January 23, 2010

Historic Day at Ingalls: Bulldogs, Snikeris Snap “The SLUmp” With 1-0 Win Over St. Lawrence

Goalie Ties School Shutout Mark as Yale Beats Saints for First Time in 37 Tries

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Since the late 1990s, the Yale women's hockey program has been methodically putting an end to some long losing streaks against various rivals. Between 1997 and 2006 the Bulldogs marked the milestones of their progress by snapping eight streaks that had grown to 13 or more games. The only team that eluded them was St. Lawrence, which entered Saturday's game at Ingalls Rink undefeated in 36 all-time games vs. Yale dating back to 1986. That all changed thanks to a remarkable 33-save effort from junior goaltender Jackee Snikeris, who tied the Yale career shutout record while coming up with the historic 1-0 win. Freshman forward Danielle Moncion provided the only goal Snikeris needed.

"It's great for the program," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt, who in her nine years at Yale has also seen the Bulldogs end long skids such as a 41-game losing streak to Dartmouth (ended in 2006), a 39-game losing streak to Harvard (ended in 2004) and a 37-game winless streak vs. Brown (ended in 2006). "For the kids, it's always nice when you can snap a streak. It's something for them to be proud of forever. We've snapped a lot of different streaks in the last eight or nine years, and for this team to get this one is special."

It was made all the more special by the way the weekend as a whole played out. Yale had lost in heart-breaking fashion less than 24 hours earlier when No. 3 Clarkson scored the game-tying goal on a bad bounce off Snikeris' glove with 2:19 to play, then scored the game-winning goal 17 seconds into overtime. Snikeris and her teammates had no time to feel sorry for themselves as they squared off against a Saints team that had lost just two games since Nov. 20.

"Yesterday the kids played so well, probably the best hockey we've played in two years," Witt said. "They were so good. The way Clarkson tied it up was unfortunate, but at the same time it's hockey and things like that happen. You just have to move on. I'm extremely proud of my kids for the way they moved on."

Snikeris in particular had to respond after the type of play that might have hung over a lesser goalie's head for days. Her performance Saturday was as much a testament to her mental tenacity as to her physical skills.

"It was definitely one of the worst bounces that happened to me," Snikeris said of Friday night's game-tying goal for Clarkson. "But it happened. I thought about it, but you try to put it behind you. I ended up doing a better job of that than I was expecting. Everyone came up to me after the game and patted me on the back. [Sophomore forward] Aleca [Hughes], who is a great leader, came up to me and gave me a speech that really got me going. Everyone got behind me. They made it easier for me to come back."

Snikeris' teammates clearly understand how significant her role is in the team's overall success.

"She's a phenomenal hockey player," Moncion said. "I look up to her for sure. She played a fantastic game today, made some huge saves and definitely kept us in the game."

Snikeris' first save came on defenseman Courtney Sawchuk's attempt to stuff in a loose puck two minutes in. The Bulldogs then wound up controlling much of the play for the rest of the period, but Saints goalie Brittony Chartier came up with some big saves of her own. She gloved a wrister from Hughes off a nice feed from junior forward Bray Ketchum seven minutes in, and also gloved a hard shot from junior defenseman Samantha MacLean after a cross-ice pass from senior defenseman Alyssa Clarke.

St. Lawrence (11-8-6, 7-4-2 ECAC Hockey) had a golden chance to break on top with five minutes left in the period, but Snikeris used her blocker to get enough of a shot by forward Jamie Goldsmith on a 2-on-1 to send it harmlessly into the corner. Snikeris also got some help from Ketchum 90 seconds later, as she blocked a blast by defenseman Brooke Fernandez -- one of 21 blocks on the day for the Bulldogs, as compared to 10 for St. Lawrence.

Then, a day after losing a game largely due to a bad bounce, the Bulldogs got one back. SLU had control of the puck behind its own net in the final minutes of the first period, but a pass hit off a Saints player and went right to Moncion in the right circle. She buried it low, with the puck immediately bouncing back out off the bar in the back of the net, at 18:02.

"It was a nice snipe," said Witt. "It was quite a shot. She's got the ability to do that. Hopefully she'll continue to grow and continue to give us important goals like that."

Scoring first definitely helped the Bulldogs start believing in their ability to knock off the Saints, who had beaten them 4-0 earlier in the season.

"It popped out in front, and I just took a snap shot," Moncion said. "It was awesome. Yesterday was kind of a downer, but to get ahead like that was huge for us. It was a vital point in the game. It brought momentum into the second period."

The historic goal was just the second goal of Moncion's career, but she and the rest of her freshmen classmates have all been contributing more and more as the season has progressed. Over the last 12 games eight of Yale's 33 goals, and 21 of Yale's 45 assists, have come from freshmen.

"Ever since we got back from break, we've just been on a roll," Moncion said. "Everything's kind of coming together for us finally. We're putting pucks in the net and starting to win."

St. Lawrence turned up the offensive pressure in the second period, outshooting Yale 10-3, but the Saints could not take advantage of a pair of power plays. Snikeris made four saves with her team on the penalty kill, while players like Clarke and MacLean contributed key clears.

Those two played huge roles in general on Saturday, as the Bulldogs found themselves down to just five healthy defensemen. In addition to stalwarts like Clarke and MacLean, Yale also got contributions from a pair of freshmen defensemen -- Emily DesMeules and Tara Tomimoto. And sophomore defenseman Heather Grant, who had been sidelined by illness less than 24 hours earlier, stepped up to help fill the void left by an injury to freshman defenseman Jamie Gray.

"They definitely stepped up big time," Snikeris said of the Yale defense. "They played with a lot of heart, blocking shots, getting the puck out of dangerous areas. I give them a lot of credit."

As has been their custom the Saints switched goalies midway through the second period, sending Maxie Weisz in for Chartier. Ketchum welcomed the new goalie with a very close call. She was about to have the puck on a breakaway but the Saints were in the middle of a line change, so defenseman Josee Belanger hopped off the bench right as Ketchum was passing in front of her and was able to break up the play.

Snikeris came up with a quick kick save on a slap shot by defenseman Britni Smith to help kill of the second Yale penalty, and Saints forward Lauren Brozowski just missed the chance to bang home a crossing pass right as the power play ended.

Yale (7-11-3, 5-8-1 ECAC Hockey) took the 1-0 lead into the third period, though the second intermission wound up taking longer than expected. A sprinkler malfunction resulted in a fire alarm that caused the evacuation of the building midway through. Once the teams -- and a large number of fans, including the Yale Band and many on hand for Yale Employee Day -- returned to the building the full 15 minutes was put back on the clock. The delay wound up totaling 35 minutes, but the Bulldogs did not lose focus.

"They were fine," Witt said. "They were joking about it, they were hydrating and they were getting ready to go. They handled it well. I think that's what's making us go right now, the fact that our kids handle adversity quite well. That's what you need to be successful because it is a long year and a lot of different things might happen that you have to be able to deal with and move forward."

The Saints outshot the Bulldogs in the third period, 16-8, but once again Snikeris was up to the task. She made a blocker save on forward Kelly Sabatine's attempt from right in front of the goal, and right after that MacLean drew a penalty on the Saints that enabled Yale to shift the action down to the other end of the ice. Weisz denied shots by Ketchum, MacLean and Tomimoto, and Hughes sent a shot just high after a nice feed from freshman forward Alyssa Zupon.

After Snikeris smothered an attempt by forward Vanessa Emond, the Saints' leading scorer, with six minutes to play, Weisz responded with a great save of her own. Sophomore forward Becky Mantell took a long pass from MacLean and set up senior forward Caroline Murphy, but Weisz denied the shot and kept her team within striking distance.

The last obstacle for the Bulldogs to overcome was a tripping call with 3:36 to play. Clarke started the penalty kill off right by backhanding the puck out of the Yale zone, but the Saints pulled Weisz for an extra attacker 45 seconds later. That led to a nerve-wracking end for the Bulldogs, who continued to play well defensively in front of Snikeris. Ketchum had another block in the waning moments, and Tomimoto followed with a clear.

The Bulldogs finished off the penalty kill -- their 34th successful kill in 36 chances over the last 10 games -- but still had 96 seconds on the game clock with St. Lawrence having an extra attacker on the ice.

"It's hockey," Witt said. "That's what makes it a great game. You know something is going to happen to give them a chance to tie it up. Our kids just went out there ready to kill it. What I'm more proud of is they didn't panic when St. Lawrence pulled the goalie. They stayed pretty composed throughout the whole thing. As a coach standing on the bench the seconds couldn't have ticked by any slower at that point. For them, they just stayed focused."

Mantell had a block with 1:40 remaining, and an interception by Zupon gave Yale another chance to clear the zone. Murphy, Yale's captain, very nearly put the game out of reach with 30 seconds to play, but her shot at the empty net was scooped up by a Saints defender.

"Murph fought through some contact," Witt said. "She did her job -- the job is to get the puck out of our end and make them have to go get it. It would have been great, obviously, if it had went in. But the job is to make sure they have to chase it, and she did her job."

St. Lawrence was able to generate one last rush but Snikeris withstood it, then raised her arms in triumph as she was mobbed by her teammates.

"It was definitely hectic," Snikeris said of the final minutes. "There's no way around it. We've been in that situation a lot lately. I knew it wasn't going to go the wrong way this time. It was just a feeling."

Yale is now 4-2-1 in its last seven games, building crucial momentum as the season enters the home stretch.

"They're confident in the way they're playing right now, and they're a great group," Witt said. "I think they pick each other up. Snik had to find a way to get over [the tough loss Friday night]. We encouraged her, told her we had confidence in her -- not to think twice about it, but to move forward. She did a good job letting it go, because that's a very difficult thing to do when you're as competitive as she is."

Snikeris now has 12 career shutouts, tying her with Sarah Love '06 for the school record. Snikeris has done it in just 48 career games; Love played 113.

"I've read about the record here and there," Snikeris said. "I definitely don't try to shoot for it, but it's nice to get it."

It goes without saying that none of the players on Yale's roster were even alive when "The SLUmp" started with a 3-2 St. Lawrence win on Nov. 16, 1986. Witt herself was only eight years old at the time. Since that first game there have been several close calls, including a 3-3 tie Feb. 12, 1999, but the Saints had won 25 in a row in the series and were 35-0-1 against Yale before Saturday's game. Some, but not all, of the Bulldogs knew just how historic their victory was.

"I think they were somewhat aware, because Clarkie in the locker room after the game said ‘That's the first time, right, coach?.'," Witt said. "I said ‘Yes it is.' It's great to finally get that done. At the same time I think they were just as excited about the fact that they got two points that we really needed this weekend to help us keep our push for the playoffs going."

The win by Yale, coupled with a win by Dartmouth and a loss by Colgate, has put the Bulldogs and the Big Green in a tie for the eighth and final ECAC Hockey playoff spot. Yale has eight games left, while Dartmouth has seven. Colgate, one point behind the Bulldogs and the Big Green, also has eight games left.

Yale plays Brown next Saturday at Ingalls Rink at 2 p.m.

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