January 16, 2010

Bulldogs Celebrate Ingalls Dedication in Style, Beat RPI in 4-3 Thriller

MacLean Nets Game-Winner with 33 Seconds Left

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Ingalls Rink had only been re-dedicated for a few hours before the legendary facility was witness to yet another classic game Saturday afternoon. Junior defenseman Samantha MacLean's goal with 33 seconds left in regulation capped a back-and-forth battle between Yale and RPI, giving the Bulldogs a 4-3 win in front of numerous alums and fans on hand for the festivities commemorating the renovation of The Whale. Junior goaltender Jackee Snikeris made 38 saves, helping hold the Engineers to an 0-for-7 performance on the power play.

The women's game started right after the dedication ceremony, and with the Yale-Brown men's game following, many of those on hand for the historic day took advantage of the chance to see the Yale women play the first half of the unique doubleheader. They saw a good one, packed with a roller coaster of emotions, that went right down to the final horn.

The key figure was Snikeris, whose work started with a 20-save first period. On a day where some of the great Yale hockey players honored in the new "Hockey Heritage" area of Ingalls returned, it was perhaps fitting that Snikeris came up so big with one of them -- Yale's all-time saves leader, Laurie Belliveau '98 -- in the stands. Snikeris' ties to Yale's All-American date back to when Belliveau was a coach at St. Mark's School and Snikeris was an eighth grader. Belliveau recruited her for St Mark's, but Snikeris wound up at Taft; fortunately for the Bulldogs that path eventually led her to Belliveau's alma mater. Snikeris is once again in the process of putting together an otherworldly second half for the Bulldogs; since Dec. 4 she has a .948 save percentage and a 1.81 goals-against average.  

"Snik was unbelievable," Witt said. "Sometimes we don't realize how lucky we are to have her. At the same time, I thought the whole team played with a ton of heart and a ton of guts. They were tired at the end there, but they just kept battling."

The Bulldogs started battling when they got just their fifth shot on goal of the game at 13:55 of the first. Freshman forward Alyssa Zupon sent the puck behind the Yale net to sophomore defenseman Heather Grant, who tried a long pass into the neutral zone for sophomore forward Aleca Hughes. The pass hit off one RPI player's skates, then bounced past another defender as she fell down, before Hughes corralled it inside the blue line. There was nothing RPI goalie Sonja van der Bliek could do as Hughes drove to the net, then pulled the puck back for a wrister into the upper right corner of the net for a 1-0 lead.

RPI tied it 1-1 at 18:16 when a Yale defender fell down in transition and forward Alisa Harrison was able to bury an open wrist shot, but the Bulldogs answered less than a minute later. van der Bliek accidentally poked a pass from behind the net by one of her own players right to forward Becky Mantell in the right circle, and Mantell sent it right back at her and into the back of the net for a 2-1 lead.

 "One of the things we did which was great was we took advantage of our scoring opportunities," said Witt.

A power-play goal by junior forward Bray Ketchum off a faceoff win by Zupon gave Yale a 3-1 edge at 4:41 of the second. But the Engineers answered with an Allysen Weidner goal at 7:57, setting the stage for a dramatic third period.

The Bulldogs killed off three penalties in the third, and were within 90 seconds of victory before Clare Padmore stuffed home the rebound of a Kendra Dunlop shot to tie the game 3-3.

Yale's disappointment only lasted for about a minute, however. The Bulldogs set up in the RPI zone in the final minute and Mantell sent the puck up along the left boards to MacLean. She teed up a slap shot from the just inside the blue line that snuck past van der Bliek on her glove side, bouncing in the air before trickling over the goal line.

"As soon as we saw it fluttering in there we felt it was going in, but the seconds seemed like minutes [before the puck crossed the goal line]," Witt said.

It was actually the second time in her career that MacLean has gotten a third-period game-winner against RPI; her goal in the regular season finale against the Engineers clinched a playoff spot for the Bulldogs with a 3-2 win two years ago.

The assist gave Mantell the second multiple-point outing of her career. After going scoreless in her first 35 career games she now has seven points in her last 13 games.

"Becky's playing with a lot of confidence," Witt said. "She has really grown and matured as a hockey player. She's creating shots and getting her chances to contribute on the scoreboard."

RPI (8-10-5, 5-4-3 ECAC Hockey) pulled van der Bliek for an extra attacker, and a late Yale penalty gave the Engineers a shot in the Yale zone with a two-skater advantage in the final 10 seconds. But MacLean dove to the ice to deflect that one away, and moments later Snikeris and senior forward Caroline Murphy embraced to celebrate the win.

"We've talked about playing smart hockey," Witt said. "Letting up that game-tying goal was disappointing. But the composure on our bench was incredible. The last couple weeks things have really been coming together for us."

The victory was a perfect way for the Bulldogs to add to a day that was already going down in Yale athletics history. The renovations have transformed Ingalls Rink while still maintaining its distinctive architectural style, and this year's varsity teams have both noticed an immediate impact from new locker rooms, a new strength and conditioning center, a student-athlete study lounge and more.

"We're so appreciative of everything that's been done," Witt said. "It was great to be a part of a day like this. Our kids wanted to know what they could do to be part of the celebration, and I told them that the game was our chance to give the crowd a show."

There was more good news for the Bulldogs after the game ended. Losses by the two teams ahead of them in the ECAC Hockey standings, Colgate and Dartmouth, enabled the Blue to forge a three-way tie for the eighth and final playoff spot with the Big Green and the Raiders. Colgate and Yale both have 10 games left, while Dartmouth has only nine. Yale (6-10-3, 4-7-1 ECAC Hockey) returns to Ingalls Friday to play No. 4 Clarkson at 7 p.m.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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