Even with a disappointing final weekend, the Yale women’s hockey team finished regular-season play ranked second in the Ivy League, its highest finish since 2005, and qualified for the ECAC playoffs after missing out on postseason play by a single point last season.
For the opening round of the eight-team conference tournament, the Bulldogs (10–15–4, 8–12–2 ECAC Hockey) will travel to Canton, New York as the seventh seed to take on No. 5 St. Lawrence (24–4–4, 16–3–3). The second-seeded Saints emerged victorious in their two previous matchups with Yale this season, clinching 4–0 and 4–1 wins. Though St. Lawrence’s two wins over Yale were convincing, a recent loss to No. 8 Princeton and a tie against No. 7 Cornell demonstrate vulnerability which the Bulldogs will hope to exploit.
“I think the past weekend was a big wake up call,” defender Mallory Souliotis ’18 said. “We did not play our best, and we need to be exponentially better than this past weekend in order to have a chance against St. Lawrence. We need everyone to be contributing, from the offense to the defense, all the way back to the goalie; everyone needs to be ready at puck drop.”
Yale struggled offensively in its last four regular-season games. Without forward and leading scorer Phoebe Staenz ’17 and captain and forward Krista Yip-Chuck ’17 on the ice two weeks ago, Souliotis switched to help out the offensive line, leaving a gap on the Bulldogs’ first defensive line. The absence of key players resulted in losses to Colgate, Harvard and Dartmouth, but Staenz has returned to the ice after her stint away with the Swiss National team, and Yip-Chuck will return this weekend after a shoulder injury to complete the starting lineup.
Goaltenders Tera Hofmann ’20 and Kyra O’Brien ’19 have split time in the goal for Yale for the majority of the season. Last weekend, however, netminder Hanna Mandl ’17 took over from O’Brien as the second option in goal and played for the first time since October against Dartmouth. After Hofmann surrendered five goals to Harvard on Friday and Mandl allowed three to the Big Green the following day, the freshman said she will start in goal on Friday. After that, the decision will be made on a game-to-game basis for the duration of the postseason, Hofmann said.
“We have worked hard all season to make sure we would land ourselves a playoff spot,” defender Julia Yetman ’19 said. “That being said, simply making the playoffs is not enough for us. We expect to make it far in playoffs and hopefully put ourselves in a position to go all the way.”
To keep its season alive, Yale will need to find ways to put the puck as early as possible past St. Lawrence goaltender Grace Harrison, who will be commanding the crease this weekend. The Auckland, New Zealand native currently ranks second in the country in shutouts and boasts a 1.54 goals-against average. However, in games where Harrison has conceded the opening goal, the Saints are just 2–3–2 and her GAA jumps up to 3.14. Rattling the sophomore early and being the first team to light the lamp will be crucial for the Bulldogs’ chances of success.
St. Lawrence has plenty of weapons in front of Harrison that make its offense a formidable countering force. Forwards Kennedy Marchment and Brooke Webster were announced as finalists for the 2017 Patty Kazmaier Award, an honor annually bestowed upon the top player in collegiate women’s hockey. The skaters rank second and third, respectively, in points per game in Division I hockey and combined for 38 goals in the regular season. Additionally, forward Nadine Edney carved up the Bulldog defense earlier in the season, scoring four goals in two prior contests.
Across the ice, captain and defender Kirsten Padalis anchors a Saints’ blue line that ranks third nationally in scoring defense and was recently named a finalist for the ECAC Hockey Best Defenseman Award. The senior leads St. Lawrence with a plus-minus statistic of +35 and lays claim to 58 blocked shots on the season.
Yale is just 1–2–7 against the Saints in the last five seasons, including an 0–4–1 record at Appleton Arena in Canton. Over that same span, the Bulldogs have just one win in five ECAC playoff games, all of which were on the road against Harvard.
“Playoff hockey is like a brand-new season, and anything can happen on any given day,” Yip-Chuck said. “We’re going to be the underdog from here on out, so we need to really focus on outworking and outcompeting [with] St. Lawrence on every single shift this weekend in order to have a great opportunity to be successful.”
Yale faces off against the Saints on Friday evening at 6 p.m. before a 3 p.m contest on Saturday afternoon. If necessary, the two teams will also compete on Sunday in a 3 p.m. tiebreaker.