This weekend, the Yale men’s and women’s hockey teams combined to sweep conference opponent Brown. The pair of home-and-homes marked the first four-point weekend of the year for the men’s team and the third and fourth straight wins for the women’s, but was also unique in that the teams won with four different goalies in net.
On Friday, Kyra O’Brien ’19 and Patrick Spano ’17 started in net, saving 19 and 23 shots on the way to 2–1 and 4–3 victories for the women’s and men’s teams, respectively. Yet on Saturday, both teams featured a new and younger netminder, with Tera Hofmann ’20 and Sam Tucker ’19 also fending off the Bears with 22 and 24 saves.
Hofmann opened up her play for the Elis at the start of the 2016–17 season in a late-October game against Princeton. Yale tied the ECAC’s fourth-ranked team 1–1 and Hofmann saved 35 shots for a save percentage of 0.972. Since October, Hofmann’s skill in the goal has earned her an ECAC Hockey Rookie of the Week award and a starting position in Yale’s lineup.
Although she now sees fewer minutes of game time since she began sharing the net with O’Brien, Hofmann takes full advantage of the positive aspects of sharing the goal.
“[The] benefits are we get to keep competing with each other on the ice and off the ice,” Hofmann said. “When you’re splitting ice time it always makes you want more. It is also less difficult because typically after a Friday game I would have to spend the rest of the day preparing my body and mind for the next day, but when we split, I can just rest the next day.”
On the other hand, after playing very little in the early stages of the season, O’Brien started seeing an increase in playing time when the Bulldogs returned to the ice after winter break. In a tough game against No. 5 St. Lawrence, O’Brien headed onto the ice to relieve Hofmann from the goal for the second two periods.
During her 40 minutes of play, O’Brien shut out the Saints, although Yale ended up losing 4–1, and she did the same to Dartmouth the following weekend in a 4–0 Eli victory.
In just the five games she has played, O’Brien has a save percentage of 0.931, and although she has not recorded enough minutes to be eligible for the division rankings, her mark would put her at third in the ECAC standings. While she recognizes the benefits of sharing the net with a teammate, O’Brien pointed out the downsides as well.
“It’s nice to be getting into games and giving our team the best chance to win, but one of the biggest drawbacks is that my competitive nature makes me want to play in every game,” O’Brien said. “As hard as it is to not be playing every game, I am able to more clearly assess our team’s and the other team’s game strategies while on the bench. In the end, I want to do whatever I can to help our team win.”
The women’s team is hoping to build on its four-game winning streak with the help of their two goaltenders. While the whole team is looking for ways to improve its level of play heading into the latter part of the season, Hofmann and O’Brien are fortunate to have each other to watch and learn from.
“Since we have different playing styles, there’s a lot we can pick up from one another,” O’Brien said. “It’s definitely helpful watching each other in game situations because we can see things from a different perspective. [Hofmann] has shown me how to simplify some plays and I think that has helped me in refining my play and preventing scrambles in front of the net.”
But the women’s squad was not the only team to switch goaltenders midway through the weekend. For the men, it was starting netminder Spano who got the nod to start against Brown on Friday.
Like Hoffman, Spano has a 0.915 save percentage on the season. After serving as the backup for his first three years wearing a Yale sweater, Spano has seen most of the workload this year. His numbers suggest that there was somewhat of an adjustment to taking on the starting role, and through the first couple of months of play he sported a below-average 0.877 save percentage.
However, since the start of the new calendar year, the Bulldogs and their starting goaltender have been flying, with only one loss in the month of January. Spano has excelled throughout this stretch, going into the matchup against the Bears with a 0.943 save percentage in seven games.
Spano’s level of play earned him ECAC Goalie of the Week after he made a career-high 39 saves and allowed just one goal throughout two games last weekend. However, his play in net on Friday saw a dip as he allowed three goals on 26 shots, and so it was backup Tucker who was guarding the cage when the Bulldogs returned to Ingalls Rink for a rematch the following evening.
This season has seen more of a tandem in the men’s goal than Eli fans are used to. Last season as the backup, Spano started only one game, a 4–2 loss against Princeton. In his freshman and sophomore seasons he started five and three games, respectively.
This year, meanwhile, backup Tucker has already played in seven games, starting four and entering in relief of Spano on two occasions, as well as playing a period in an exhibition win against the University of Ottawa.
“I worked hard in the offseason with the hopes of earning playing time, and I am thrilled to be able to help this team in any role the coaches ask of me,” Tucker said. “It has been exciting to get the opportunity to play in games this year, and having a year to learn from Patrick and Alex [Lyon ’17] in practice certainly helped the transition.”
Though the younger goaltender, playing this season for the first time in his collegiate career, has only a 0.869 save percentage, his first three starts were against nationally ranked competition: No. 3 Boston University, No. 4 Union and No. 14 St Lawrence. Since playing those powerhouses, Tucker has won both games in which he started, allowing just three goals in the process.
Despite conceding the first goal of the Saturday game against Brown on a shorthanded breakaway in the first period, Tucker finished out the night with 24 saves and a 0.960 save percentage, holding the Bears scoreless throughout several power play opportunities and over 42 minutes of play.
Given that Tucker is the presumed starter next season when Spano graduates, more playing time this year will, he hopes, aid his performance in the future. Spano, meanwhile, is looking to start as many of the Elis’ eight remaining regular season games as he can.
“I’ve been feeling more and more comfortable the more I’ve played,” Spano said. “Obviously, I’m competitive and want to play as much as possible, but it’s great to see the team win, even if I’m not in net.”
This weekend, the women’s team goes on the road to face Princeton and Quinnipiac, attempting to preserve their winning streak, while the men’s team faces the same foes on home ice at Ingalls Rink.