The Yale women’s hockey team will kick off the ECAC playoffs when it faces the defending national champion Clarkson, the conference’s top team, in a best-of-three series beginning on Friday.
The Bulldogs (10–15–4, 8–12–2 ECAC) closed their regular season with a shutout victory over Quinnipiac that solidified their eight-place finish in the league, clinching the final ECAC playoff spot. They will travel north to face No. 2 Clarkson (29–4–1, 19–3–0), with games on Friday and Saturday, and a third match planned for Sunday if necessary.
“[Clarkson is] just very good at everything they do,” head coach Joakim Flygh said. “They’re very patient. There are other teams that will put a lot more pressure on you early, as far as forcing you to make turnovers, but they’re a little more like piranhas. They wait for you to make a mistake and jump on you, and they’re very effective once you make a mistake. We have to take care of the puck.”
The Elis will enter this weekend’s series looking for their first win against the Golden Knights since Jan. 30, 2015, three seasons ago. Clarkson beat the Bulldogs twice this season, shutting them out 4–0 in November in their home season opener, before winning 2–1 exactly three months later.
In both match-ups, the Elis struggled out of the gate, falling behind early; in the November game, Clarkson scored two goals midway through the first period and a third less than 30 seconds into the second frame. In the game on Feb. 3, meanwhile, Clarkson got its first goal just one and a half minutes into the game. The Bulldogs have struggled this season when falling behind early — and while they showed in the second game that they are capable of climbing back into the game — getting off to a good start will be imperative in this series.
“Clarkson is an excellent team and will be a tough competitor, as evidenced by their highly disciplined play and impressive record so far this season,” forward Courtney Pensavalle ’18 said. “How we bounce back from adversities will be key, but I like our odds given our compete level, passion and the way we left Clarkson on their heels until the final buzzer when we faced them a few weeks ago.”
Still, the Elis enter this matchup as significant underdogs and face a steep challenge against a Golden Knights team that is strong in all phases of the game. Clarkson is fourth in the nation in scoring offense; Yale is 28th after averaging less than two goals per game this season. Clarkson has two players in the top 10 in the nation in scoring, Loren Gabe and rookie Elizabeth Gigure, who are fifth and sixth in points per game and third and eighth in goals per game, respectively. This duo alone has scored a combined 53 goals in 34 games this season. By contrast, Yale’s most potent scorer, Greta Skarzynski ’21, has 0.86 points per game and leads the team with 14 goals in 29 games.
However, the Bulldogs have already proven that they can contain the Golden Knights offensively. Netminder Gianna Meloni ’21 has been key to the success for the oft-outshot Bulldogs, and, despite the loss in February, she was impressive in limiting Clarkson to just two goals on 25 shots. She blanked the Golden Knights in the second half of the game, giving Yale the chance to make a comeback. But even if she and fellow netminder Tera Hofmann ’20 — who has also played extremely well as of late — can continue to be strong in goal, Yale will need to provide better offensive support. This will also prove a challenge against a Clarkson team that is third in the NCAA in limiting scoring, having held its opponents to an average of just 1.24 goals per game throughout the regular season.
There will be a strength to strength matchup on special teams: The Bulldogs’ power play, which has been indispensable to their offense, is third in the nation; in the Golden Knights, the Elis will face a penalty kill that is also ranked third in the NCAA. Meanwhile Yale, which took six penalties in the season series, will look to stay out of the penalty box to limit Clarkson’s time on the player advantage; the Golden Knights are ranked sixth in the country at five-on-four.
Yale will have to play some of its best hockey to have a good chance in this series, and good discipline and special teams will be key.
“On a stats sheet, yes, their talent and depth should beat us 9 times out of 10,” Pensavalle said. “But if we play together and come out with the fire and intensity we did against them the last time we faced them, we’ve proven to ourselves we can hang with any team.”
Puck drop on Friday is at 3 p.m. at Clarkson’s Cheel Arena.
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