The Yale women’s ice hockey team battles No. 2 Minnesota in a two-part sibling showdown this weekend at Ingalls Rink.
The Bulldogs (2–8–0, 2–6–0 ECAC Hockey) take on the Golden Gophers (13–2–1, 9–2–1 WCHA) on both Friday and Saturday at The Whale. The Elis’ penultimate nonconference series will be a family affair for forward Greta Skarzynski ’21 as she lines up against her older sister, senior Sophie Skarzynski, who is a defender on Minnesota’s squad.
With Yale still riding high on its momentous upset of No. 3 Clarkson, the Bulldogs look to topple yet another goliath. This matchup marks the first time the two teams have collided since the 2015–16 season, when Minnesota was able to conquer Yale in back-to-back clashes. This last series saw the Golden Gophers victorious in 6–3 and 4–1 games, and the only members of the Elis’ existing ensemble that have experience on the ice against Minnesota are seniors forward Jordan Chancellor ’19 and defender Julia Yetman ’19.
“Sophie and I are very close, so I’ve been looking forward to this game since [women’s hockey coach Joakim Flygh] told me that it was in the works almost a year ago. I’m anxious to see how we act on the ice because when we’ve played together in the past, it was always on the same team and never against each other,” Greta Skarzynski said. “We’ve joked about making bets on the game or what will happen if one of us turns it over to the other or if we score on each other, but overall we’re more excited to have the opportunity to play against one another.”
Minnesota comes into the matchup riding a tremendous high, winning its last three games by an average goal margin of five and winning the last six matches overall. The experienced Minnesota unit is anchored by a veteran core. Seven of last season’s 10 leading scorers returned to the squad this season. The team also returned another two players who took the year off to participate in the Olympics. Forward Kelly Pannek won a gold medal with Team USA at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Games, while forward Sarah Potomak was one of the last cuts from the Canadian team. Potomak’s younger sister, fellow forward Amy, was also cut from the Canadian roster late in the process and is now a redshirt freshman for the Gophers. Four current members of the team will be participating at the 2018 USA Hockey Women’s Winter Training Camp in mid-December.
Despite extensive experience, Minnesota should be wary of an Eli regiment capable of disrupting a nearly-perfect season. The Elis have shown they can hang with, and perhaps even dominate, some of the premier programs in college hockey.
Just two short weeks ago, the Bulldogs demolished the defending national champions as they defeated the highest-ranked opponent in team history in a 5–1 win over the third-ranked Golden Knights. That weekend, Yale also narrowly lost to No. 9 St. Lawrence before following that close contest with a narrow one-goal loss to No. 8 Providence.
An integral part of the team’s offensive firepower is Greta Skarzynski. She leads the Bulldogs in assists with five so far on the season, and her playmaking ability is one of the focal points of Yale’s offensive attack. Eliminating passing opportunities for Greta Skarzynski is a likely focal point of Minnesota’s game plan, possibly countering her scoring prowess by having elite defender Sophie Skarzynski shadow her younger sibling throughout the match.
“Sophie and I have always been competitive, so watching her not only play, but achieve great things at a high level as well has made me want to work to do the same,” said Greta Skarzynski. “Being able to train with her both on and off the ice has definitely made me a better player because we’re constantly pushing each other to achieve more.”
While this match is certainly a can’t-miss showdown for the Skarzynski family, the contest may also prove monumental for Yale. Beyond the star power of Minnesota and the sibling storyline, the Golden Gophers have been the NCAA National Champions in four of the last seven years. Flygh will have to outscheme and outplan Minnesota’s Brad Frost, a two-time recipient of the American Hockey Coaches Association Women’s Division I Coach of the Year Award.
While Yale’s program has its historical roots in the mid-1970s, Minnesota’s team was founded in just 1997. This late genesis has not stopped the Gophers from making an immediate impact on the landscape of Division I Women’s Ice Hockey. The Golden Gophers have claimed seven national titles and the longest winning streak in both men’s and women’s collegiate ice hockey history, spanning 62 games over the course of February 2012 to November 2013. The Elis, however, are ready to take on yet another seemingly unstoppable foe.
“We would love to have fans come to support,” said forward Lucy Burton ’21. “It should be a really good game!”
The Bulldogs’ clash with No. 2 Minnesota at Ingalls Rink this weekend begins at 6 p.m. on Friday with the second installation at 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Bentley Long | firstname.lastname@example.org