The “experts” have Harvard ranked seventh in the country, but the ECAC eighth-place women’s hockey team has already beaten the Cantabs once this year. This weekend, the Bulldogs have the chance to do so again.
The Elis (6-10-4, 3-5-3 ECACHL) will go for a historic season sweep of Harvard (10-7-2, 7-3-2) Saturday and a virtually unprecedented win against Dartmouth (9-8-2, 6-5-1) tonight on this weekend’s vital road trip. Yale has not beaten the Big Green in over 20 years, and has not beaten Harvard in Cambridge in 25, although the Elis and Crimson have split their last four matchups. The Bulldogs are 11-104-2 all-time against the two teams, both their biggest Ivy League and ECAC rivals.
Forward Sheila Zingler ’07 said the importance of this weekend’s games goes beyond the Elis’ troubled history with these Ancient Eight foes.
“This is probably one of the most important weekends of our season,” Zingler said. “These are two huge games. We want to come out of this year with an Ivy League championship, and these two games will definitely lead us on our way, and we’re ready to go.”
The road trip is even more crucial for the Elis in light of the fact that they currently hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the 11-team ECAC. Failure to pick up points against Dartmouth and Harvard this weekend and a Quinnipiac win or tie could again put the Bobcats, currently trailing by one point, ahead of the Elis in the playoff race. But goalie Sarah Love ’06 said the Bulldogs are not planning on staying in eighth for long.
“Last weekend’s success helped us to get the final playoff position, but we don’t want to be clinging on to eighth for the rest of the season,” Love said. “We want to move up in the standings, and this weekend presents a great opportunity to do that.”
The Big Green won, 4-2, on Nov. 19 in New Haven, the last time the two teams met. Yale jumped out to an early 2-1 lead on even-strength tallies by Maggie Westfal ’09 and Jenna Spring ’07. But the Bulldogs soon fell behind, overwhelmed by three unanswered Dartmouth goals, including two on the power play.
But the penalty-kill unit that will face the Big Green tonight is not playing like the one that allowed two goals on Nov. 19. The Bulldogs’ special teams have killed 16 straight penalties over the past four games, and the Elis’ own power-play unit has scored five times in the past two contests.
Spring said the Elis will have a good shot at winning this weekend if they can maintain a high level of play through all three periods, instead of just starting or finishing strong.
“We need to bring intensity and be ready to play for the whole game,” Spring said. “That’s definitely something we need to work on, and we’re hoping to get it done in these two games.”
Against Harvard on Saturday, the Elis will have to buckle down on defense to stop the Cantabs’ power play, which remains strong despite the loss of national stars such as Julie Chu and Sarah Vaillancourt to Olympic call-ups. Both of the Bulldogs’ two recent victories over Harvard have hinged on superb performances by Love, who averaged 47 saves in the two wins. But Love, who is 2-5 against the Crimson, spoke about her team, not herself.
“To ensure a win, we need to play with confidence and poise,” Love said. “Whether we are up or down in the game, we need to play strong defensively, and we have to capitalize on the offensive chances we get.”
If the Bulldogs can do all that, they could make program history this weekend and all but ensure a trip to the league playoffs. If the Elis lose this weekend, there is a good chance that the upstart Quinnipiac Bobcats, league newcomers, will claim the Elis’ berth as their own, and the Elis will have to watch the ECAC playoffs from the stands.