After much talk about their off-season improvement, the Yale women’s ice hockey team proved it on the ice of Ingalls Rink this weekend.

The Bulldogs began their campaign with a 1-0 shutout win Saturday and a 2-2 tie Sunday against the University of Maine, while reaching some milestones along the way. Saturday’s victory — a tightly fought goaltending duel between Yale’s Sarah Love ’06 and Maine’s Lara Smart — was Yale’s first-ever win against the Black Bears.

Yale’s first goal of the season came when forward Kristin Savard ’07 made a deft play to score at 17:57 of the first period Saturday. The Bulldogs then clamped down on defense, allowing only 11 shots on goal throughout the game.

The Black Bears appeared to have more drive Sunday, outshooting Yale 12-6 in the first period and dominating play early in the game. But the Bulldogs scored first when forward Kelsey Johnson ’07 capitalized on a scramble in front of the net to shoot left of screened Maine netminder Lara Smart.

Karen Droog, the Black Bears’ leading scorer from last season, evened the score on a penalty shot at 19:14 of the first period when she deked to the right and shot through Love’s five-hole.

In a very physical second period, the two teams traded power-play goals by Maine’s Kelly Law and Yale’s forward Nicole Symington ’05. Neither team scored in the third period or in overtime; Yale had most of the chances late in the game including 1:22 of a five-on-three power play in the third period.

“Overall, I am pleased with the weekend,” head coach Hillary Witt said. “We came out flat in the first two periods [on Sunday] but dominated the third. We have a tough young team that’s learning to bounce back. And with Sarah Love in net, we always have an advantage.”

Love was considerably more tested in Sunday’s tie, making 27 saves — more than double her total on Saturday. So far, she is perfect in five-on-five play, with the only goals scored against her this season coming on a Maine penalty shot and powerplay, respectively.

“Last year, I faced a lot more shots,” Love said. “It is nice to have a better team defensively in front of me. I just do whatever I can to help the team without getting worked up.”

If familiarity breeds contempt, it is no wonder the intensity was on full display in the team’s second encounter in less than 24 hours. A total of 13 penalties were called on Sunday, 8 of them on Maine.

“They are a really physical team, but so are we,” forward Suzanne McGoey ’06 said. “We can’t back down.”

Thanks to their vastly improved special teams, the Bulldogs can afford to take some extra liberties with opposing players. The aggressive forechecking of Yale’s penalty killing units has allowed only one goal out of 10 chances this season.

But the biggest difference between this year’s squad and last year’s has been its powerplay. All of the goals scored by Yale this weekend with the man advantage. The Elis are finding ways to crash the net and make the best of their opportunities. They are also starting to turn a few heads in the process.

“Yale showed great effort throughout the weekend and played a solid six periods,” said Maine head coach Rick Filighera. “We were outplayed yesterday and the first period today and were even the rest of the way. I’m very impressed with Yale teams this year.”

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