Hope Allchin

The Yale women’s ice hockey team returns this season with a strong core of returning players hungry for postseason success and looking to continue its upward trajectory despite a difficult schedule.

The Bulldogs, led by sixth-year head coach Joakim Flygh, finished the 2014-15 campaign with 15 wins, just one short of its record mark earned in 2005. According to players, the team’s recent success coupled with determination to break into the class of elite programs means an even better season to come.

“We have so much grit and even more depth than last year,” forward Eden Murray ’18 said. “ I think this season is about turning heads and proving our spot amongst the top-ranked teams.”

It is easy to forget how far the program has come in the last few years under Flygh’s lead. Just five seasons ago in 2011–12, the Elis earned a single win in a 29-game season, marking a low point in program history. Yet the team’s rapid turnaround was evident last winter as the Bulldogs achieved their best win percentage in eight years, finishing 15–15–1.

Perhaps the most impressive stretch of the program’s transformation took place in the final games of the 2015 regular season. Yale defeated its final five opponents, shutting out two ECAC foes including a 3–0 dismantling of then-No. 5 Quinnipiac. Although the season ended with a disappointing playoff series loss against Harvard, Yale’s team hopes that the momentum from its winning streak at the close of last year’s campaign can carry over into success on the ice in 2016.

“Near the end of last season we were relentless in our work ethic and played as a team,” Murray said. “In order to carry [that success] over into this year, we have to be on the same page and make sure [that] especially the returning players are setting good examples day in and day out.”

Yale, who opened its season on Saturday afternoon with a 6–3 loss to then-No. 8 Quinnipiac, retains 19 players from last year’s roster, including the top five point-earners in captain and forward Janelle Ferrara ’16, forwards Jamie Haddad ’16, Phoebe Staenz ’17 and Krista Yip-Chuck ’17 and defender Taylor Marchin ’17.

Haddad and Yip-Chuck led the team in goals last season with 11 apiece, while Ferrara assisted on 19 goals to pace the Elis’ attack.

“The strong number of returning offensive forwards is important for this year’s team’s success,” Murray said. “It re-establishes depth in our roster for this year and gives the freshmen a positive model to go off of. Because we are so offensive, however, we still have to make sure we learn to play both sides of the puck.”

While the majority of Yale’s defenders are underclassmen, the Bulldogs still boast a veteran presence thanks to Marchin and defender Kate Martini ’16, who has appeared in 92 consecutive games for the Bulldogs and ended last season with a plus-13 rating.

Perhaps the biggest loss for the team is the absence of Jaimie Leonoff ’15 in the Eli goal. Leonoff, who over four years played in 99 games and made 3107 saves for the Bulldogs, now plays in the newly established NWHL as a member of the Connecticut Whale.

Hanna Mandl ’17 will be the starting goalkeeper in charge of defending the Yale net in the 2015–16 season. She has appeared in 11 games for the Elis with six of those being starts during her first two years. In Mandl’s limited action, her goals-against average was 2.06 last season, slightly lower than Leonoff, who allowed 2.41 goals per game on average in 29 games.

As Mandl takes over responsibilities between the pipes with relatively little experience, five newcomers will also join Yale’s roster. The Bulldogs’ freshman class consists of two forwards, two defenders and a goalie.

“The freshmen we have added to our roster are all hard-working both on and off the ice,” Mandl said. “They all have the speed that our team prides ourselves on, which is crucial for their integration into our program. They also have all bought into our program and are really positive individuals. Everyone is really excited to have all our new members aboard.”

While the majority of the roster has been left intact, there has been some turnover in the coaching staff. Rob Morgan, formerly the head coach at St. Norbert’s in Wisconsin, will take over as Flygh’s associate head coach. Mandl said Morgan has already contributed to the team by implementing new coaching tactics and providing some fresh encouragement.

In the ECAC Coaches’ Preseason Poll, Yale was ranked eighth out of the 12 conference members, though there is significant separation between the Elis and the ninth team in the rankings, Colgate. Leading the field are a pair of reigning ECAC co-champions — Harvard, thanks to a league-leading eight first-place votes, was tabbed the preseason favorite followed closely by Clarkson.

The Bulldogs will face a tough schedule that includes 11 games against teams currently ranked in the top 10 in the nation. Two of those contests, taking place Nov. 20 and 21, will be against national powerhouse Minnesota, currently situated at the top of the rankings. The Golden Gophers have won three of the past four national championships, with Clarkson being the lone exception in 2014.

Despite the difficult road ahead that includes the past two national champions and a conference loaded with talent, the team believes it can leave its mark on the ECAC.

“Over the last few years the team has improved immensely and I think this year we can do even better than last year,” defender Mallory Souliotis ’18 said. “As a team, we want to make the ECAC playoffs and go from there.”

But as the season-opening loss to the local Bobcats demonstrated, the Bulldogs cannot afford to take a step back if they hope to be a serious contender.

Murray said that while the team is definitely headed in the right direction, there is still much room for improvement.

“The belief [in ourselves] is already there,” Murray said. “We just need to come together as team and get down to business. Each class needs to make a conscious decision to get out of their comfort zones and make it easier for the next class to feel welcome. There should be no barriers.”

The Bulldogs will take on Princeton in their first ECAC contest of the season on Friday night at Ingalls Rink.