The Yale women’s hockey team saw its season come to a close Saturday afternoon after its second loss in as many games to St. Lawrence in the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs. But despite the Elis’ elimination from postseason play, this season can still be classified as a success.
After finishing ninth in the ECAC in 2015–16, the Bulldogs (10–17–4, 8–12–2 ECAC Hockey) rebounded to secure a playoff berth as the seventh seed in a conference that features five of the top 10 teams in women’s college hockey. The cadre of Bulldogs who set career bests in scoring were bolstered by a number of strong contributions from freshmen, who came in to replace the nearly 40 percent of last season’s scoring output that was lost to graduation.
“As a whole, I am proud of our squad this year and our ability to lean upon each other in times of difficulty and to overcome adversity and various challenges that I think teams from the prior years would’ve struggled a great deal with,” forward Courtney Pensavalle ’18 said. “This season, we grew as a group and were able to continue developing the type of team culture and values we set out to live by every day. Despite our disappointing finish, I think there was an effort and heart up until the end but there is still certainly a lot to improve on as we look towards the future.”
The Bulldogs, who were picked to finish ninth in the ECAC preseason coaches poll, began the season by posting a 4–1–1 record, the program’s best six-game start in the past 16 years, according to the records available. Goaltender Tera Hofmann ’20, who appeared in 22 of 31 games, played an integral role to the team’s success early on after being thrust into the starting spot just five games into the season despite no prior collegiate experience. In her debut, she helped Yale tie No. 8 Princeton 1–1 in overtime and received ECAC Rookie of the Week honors for her performance.
Hofmann was not the only freshman to make an impact: forward Laura Anderson ’20 and defender Saroya Tinker ’20 both made notable contributions to the Elis’ roster this year. Anderson played in all 31 games this season, tallying nine points in her freshman campaign. Similarly, Tinker hit the ice in 30 games and notched four points as a defender. Key underclassmen like these two, in addition to forward Jordan Chancellor ’19, the leading scorer among all freshmen and sophomores with 13 points, and goaltender Kyra O’Brien ’19 have the talent and experience to lead Yale to an even higher finish next season.
The Bulldogs’ youth became more evident as the season progressed and they faltered against nationally ranked opponents. Their slate for 2016–17 featured 12 contests against teams currently in the top ten of the USCHO.com rankings: Consecutive losses to No. 7 Cornell, No. 4 St. Lawrence and No. 3 Clarkson in mid-November hindered Yale’s efforts to keep pace in the top half of the conference early in the season.
After winning just one of their first six games coming out of the holiday break, the Bulldogs rallied back to rip off five wins in a row, including crucial victories against conference foes Dartmouth, Harvard and Brown. These triumphs were crucial as they helped Yale gain critical separation from the teams vying with them for a conference playoff spot, eliminating any qualms regarding postseason uncertainty.
“I think as the season progressed something that we learned how to do was fight back when we were down,” Hofmann said. “When we fight, amazing things have happened and we learned that being able to push ourselves mentally and physically pays off.”
Having been eliminated from ECAC title contention, the Bulldogs looked to build off the momentum from that winning streak and win an Ivy League championship. Playing without leading scorer forward Phoebe Staenz ’17, who was competing for Switzerland’s national team, and an injured captain Krista Yip-Chuck ’17, the Elis saw their hopes dashed in a 2–2 overtime tie to the Big Red in which Yale conceded a tally deep into their third period.
Injuries to two of the top three scorers — forwards Yip-Chuck and Eden Murray ’18 — plagued the team down the stretch as the Bulldogs limped to the finish, dropping their final five regular season games after being outscored by a total score 20–3 in those contests.
Heading into the ECAC playoffs, the Elis knew they would have to play flawlessly to beat the fifth-ranked St. Lawrence. Although strong performances against the Saints from Murray, who tallied a goal, and Hofmann, who saved 27 shots, the Bulldogs could not manage to advance into the semifinals. However, looking ahead to the 2017–18 season, the Bulldogs should see nothing but improvement.
“As a whole, I think our team throughout the season learned our strengths and weaknesses and how to play our type of game rather than letting other teams set the pace of the game,” Chancellor said. “On the offensive end we saw a lot of girls improve their point totals from last year, and being able to produce offensively is going to be crucial for us in the future.”
Several Bulldog players also accomplished career highs this season on both offense and defense. Murray, Staenz and Yip-Chuck all posted season bests in goals scored en route to combining for 78 points, a significant increase from the trio’s offensive production last season. O’Brien also upped her save percentage from 0.796 to 0.917 and brought down her goals-against-average from 4.18 to 2.32.
Yale will lose five seniors to graduation.