The women’s hockey team will travel to the Empire State this weekend looking to add a few more program records to this year’s collection.
Already this season, the Elis (11-12-1, 9-5-1 ECAC) have recorded the best start, the longest winning streak, and the most league victories in program history. This weekend, as the Bulldogs take on ECAC foes Colgate (12-12-2, 5-7-2) and Cornell (3-16-3, 3-12-1), Yale will look to meet its program-best mark for most wins in a single season (12). Also, head coach Hilary Witt is just one victory away from the 33 career wins needed to put her in the record books.
The Bulldogs are coming off a split weekend at Ingalls Rink. Last Friday, Yale dropped a 3-0 decision to No. 6 St. Lawrence. On Saturday, the Elis bounced back with a 2-0 victory over Clarkson for their first win in nearly a month.
“Last weekend was a huge confidence booster for us,” forward Christina Sharun ’07 said. “Now it is crucial that we take the momentum that we gained in the Clarkson game and continue to build on it, one shift at a time, for the remaining few games in the season.”
According to Witt, continuing the success Yale experienced against Clarkson will be as much a mental challenge as a physical one. Though Colgate and Cornell rest in the bottom half of the ECAC standings, and are not significant challengers for home-ice advantage in the playoffs, this weekend’s matchups are not to be taken lightly. Going into the games focused will be crucial as the Bulldogs try to pick up wins.
“We need to play smart this weekend and make good decisions,” Witt said. “I expect close games but I feel if we play smart, we give ourselves a good chance to win.”
The Bulldogs last met Cornell Dec. 3 and Colgate Dec. 4 at Ingalls Rink. Yale walked away from the weekend with a pair of 2-1 victories and a program-best six-game winning streak. This time around, the Elis are even more confident with their play and are looking to experience greater offensive success.
“The last time we played these teams we played well defensively,” goaltender Sarah Love ’06 said. “Our skating has improved since then, so we’ll try to use our speed to create scoring chances. Being hungry around the net and playing with desperation should help us offensively.”
A major challenge for the Elis this weekend will be finding the net on offense. The Raiders and the Big Red are both tough defensive teams. In nine games this season, Colgate has limited opponents to less than two goals. On average, Cornell allows only 22 shots on goal per game — 10 less than the Big Red takes on opposing teams.
“Colgate and Cornell are both strong defensively,” forward Kelsey Johnson ’07 said. “So it is unlikely that either game will be high-scoring. We will have to out-play them defensively in order to secure two wins.”
Luckily for the Elis, Witt has placed much emphasis on an improved defensive zone in the past few weeks. The Bulldogs have been working hard on clearing the puck from in front of Love and have focused on improving their breakouts. This past weekend, Yale exhibited a much stronger defensive effort than it showed earlier in the season.
“The whole team stepped up defensively against Clarkson,” Love said. “Everyone knew that if we took care of our own end, the offensive chances would come through on good breakouts and transitions. D-zone is going to be a focus for our team the rest of the year.”
With both Yale and Colgate showing a strong defense and neither team having dominant offensive players, Saturday’s matchup could come down to a battle between goaltenders. Love’s Raider counterpart will take the form of either Rebecca Lahar, a goalie for the U.S. under-22 Team who has seen most of the playing time this season, or Brook Wheeler, a sophomore with a stellar save percentage (.937) and a goals against average mark (1.70). Wheeler took the ice in the Raiders’ last outing, and helped the team come away with a 3-0 shutout.
“Colgate is a strong team, with a very good goalie,” Sharun said. “We know that she won’t let many goals up.”
This weekend’s games are particularly important to the Elis, who are clinging onto fourth place in the league — the last place which grants home-ice advantage for the playoffs. Two wins this weekend will keep Yale’s standing safe from fifth-place Brown, which has been threatening to oust the Elis from the top half of the conference standings.
“Anytime we go into a weekend we need to treat it like it is the most important weekend we have,” forward Nicole Symington ’05 said. “This one has extra importance because of where we are in the standings and how we would like to position ourselves for the playoffs.”