On Friday and Saturday, the Yale women’s hockey team travels halfway across the country to compete against the reigning national champions and current No. 3 Minnesota Golden Gophers in back-to-back games.
Yale (1–4–1, 1–2–1 ECAC) will have its hands full against Minnesota’s (11–1–0, 9–1–0 WCHA) prolific offense. The Golden Gophers have racked up 79 goals in 12 contests this season, making them the highest-scoring team in the nation. In fact, Minnesota’s roster is comprised of five of the top 14 goal-scorers in all of Division I women’s hockey.
“To become the best, you have to play and beat the best,” forward Krista Yip-Chuck ’17 said. “And our challenging schedule allows us the opportunity to do so, while also challenging us to improve and raise our level of play as a team to that of a championship program.”
Making the already-challenging task ahead even more difficult is the fact that Yale has accumulated the third-most minutes in the penalty box in the nation this season. Should that trend continue this weekend, Yale will have to fend off Minnesota forward Dani Cameranesi, who leads the country with six power-play goals.
Cutting down on the team’s penalty minutes will cut into the margin between Minnesota’s top-ranked offense and Yale’s defense, which is tied for last in defense, having allowed a nation-high 4.33 goals per game thus far.
“Minnesota is a really good hockey team, but we have worked hard in practice these past two weeks and feel confident going into this weekend,” captain and forward Janelle Ferrara ’16 said. “Getting to play them back-to-back allows us to focus on how we can shut them down and play to our strengths to defeat them.”
Minnesota’s defense is nothing to scoff at either. The Golden Gophers have only allowed 1.25 goals per game this season, the fourth-best rate in the country. Leading that high-ranking defensive effort is goaltender Amanda Leveille, who has performed well in net and sits in sixth place in the country in goals allowed per game.
Yale’s offense can pose a threat, though, as the Bulldogs have tallied 2.67 goals per game this season — 15th-best in the country. Moreover, the Elis have done so against stiff defenses; the Elis scored four goals against Quinnipiac’s sixth-ranked defense before posting three goals against Harvard’s second-ranked defense.
An added benefit for the Bulldogs is that they were off from action last weekend, granting them an extra week to focus solely on the defending champions.
“We have been able to spend the past two weeks focusing specifically on systems to counter the Gophers,” forward Jamie Haddad ’16 said.
Minnesota is just another challenge in a series of tough opponents early on for the Bulldogs. Yale has already faced four teams currently ranked in the top 10 in the country, as well as Dartmouth, which was ranked No. 10 at the time of the two teams’ tie two weekends ago.
The Elis also played their previous five games within a nine-day time frame. Since then, the team has had 12 days off to rest up in preparation for this weekend’s battles. The team feels that, with the time to practice and improve, they have what it takes to take down the number-three team in the nation.
“Over the past two weeks we have worked hard and feel ready for our opponents,” forward Brittany Wheeler ’18 said.
Yale has a small history of dethroning the national champions. The Bulldogs defeated the 2013–14 national champions, Clarkson, on Jan. 30 last season in a 3–2 affair. In that same season, however, Yale dropped two games to Minnesota by scores of 5–1 and 4–1.
The puck will drop at 8 p.m. Friday night on Minnesota’s home ice.