Riding the momentum of its biggest upset this season, the Yale women’s hockey team is preparing for its playoff run, starting with a series against its biggest rival — No. 4 Harvard.
With a crucial shutout against then-No. 5 Quinnipiac last Friday night and a momentous win against Princeton the following day, the Bulldogs (15–13–1, 12–10–0 ECAC) closed out the regular season with their best weekend this winter. The ECAC tournament kicks off this weekend, and the Elis will take on No. 4 Harvard in the first round.
“We played some of our best hockey this weekend, and that enabled us to get two big wins,” defenseman Mallory Souliotis ’18 said. “Everyone played well and stuck to our systems, and we got the outcome we wanted going into the last weekend of the regular season. We are excited for playoffs, and especially since it’s Harvard, the series has a little history.”
Yale finally passed Dartmouth in points after its sweep this weekend, acquiring the seventh seed out of eight playoff positions. The team will therefore travel down to Boston this weekend for a best-of-three series against the Crimson. The winner will move on to the semi-finals, which will take place next weekend.
Although Harvard is in the number two postseason position, the team is tied in points with fellow league leader and reigning national champions No. 5 Clarkson. The Crimson also hold the highest national rank in the ECAC.
Home-ice advantage works in Harvard’s favor, as the team did not lose on its own rink until the last game of the season. However, the Crimson have many other advantages this weekend. Harvard leads the ECAC in goals and assists, with season totals of 109 and 166 respectively. The Crimson also top the league in goals per game, with an average 3.76, although the Bulldogs are not far behind, holding the third-best average with 3.17.
Ivy rivals Harvard and Yale have faced off twice already in the regular season with decisive victories for the Crimson in each matchup. The last contest, which ended in a 6–1 victory for Harvard, was the largest margin by which the Elis have been defeated all season.
Still, Yale has never been in a better position to defeat the Crimson. They are currently in the midst of a five-game win streak and have the added confidence coming from their major victory over ranked foe Quinnipiac. Frustrated from their last performance, players said they are ready for the rematch.
According to forward Gretchen Tarrant ’17, practice this week has focused on building intensity and keeping a high-tempo pace in order to maintain the momentum from the previous weekend.
“It’s huge for us being on a five-game winning streak going into playoffs,” captain and defenseman Aurora Kennedy ’15 said. “It gives us great confidence in each other, our team and our systems. Every game from here on out will be a fight, and I know we’ll come ready.”
The Yale women’s hockey program has undergone some major changes in recent years, and the team’s playoff qualification for the postseason tournament this year signifies significant strides for a program that won just a single game three seasons ago.
Last season marked a turning point for the team, as the Bulldogs made their first ECAC tournament appearance since 2008. In a situation nearly identical to the series this upcoming weekend, seventh-seed Yale took on second-seed, No. 5 Harvard in Boston during the quarterfinals. After taking the first game 3–2 in double overtime, the Elis lost a hard-fought battle the next day as the Crimson evened the series with its own 3–2 double overtime win. A shutout on Sunday ended their postseason run.
“Last year, it was a battle to be sure, and probably one of the most exhilarating weekends of hockey in my career,” Tarrant said. “It really came down to bounces. It could have easily gone either way. This year if we play the smart, intense team hockey we have been playing for the past few weeks, we can definitely end the series in our favor before game three.”
According to Tarrant, consistent play throughout the first two periods in order to avoid a defining match on Sunday is key to preventing last year’s outcome.
The team is focusing on the challenging series ahead, but players are also aware of the promise they have shown in recent games and what that could mean for the Elis’ playoff run.
“This team has so much potential and that showed this weekend,” Souliotis said. “I think if we can beat Harvard and move on to the next round, this team can go as far as it wants. We just need to continue to play confidently and as a team, and this team can play with anyone.”
The game against Harvard will begin at 3:30 p.m. on Friday.