After two straight seasons of improvement, the Yale women’s hockey team hopes to continue its ascent and establish itself as a force to be reckoned with in the ECAC.
The Bulldogs kicked off their season this weekend by sweeping Providence, earning two victories for the first time since 1991 — quite a change from the five consecutive losses the Elis began with in 2013 and the seven straight losses in 2011.
“We’re really excited about the team and potential we have here heading into this season,” forward Krista Yip-Chuck ’17 said. “After the growth and experience we saw last year, we’re looking to build off that, and [we] have our sights set on an Ivy League [title] and conference championship, as well as becoming a top 10 nationally ranked team.”
With four teams in the ECAC already ranked in the top 10, accomplishing these goals will not be easy for the Elis. The preseason ECAC coaches’ poll picked Yale to finish sixth in the conference, a four-spot improvement from last year’s poll, while rival Harvard was voted first.
The team should be fairly similar to last year’s iteration after losing just four seniors from last season, with the most noticeable loss being captain Tara Tomimoto ’14, who was named to the All-Ivy second team.
Even with the small graduating class, however, the Bulldogs are a relatively young team with eight freshmen and only five seniors. In addition, sophomore forwards Yip-Chuck and Phoebe Staenz ’17 played large roles last season, scoring a combined 21 goals. Staenz was named to the ECAC All-Rookie team last year and earned a bronze medal as a member of the Swiss national team in the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Despite the desire for a conference and league title, Yale has other goals on the ice as well.
“Our team goals for the season are to not get too involved or hyped up by wins and to not get complacent,” captain Aurora Kennedy ’15 said. “We definitely want to be consistent throughout the year, no matter who we’re playing. We’re playing Yale hockey, not down or up to our opponents.”
According to head coach Joakim Flygh, the Yale squad shows promise and depth, and he expects to see all of the players stepping up at some point during the season.
If the first two games are any indication, with 11 total goals, the offense looks strong this season. And with Jaimie Leonoff ’15 in the goal, the defense has a strong base to build from as well.
It is Leonoff’s skill in the net, Flygh said, that has propelled the Bulldogs to success in the past two seasons, as she earned the team MVP award both years. With a .924 save percentage or higher in the past two seasons, and with the most saves in the ECAC last year, Leonoff has been a consistently impressive player on the ice.
In addition to Leonoff, the Elis have a pair of skaters who have been key cogs in the team’s defense for the past few years. Kennedy and fellow defenseman Kate Martini ’16 each played in all 32 games last season as well as a majority of games in the previous season. Martini led the team in points in 2012-’13, the first time a Yale defenseman did that since the 1983-’84 season.
Yale will face tough competition over its schedule, including perennial powerhouses Cornell, Harvard and Clarkson. Flygh also suspects that St. Louis and Quinnipiac will be talented teams and hard games, noting that there are no easy games in this league.
According to Yip-Chuck, being in the ECAC always lends itself to a very competitive schedule, and this year is no different.
She is particularly excited for the rivalry game against Harvard, but cautioned the team against looking too far into the future.
“Every game in our league is so important that we need to come prepared to play each night and can’t look ahead on the schedule to other games,” Yip-Chuck said. “Heading in to this weekend, our team is viewing [St. Lawrence] as our biggest competition for Friday and Clarkson on Saturday.”
The team saw this weekend as a positive indicator of the season to come, as well as a way to help find weaknesses, according to players.
“I think we just need to use [this weekend] as a building block,” Kennedy said. “It was definitely a great weekend to see our offense and what they can do. Going forward, we need to focus more on our defense. We can’t rely on our offense to get us out of bad situations in games.”
Flygh agreed, saying that the team is excited about its current situation but still has plenty of issues to work on.
The Bulldogs will face both St. Lawrence and No. 9 Clarkson on home ice this weekend.