Feb. 15.

“As a defender, I am so thankful [Love] is in goal,” Hockinson said. “I have every bit of confidence that if someone gets by the defense, she can make the save.”