Yale Athletics

The Yale women’s hockey team’s season came to an end this weekend at the hands of No. 2 Clarkson in the first round of the ECAC playoffs. The Elis, who entered the postseason as the eighth and final seed, were significant underdogs against the defending national champion Golden Knights, who demonstrated their status as contenders this year as well with a dominating sweep.

Yale (10–17–4, 8–12–2 ECAC) travelled to upstate New York for the best-of-three series on a six-game losing streak. The Elis had not won a playoff game since a victory against Harvard in 2014, and had not won a playoff series since sweeping Princeton in the ECAC quarterfinals in the 2004–05 season. On the other hand, Clarkson (31–4–1, 19–3–0) has been dominant for the last five seasons, making the NCAA tournament every year since 2012–13 and claiming two national championships. The Golden Knights showed exactly why they have enjoyed this kind of success in the series against Yale, crushing the Elis 10–1 on Friday before moving onto the ECAC semifinals with a 4–1 triumph the following night.

“We saw a lot of growth over the course of the season and we have become such a tight-knit group,” forward Jordan Chancellor ’19 said. “It was a tough draw having to play Clarkson first but our team showed resilience throughout the series and didn’t let the results get us down. I’m so proud of this team and how we have come together as a group throughout this season.”

Friday’s defeat was Yale’s most lopsided loss of the season. The Elis have consistently struggled in the opening moments of the first period, and fell behind early in their last two games against the Golden Knights. This game followed that script: by the time four and a half minutes elapsed, Loren Gabel had already recorded a natural hat trick, scoring twice on the power play and once at even strength. Gabel is one of the nation’s most potent scorers, ranking third nationally in points with 69 in 36 games. She added two assists later in the game to cap off a five-point night.

After conceding three goals on just four shots, Yale netminder Gianna Meloni’s ’21 was replaced by fellow goalie Tera Hofmann ’20. Clarkson continued to pile on, scoring at 15:37 in the first period to put the score at 4–0. Yale managed to respond before the first intermission, as defender Grace Wickens ’18 scored her first career goal in the penultimate game of her career. However, from there it was all Clarkson once again. The Golden Knights added two more goals in the second period while outshooting Yale 15–4.

The third period went much the same way as the first, with Clarkson’s Ellen Shelton scoring two goals in the opening seven minutes, the first just 42 seconds into the final frame, to stretch the Golden Knights lead to 8–1. Another goal at even strength and an empty net tally in the dying moments of the game put an exclamation point on Yale’s worst loss of the year. Clarkson, which entered the matchup with the fourth-ranked offense in the country, tallied double-digit goals for the second time this year.

The Bulldogs had to return to Cheel Arena for the second game of the series the next day and, put in a much stronger performance — although it ultimately wasn’t reflected in the 4–1 final score line.

“Our team played a lot better in the second game and we gave ourselves a chance,” forward Emma Vlasic ’19 said. “We were able to put the night before behind us and left it all out on the ice, but we couldn’t come out on top in the special teams battle.”

Goaltender Kyra O’Brien ’19 was in net for the puck drop, her first start of the calendar year. She was sharp right away, keeping Clarkson scoreless through the first 20 minutes to mask another poor start from the Elis, who were outshot 15–3 in the first frame. In the second period, Yale got on the board first, but this would be Yale’s lone goal of the game. Clarkson’s No. 3-ranked defense and netminder Shea Tiley, whose 0.940 save percentage is fourth-best in the NCAA, successfully contained Yale’s lukewarm offense the rest of the way.

The Elis performance on special teams ultimately played a decisive role in the outcome. Clarkson scored its first three goals on the power play, and the Yale penalty killing unit only successfully held the Golden Knights scoreless once while down a player. Clarkson has the third-most effective power-play unit in the country, and while Yale took just four penalties in 60 minutes of play, it was enough to bring the Elis down. An empty net goal by Rhyen McGill at the end of the game gave her a hat trick and sealed the Bulldog’s fate. Fittingly, the only players to score for Yale over the weekend were two seniors, who played the last games of their careers.

“It’s definitely a disappointing end to the season, but I am extremely proud of our team and how hard we battled until the final buzzer,” defender Mallory Souliotis ’18 said. “This was by far my favorite season of Yale hockey. The team chemistry and the relationships I made with my teammates will last a lifetime. Ultimately, that’s what matters.”

Yale finished the season with a 10–17–4 record, which exactly matches its record from last season. However, there is reason for optimism going forward, given that several of the squad’s key players will return for the next few seasons. Meloni, with the exception of a couple of games, had a very impressive rookie season, and fellow first-year forward Greta Skarzynski ’21 finished the season with the most goals and points on the team. Her 14 goals were the most by a Yale rookie since 1998.

However, Yale will also graduate seven seniors who played key roles this season. Souliotis was second on the team in points thanks to her 20 assists, and finished her final season ranked 10th in the NCAA in points per game among defenders. Fellow blue liners Wickens and Kara Drexler ’18 have been one of Yale’s most reliable pairings both this season and throughout their careers in a Bulldog sweater. And Yale will certainly need next year’s rookies to step up to provide the scoring depth that forwards Kaitlyn Gately ’18, Emily Monaghan ’18, Emily Monaghan ’18 and Eden Murray ’18 contributed.

“My class is my family here at Yale,” Souliotis said. “The seven of us are incredibly close, and we’re so grateful to have spent these four seasons together. It’s definitely bittersweet seeing our hockey careers at Yale come to an end, but I know I have six best friends for the rest of my life.”

Yale has played in the postseason four times in the eight years since Joakim Flygh was named head coach.

Masha Galay | marie.galay@yale.edu