Courtesy of Yale Athletics

This season, the Yale women’s hockey team was successful to a degree that the program had never been before. After beating the Princeton Tigers in the conference semifinals, the Bulldogs secured a second place seed in the ECAC, as well as their first home-ice conference playoff series in 17 years. 

“Very happy to see us bounce back with a great team win today on short rest,” head coach Mark Bolding told Yale Athletics after the Princeton matchup. “We had some jump with our forecheck and turned over pucks often. Scoring first was key and the goals by Welch, Dalton and Hartje were high-level plays. Pia was excellent in the pipes today. Excited for [the] home playoff round next week.” 

The Bulldogs finished the regular season with a 4–1 loss against No. 9 Quinnipiac and a 3–0 win against Princeton, earning them the second place seat in the ECAC behind the Harvard Crimson, who were crowned the regular season champions.

Yale had only made it past the first round of playoffs once before this season. In 2005, the Elis swept Princeton at home to clinch a spot in the semi-finals against Harvard, who ended the Bulldogs’ championship hopes.

Many Yale upperclassmen recalled the heartbreaking loss to Harvard in the first round of the 2020 ECAC playoffs, which took place right before the start of the pandemic. Forward Charlotte Welch ’23 scored a hat trick in the second game of the series to force overtime, while forward Tess Dettling ’22 scored the game-winning goal to tie up the series. However, the Bulldogs fell to the Crimson in the tie-breaker game.

“Our experience from the 2019-20 playoffs is a big motivating factor behind playoffs this year and we are definitely looking to build off of that series against Harvard because we did play well, we just didn’t get the result we wanted,” Dettling said. 

This season, Yale’s trail-blazing squad hoped to break yet another record and become the first team in program history to qualify for the NCAA tournament. 

In their first game of the ECAC playoffs, Yale came up short against St. Lawrence, falling 4–2. However, No. 7 Yale came back the next game to beat St. Lawrence 4–2 and tied the best-of-three series of the ECAC quarterfinals at one apiece. In the series rubber match, Yale took down St. Lawrence and moved on to host the ECAC semifinals for the first time in program history. The Bulldogs, entering the playoffs as the second seed, were now looking to defeat eighth-seeded Princeton.

“It was intense. We knew it would be a battle,” head coach Mark Bolding said after the victory against St. Lawrence. “Great team effort up and down the ice, and lots of different players did simple things but good things, and that really made the difference.”

After fighting hard and defeating Princeton 3–1 in the semifinals, the No. 7 Elis continued to shine on the ice as they headed to the ECAC championship game for the first time in school history.

Topping off its record-breaking season, Yale earned the privilege of hosting the ECAC championships for the first time in program history. Senior standout Gianna Meloni ’22, a finalist for ECAC Goalie of the Year, played her heart out against Princeton, saving 25 of the 26 shots that she faced for a .962 save percentage. 

Yale had made significant strides this season by breaking records, becoming nationally-ranked and tallying up wins. However, making it to the ECAC championship game was one of the most significant moments in some of the players’ careers.

The Yale women’s hockey team poses for a photo after winning this year’s ECAC championship. (Photo: Yale Athletics)

“This is pretty special,” Claire Dalton ’23 said after qualifying. “We didn’t make the playoffs my freshman year and the norm was kind of losing. It’s been a lot of hard work. [During Bolding’s] first year, we obviously made some strides and then this year, it’s kind of all coming together.”

Hoping to continue its legendary season, Yale faced off against No. 5 Colgate in the ECAC championship game. Though they lost the matchup, the Bulldogs faced Colgate in a rematch of the ECAC title game just one week later, this time competing in the NCAA regional finals.

“I am super excited for this team to get the opportunity to perform on the national stage. It’s something we’ve worked for all year and deserve,” captain defenseman Greta Skarzynski ’22 told Yale Athletics. “We have unfinished business from Saturday night.”

The Elis surely finished their business that day, as Dettling made history when she hit the puck into the back of Colgate’s net to send Yale to the Frozen Four for the first time in program history. The 2–1 overtime win would propel Yale to the national championship semifinals in University Park, PA.

“I looked at the bench and gloves were flying. The lights were going. It’s insane. It’s a moment to remember,” senior goalie Gianna Meloni ’22 said of Dettling’s game-winning goal.

No. 1 Ohio State took down Quinnipiac 4–3 in double overtime that Saturday to secure a spot in the semifinals against Yale. The last time the Bulldogs and Buckeyes had met was in a regular season weekend double-header in January of 2005.

“Right now we are all just soaking this in,” Dettling said in early March. “Given that OSU is a team that we haven’t seen this year, we’ll have to prepare a little bit more and look at some extra video throughout the week to get to know their style of play.”

After a historic playoff run from the Yale team, the Bulldogs entered championship weekend in University Park, PA as the clear underdogs. Though the Elis put up a great fight against No. 1 Ohio State, the Buckeyes were able to end Yale’s championship run, winning 2–1 that Friday night.

With only five graduating seniors on the team, the Yale squad is one of the youngest in the league and remains poised for more late playoff runs in the near future. Playmakers Dalton and Seitz both have one more year of NCAA eligibility, while forwards like Elle Hartje ’24 and Grace Lee ’24 have two. The large first-year class, which includes speedy defender Vita Poniatovskaia ’25 and goalie Pia Dukaric ’25, also has a wealth of playoff hockey experience heading into the next season.

Perhaps 2023 will be the year of the Bulldog.