The pressure is rising for the women’s hockey team.
After finishing their non-league season with two losses to Ohio State, the Elis are anxious to get back into ECAC play and rack up the wins. The Bulldogs, who followed a program-record six-game winning streak with a dismal 1-7 record in their most recent matchups, hope to recover their winning ways this weekend against Brown and No. 6 Harvard.
“The fact that we only have league games left means that each game is the most important game of our season,” goaltender Sarah Love ’06 said. “We had a great first half of the league schedule, and if we can repeat it or do better in the second half we’ll be happy.”
With only conference opponents, many of whom are nationally ranked, remaining on Yale’s schedule, each game becomes crucial to ECAC and NCAA playoff determinations. The first four teams in the ECAC, which currently places Harvard and Yale at numbers two and three, respectively, will gain home-rink advantage for the first round of the conference playoffs. Brown, which stands fifth in the league, is a potential challenger for the Elis’ spot. The Bulldogs also hope to break back into the national rankings and grab a spot in the NCAA championship tournament, which is reserved for the top eight teams in the nation.
“Come playoff time, these games are crucially important to win because it is important to us to finish in the top four in our league and gain home-ice advantage for the playoffs,” defender Christina Sharun ’07 said. “We are going to have to be successful against Brown in order to help our chances of getting that home-ice advantage.”
Yale kicks off the weekend at Brown’s Meehan Auditorium Friday night. The Bulldogs last faced Brown at Ingalls Rink Nov. 13, where the Elis fell 4-1. The Elis held the then-No. 8 Bears to a one-goal lead until the end of the second period, when Brown forward Keaton Zucker scored two goals in three minutes to secure the win. Even pulling Love for almost three minutes at the end of the third period could not help the Elis put a shot past Brown goaltender O’Hara Shipe.
The Bears’ offensive attack will be driven by Kerry Nugent and Haley Moore, who each have 16 points for the season. The Elis also need to watch out for Zucker, whose two goals in the game against the Bulldogs proved her to be particularly dangerous for Yale. Brown has not lost a game to Yale in 16 years, but the Elis plan to reverse that tradition this time around with increased focus and intensity.
“Our players need to challenge themselves to play smart hockey,” Yale head coach Hilary Witt said. “The teams that play with discipline and the need to win will prevail in the end. In the end it is your record that matters, and we need to learn how to win tight games.”
The day before losing to Brown, the Elis made history with a win over Harvard. Before this year’s victory, Yale had not beaten a Crimson team since 1984. Captain Erin Duggan ’05, forward Nicole Symington ’05 and forward Kelsey Johnson ’07 contributed goals to the win. Already holding a win over Harvard is both a favorable and unfavorable situation. On one hand, the Elis know it is possible to defeat the Crimson. On the other hand, Harvard will be gunning for revenge.
“Harvard is obviously going to come out hard,” Witt said. “They are the first Harvard team to lose to Yale in 20 years. They are certainly not happy about that, and we need to be ready from the start.”
To grab the win over Harvard, Yale’s defense will need to be in top shape. Crimson forwards Nicole Corriero and Sarah Vaillancourt are both among the top 10 scorers in the nation. Corriero has tallied 28 goals on the season and is fourth in the nation in points per game (2.53). Vaillancourt has notched 30 points on the season and is seventh in the nation in points per game (2.14).
The Crimson will attempt to take advantage of the Elis’ defensive-zone struggles this season, and the Bulldogs will have to show an improved defensive effort in order to get the win.
Yale will be benefitting from a relatively light schedule in the past two weeks. The Elis last took the ice Jan. 15 against Ohio State. Since then, the Bulldogs had some time off to recuperate, and they resumed intense practice this week with increased fervor.
“The weekend off came at a perfect time for us,” Witt said. “We have been on the road a lot lately, and with a small roster it was important for us to get some rest. We gave them more time than usual off. We are hoping we get a lot of energy in return this weekend.”
The Bulldogs will seek to improve their offensive attack this weekend. Yale has recently had difficulty finding the numbers and the stamina to attack the net as often and as hard as necessary to notch goals. The Elis will concentrate now on getting as many shots as possible and attempting to turn rebounds into scoring opportunities.
“We have been putting a lot of focus on getting pucks to the net and then giving that extra effort to finish off rebounds,” Sharun said. “Our goal for the weekend is to finish off the good scoring opportunities that we get.”