Everything the women’s hockey team has achieved this season — four program records, three victories over nationally ranked teams, the first national ranking in the program’s history — has been in anticipation of tonight’s game.
In their last home-stand of the regular season, the Elis (13-14-1, 11-7-1 ECAC) will meet No. 9 Princeton (14-7-5, 8-6-3) in a game that will make or break their hopes for home-ice advantage in the ECAC playoffs. The Bulldogs are currently in fourth-place in the conference, with Princeton tied for fifth with Brown and Colgate. If the Elis end tonight’s game with a win or a tie, they will hold onto their fourth place standing, end the regular season in the top half of the ECAC for the first time in program history, and gain home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
“What matters to us right now is getting home-ice for the playoffs,” defender Kelsey Johnson ’07 said. “That is why that game against Princeton will be very important. They are directly below us in conference play, so whoever wins that game will probably win home-ice advantage for the playoffs.”
Yale currently has 23 points in the conference standings, with just tonight’s game left on its schedule. Princeton, Brown, and Colgate all have 19 points and two games left to play this coming weekend. A win or tie for the Elis will put them out of reach of the would-be usurpers, even if the other teams post wins this weekend.
Aside from affecting postseason play, tonight’s game has an added emotional aspect because it is the last regular season match for captain Erin Duggan ’05 and forwards Ali Turney ’05 and Nicole Symington ’05. The trio have contributed greatly to the huge strides the women’s hockey program has made in recent years. If the Elis remain unbeaten tonight, the seniors will be able to sport their home jerseys for at least two more games.
“[Tonight’s game] will have a little bit more significance than usual because it is Senior Day,” forward Christina Sharun ’07 said. “This year’s seniors are a major reason why we are where we are today and we all want to do everything we can to extend their time in a Yale jersey as long as possible.”
The Elis last met the Tigers Nov. 24, and Yale defeated then-No. 8 Princeton 2-1. Yale head coach Hilary Witt sees the opportunity for a repeat if the Elis come out strong and play smart.
“If we play to our potential we will put ourselves in very good position to be successful,” she said. “We are very evenly matched. We have to play well defensively and finish when we get offensive opportunities.”
Leading the attack for the Tigers will be Kim Pearce and Liz Keady. The sophomore forwards each have 24 points on the season. Junior forward Heather Jackson brings a bit more experience to the Tigers’ offensive lineup, as well as 88 career goals, the most of any current Princeton player.
Yale will rely heavily on forwards Jenna Spring ’07, Deena Caplette ’06 and Kristin Savard ’07 to lead its own offensive charge. Each member of the trio has over 20 points on the season, and Spring and Duggan share the team lead with 11 goals. Forward Sheila Zingler ’07 joins Savard and Caplette on the red-hot offensive line, which has tallied 11 points in the last three games.
Yale and Princeton bring very similar defenses to the ice. Both teams have several offensively talented defensemen, and their penalty-kill percentages, .867 and .862 respectively, are almost identical. Duggan, along with defenders Helen Resor ’08 and Johnson, will lead the attempts to thwart the Tigers’ scoring efforts. Duggan’s 24 points on the season put her first on the team in scoring.
Both defenses will be playing in front of exceptional goaltenders. Princeton’s Roxanne Gaudiel has emerged this season as one of the nation’s top netminders. She stands fifth in the nation with a .929 save percentage, and seventh for goals-against average with 1.78. Gaudiel also has six shutouts on the season, which ties her for third in the country in that category.
On the Yale side, Witt has recently been alternating between record-holding All-Ivy goaltender Sarah Love ’06 and talented rookie Shivon Zilis ’08. Love has seen over 80 percent of the playing time this season and notched a 3-0 shutout over Vermont the last time the Elis took the ice. Zilis has played in two of Yale’s last four games, including a 29-save game against No. 3 Dartmouth, whom Zilis helped hold to just three goals. Both Love and Zilis are sufficiently skilled and experienced to present a challenge to the Princeton offense.
“The coaching staff is very confident in both goaltenders,” Duggan said. “They are both playing great and it is definitely great for a team when they can play well in front of either goaltender.”
According to Duggan, the anticipation of the playoffs combined with Senior Day and the chance to prolong their home season gives the Elis added incentive to play their hardest.
“I think that the team is going to be ready to let it all out,” she said. “It is the last game of regular season, and we have a week and a half off before playoffs start. I also think the seniors will have a little extra to give on Wednesday night.”
[ydn-legacy-photo-inline id=”16320″ ]