Until rookie goalie Gianna Meloni ’21 was named Easter Collegiate Athletic Conference Goalie of the Month in January, no member of the Yale women’s hockey team had won an ECAC monthly award since November 2016.
Meloni broke the Bulldogs’ dry spell to cap a month that saw her go 5–0–0, notch three shutouts and earn league Goaltender of the Week. Meloni is the newest addition to Yale’s goaltending roster, joining goalies Kyra O’Brien ’19 and Tera Hofmann ’20 in anchoring Yale’s defense this season. Although the Elis have boasted a trio of goalies each year in recent history, the way that minutes have been distributed has varied widely.
“We certainly use [practices] as tools for evaluation throughout the week to determine who will start and play in any given match of the season,” head coach Joakim Flygh said.
In the early seasons of Flygh’s tenure with the Bulldogs, which began in the summer of 2010, he allocated playing time toward one true starting goaltender, but has turned more to a rotation in net in recent years.
In Flygh’s first season, Jackee Snikeris ’11 played 1,149 of Yale’s 1,761 total minutes between the pipes for a save percentage of .941. The Bulldog’s all-time leader in save percentage, goals-against average and shutouts earned ECAC goaltender of the year honors that season, while her two backups, Genny Ladigis ’12 and and Erin Callahan ’13, played 486 and 117 minutes, with .917 and .904 save percentages, respectively.
The team graduated Snikeris that spring, and the next season, Ladigis stepped into the role of the team’s primary goalie, playing 1,284 of the Elis’ 1,729 minutes. She split time with rookie Jaimie Leonoff ’15, who proved to be the team’s long-term solution in net. The roster dipped in save percentage following Snikeris’ departure, with just a cumulative .882 average.
Leonoff firmly established herself as the starter during her tenure at Ingalls Rink.
Leonoff was both accomplished and consistent: After earning a rookie save percentage of .865, she recorded save percentages .925, .924 and .924 during her sophomore, junior and senior campaigns, respectively, to finish her career with an overall percentage of .918.
Since Leonoff’s graduation in 2015, the team has not settled on a primary goalie, nor has it reverted to its previous pattern of shifting time toward the most senior goalie. Hanna Mandl played the lion’s share of time in the 2015-2016 season, but none of that year’s three goalies, including O’Brien, surpassed .900 in their save percentages. In her 143 rookie minutes, O’Brien, earned a save percentage of .796.
Last year, it was then-rookie Tera Hofmann ’20 who made an immediate impact. Hofmann played in 23 of the 33 games that season, more than any of her peers, but fewer than the starting goaltenders of years past. Hofmann also boasted a .919 save percentage, and O’Brien matched it with a .917 in 310 minutes across six games. The team’s save percentage as a whole improved significantly, jumping from .885 to .911.
Hofmann thus entered this season as the presumed starter, with the assumption that O’Brien would act as her backup and newcomer Meloni would get limited playing time. O’Brien started the first game of the season and, after a 4–2 loss, did not start again until Nov. 4. She has started just four games this season.
Meloni, a graduate of Georgetown Preparatory Visitation School, also started few games in the first half of the season. Last calendar year, she too started in just four matches, while Hoffman started nine of the 17 games in 2017. Since then, however, Meloni has taken the reins, establishing herself in the starting role with stellar play. She has played in every game but one since the start of 2018, and has played just under half of the team’s minutes thus far.
“Our goalies all work extremely hard, but they each have a different style to their game,” defender Mallory Souliotis ’18 said. “Gianna is a bit more aggressive than Kyra, while Tera is much more conservative with her play. They each have different assets that make them good goaltenders, and their playing styles match their skills. Hypothetically, the team does not change no matter who is in net, but I think subconsciously players play differently in front of different goalies. From experience in the past few years, I know how each of our goalies play and what I can expect from them.”
Meloni’s starpower outshines any other rookie Yale goalie in the last decade; her record of 5–3–0 on the season is anchored by a save percentage of .937, higher than even Leonoff’s at the end of her career. She currently ranks ninth nationally in goal-against-average and fourth in save percentages, the highest placement in both categories of any rookie in the NCAA. Her save percentage puts her on par with Shea Tiley, senior and starting goalie for Clarkson, the defending national champions, and although Meloni ranks just 46th in minutes played, she is tied for seventh-most shutouts for the season.
Although Meloni is on a roll, Flygh insists that Meloni, Hofmann and O’Brien push each other in practice to improve and battle for playing time in each game. Still, Flygh acknowledges, “It’s hard right now to take [Meloni] out of the net, given the way she’s playing.”
Yale has four games left in the regular season.
Masha Galay | firstname.lastname@example.org
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