As the Yale women’s hockey team prepares for its final stretch of the season, it is time to reflect on the year so far; this squad has already beaten last year’s record (8–18–3, 7–12–3 ECAC) and continues to test its limits in every game.
The Bulldogs (14–11–0, 11–7–0) have posted their best record since the 2014–15 season, but despite being in fifth place in the ECAC, the numbers are not on their side. Although Yale currently has 22 league points from 11 wins, 20 points and 10 of those wins came from defeating the bottom five teams in the league. In conference play, No. 6 Clarkson is the single team ranked in the top seven that they have defeated. This win came back in January, but the Golden Knights (20–4–6, 11–3–4 ECAC) emerged victorious in this past weekend’s rematch.
“The teams in our league are all very close together,” defender Tabea Botthof ’22 said. “Anyone can beat anyone, the scores of the games are very close most of the time. This is why we are confident heading into the playoffs, knowing that anything is possible. We will do our best to win the games, no matter which team we are going to face in the playoffs.”
Yale will most likely remain in playoff contention, but they must win against at least one tilt against either Colgate, No. 1 Cornell, No. 10 Quinnipiac or No. 5 Princeton, all of which are teams the Elis have not defeated this year. While there are many scenarios to consider, Yale will need to win at least one of those matchups to retain a top six seed heading into playoffs. The Bobcats currently trail two points behind, but could tie with Yale if they lose at home but defeat St. Lawrence and Brown. Colgate, three points behind, could overtake the Bulldogs if Yale loses its games and the Raiders win against Brown, Union and Rensselaer, all of which they defeated earlier this year.
Despite posting an overall impressive record, the Elis have primarily amassed their points through soundly defeating the lower-achieving teams in the league. Many of the teams nearby Yale in the standings have pulled off a couple of upsets, but Yale stands alone. Of its three non-conference wins, two came against the Long Island University Sharks, who entered their pair of games against Yale with 8.4 GAA. In conference play, the Bulldogs have had similar results. Using the Bowl Championship Series (BCS) metric for calculating Strength of Schedule (SOS), the Bulldogs have the fourth easiest schedule in the ECAC despite currently sitting in fifth place.
The majority of Yale’s wins this season came at home, but as the Elis enter their final four games — half of which are at Ingalls — just how important is the home ice advantage?
“I think crowds play an important role,” forward Grace Lee ’23 said. “Everyone wants home ice advantage come playoffs because when we’re at home and we have a large crowd, it gives us an extra boost of momentum and we like to play off of the crowd’s energy.”
That sentiment is shared by much of the team. The data, however, indicates that playing with more fans in attendance has almost no correlation with the number of goals scored by the home team, and furthermore attendance is even more weakly correlated with wins at home.
Though Yale will not enter the playoffs at the top of the bracket, hockey has the greatest underdog success rate of any major sport. This is generally understood for several key reasons: major players are mostly on the ice for less than a third of the game, with a low-scoring sport comes greater variance as a single play can largely affect the final outcome and more. For these reasons, there is a very weak correlation between having the best regular season record and winning the Stanley Cup in the NHL. Despite the fact that Yale has only defeated one nationally ranked team from the ECAC this season, if the Bulldogs can outplay their opponents for just a few minutes in the right moments, they can make a deep run in the playoffs. Because, once the puck drops in the playoffs, nothing else matters.
“The ECAC is a tough league to play in as shown this week with the NCAA rankings coming out and having five out of the top 10 teams from the ECAC,” defender Greta Skarzynski ’21 said. “One team that we had trouble with at the beginning of the year was Cornell. They’re a very skilled and quick team so to get another chance to play them this weekend should be fun.”
If Yale can capture a couple of victories here and enter the playoffs with the right momentum, they certainly have the potential to tear up the ECAC competition.
The puck drops against Colgate this Friday at 6 p.m. and against Cornell on Saturday at 3 p.m.
Akshar Agarwal | email@example.com
Alessa Kim-Panero | firstname.lastname@example.org