The Yale women’s hockey team will play its final pair of games at home this weekend, looking to hold onto its berth in the ECAC playoffs while celebrating its seven senior players.
The Elis (9–14–4, 7–11–2 ECAC) have struggled in the midst of a four-game losing streak that resulted in 4–0 and 2–0 shutout losses to No. 5 Cornell and No. 3 Colgate, respectively, last weekend. Although the Bulldogs enjoyed a hot January, rising to sixth in ECAC standings, the team’s recent string of losses has seen it slip to eighth in the league, just one point above Rensselaer, with a tenuous grip on its playoff spot. This weekend, the Bulldogs will seek to earn points against another pair of higher-ranked teams, hosting Princeton (11–12–4, 9–10–1) on Friday before facing local rival Quinnipiac (15–14–3, 11–8–1) for Saturday’s senior night.
“There’s always a focus on making sure [seniors] leave the place in a better spot than they came in, and I think it’s very true for them,” head coach Joakim Flygh said. “They’ve been great as a whole, as seniors. They wanted to focus on team chemistry coming out of junior year, and they put a lot of time and effort into that. That’s led to us having great team chemistry this year, and you can really tell, this time of year, that it’s a very close team and they love being around each other. That’s why they’ve had some success at times, like finding ways to come back late in games.”
The Tigers sit just one spot above the Elis in conference standings but have a three-point advantage. When the two teams last faced off in January, Princeton defeated Yale 3–0 — the only blemish in an otherwise perfect month for the Bulldogs.
The Elis last played the Tigers after pair of shutout wins against Quinnipiac. Although the Bobcats sit higher than Princeton in the standings, the match against the Tigers highlighted several of Yale’s weaknesses at the time. The Bulldogs spent 10 minutes in the box after struggling to play clean. And although Yale’s penalty-kill was in top form — shutting down the Tigers on all five of their player advantages — the team failed to convert its own power-play opportunities.
Goalie Tera Hofmann ’20 started that game in goal, battling through an illness, before being pulled for rookie Gianna Meloni ’21 after letting in two goals on 14 shots. Meloni had a breakout January, taking over almost all of the playing time in the net and earning ECAC goalie-of-the-month honors. Hofmann, however, returned to the net last weekend, making 39 saves on 40 shots against Cornell. The next day, she started in net to deliver another stellar performance with 44 saves against Colgate.
Last weekend, the Elis struggled to generate offensive opportunities, especially after Cornell got off to a strong early start. The Bulldogs will need to focus on solving Tiger netminder Steph Neatby, who owns the sixth-best save percentage in the nation.
The final game of the regular season will be a matchup against Quinnipiac. The Bulldogs will enter the contest having shut out the Bobcats twice. In two back-to-back games to open 2018, Yale recorded 1–0 and 2–0 victories, a pair of wins that kicked off the Elis’ best run of the season. Meloni and Hofmann recorded a shutout each against the Bobcats, posting 40 and 37 saves, respectively.
“It’s a rivalry game,” Flygh said. “We’re two teams that know each other well and it will be another battle for sure, come Saturday.”
Keeping Quinnipiac off the board should be an easier task for Yale compared to recent weeks. Having faced some of the nation’s most potent offenses, the Bulldogs will now face a Bobcat team that has averaged even fewer goals than Yale: just 1.8 per game, ranking in the bottom 10 in the country. Both Hofmann and Meloni are among the top 15 goalies in the United States in terms of save percentage, and the duo will look to help the Elis bounce back after allowing 12 goals in four games this February.
Yale also played Quinnipiac to a 3–3 tie at the Nutmeg Classic, and while the Bobcats actually won that game in a shootout, officially the Bulldogs have not lost to their Connecticut rivals this season.
“We have an opportunity here to close out the regular season on a good note after some challenging losses recently,” forward Emma Vlasic ’19 said. “The fact that we get to close out regular season play at home is also great for us.”
The Bulldogs, at home in Ingalls Rink, will face Princeton at 6 p.m. on Friday before playing a matinee game against Quinnipiac at 3 p.m. Saturday.
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