February 5, 2010

Playoff Push Continues with Visits to Dartmouth, No. 6 Harvard

 Bulldogs Have Won Six of Last Seven Conference Games

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The hottest team in ECAC Hockey right now? By one measure it's Yale, the only team to have won six of its last seven conference games. The hard-charging Bulldogs have used their 6-1-0 run to take hold of one of the conference's eight playoff spots with six regular season games remaining. Their streak faces a major challenge this weekend with a road trip to Dartmouth (Friday, 7 p.m.) and No. 6 Harvard (Saturday, 4 p.m.), the top two scoring teams in the conference.

Yale (9-11-3, 7-8-1 ECAC Hockey) has rebounded well from a 1-7-0 start in conference play. The Bulldogs began their climb with a 2-2 overtime tie at Cornell Dec. 4, and since then have won six of seven ECAC Hockey games. The streak coincides with a lineup shuffle that placed freshman Alyssa Zupon (Basking Ridge, N.J.) as the center on a line with sophomore forward Aleca Hughes (Westwood, Mass.) and junior forward Bray Ketchum (Greenwich, Conn.) -- a move that has paid dividends for all three players. They had two goals and no assists combined in the eight ECAC Hockey games where they were split up; they have 12 goals and 12 assists in the eight ECAC Hockey games they have played together.

Last 7 ECAC Hockey Games  
Team W-L-T
Yale 6-1-0
Clarkson 5-1-1
RPI 4-1-2
St. Lawrence 4-2-1
Cornell 3-1-3
Princeton 3-1-3
Harvard 3-2-2
Quinnipiac 3-2-2
Colgate 2-4-1
Dartmouth 1-6-0
Union 1-6-0
Brown 0-7-0

Other contributors have also emerged for the Bulldogs in recent weeks. Senior forward Caroline Murphy (Woodstock, Conn.) picked up a pair of power-play goals last weekend and now has a career-high seven goals this season, third behind Ketchum (11) and Hughes (8). Sophomore forward Becky Mantell (Princeton, N.J.) has set career highs in goals (3) and assists (6), and senior forward Berit Johnson (Wayzata, Minn.) also has a career high in goals (3).

And there's also "The Mandi Factor". Since senior forward Mandi Schwartz (Wilcox, Sask.) reunited with the team on Jan. 9 after 13 months away beating leukemia, the Bulldogs have won six of seven. Shortly after Schwartz' departure last season the Bulldogs lost eight of 10; all told over the course of her four years Yale is 35-35-8 with her and 12-20-4 without her. Recently profiled in the New Haven Register and the Yale Daily News, she has been practicing with the team since her return and will play again in 2010-11.

Junior goaltender Jackee Snikeris (Downingtown, Pa.) remains the backbone of a Yale defense, posting a .927 save percentage that places her ninth in the country in that category. And during the 6-1-1 run in Yale's last eight conference games, senior defenseman Alyssa Clarke (Donkin, N.S.) leads the team in +/- with a +9, followed closely by the other half of that defensive pair, junior Samantha MacLean (Mississauga, Ont.) (+7). Clarke is one of 15 skaters vying for a spot on the Women's East Squad for the upcoming NCAA Frozen Four Skills Challenge. On-line voting for that event is open until Feb. 15 at Noon.

Dartmouth (8-12-2, 5-10-1 ECAC Hockey) has been playing better than its record would indicate of late. Over the last six games the Big Green has outshot its opponents 240-139, but has only two wins to show for it. Dartmouth snapped a five-game losing streak, which was tied for the team's longest in history, with an 8-1 win over Union two weeks ago, and followed that up with a 6-3 victory over BC.

Former U.S. Olympian Sarah Parsons is Dartmouth's leading scorer. She is ninth in the country in points per game (15-15-30 in 22 games). Amanda Trunzo (13-12-25) and Jenna Cunningham (15-7-22) round out the Big Green's top line, while forward Camille Dumais (6-13-19) and defenseman Sasha Nanji (5-11-16) give Dartmouth two of the top 15 freshmen scorers in the country.

The Big Green trails the Bulldogs by four points in the ECAC Hockey standings. After hosting Yale and Brown this weekend Dartmouth must play its last four games on the road, visiting Union, RPI, Clarkson and St. Lawrence as it attempts to climb into the playoff picture. Adding to the sense of urgency for Dartmouth is the fact that the Big Green hasn't missed out on the playoffs since the 1990-91 season. In the last 10 seasons Dartmouth has won four ECAC Hockey tournament titles (including last year's) and three ECAC Hockey regular season titles, adding seven NCAA Tournament appearances.

Yale will have to make a particular point of staying out of the penalty box vs. the Big Green. Dartmouth leads ECAC Hockey in power-play goals with 25, a figure that accounts for nearly 40 percent of the Big Green's overall goal total (67). The Bulldogs have cut down dramatically on their penalties since the winter break -- 36 in 10 games since Jan. 1 as compared to 61 in the first 13 games. And they have killed off all but four of those penalties successfully.

Harvard (13-5-4, 9-5-2 ECAC Hockey) is second only to Dartmouth in scoring offense among ECAC Hockey teams, averaging nearly three goals a game. The Crimson has a much better won-lost record than the Big Green because Harvard also leads the league in scoring defense, allowing just 31 goals in 22 games. 

That impressive defensive performance for Harvard comes despite a major injury to the team's No. 1 goaltender. One looks across the ice on Saturday will remind the Bulldogs just how important sophomore goalie Genny Ladiges (Almonte, Ont.) and freshman goalie Erin Callahan (Kenilworth, Ill.) are. Harvard started the season counting on senior Christina Kessler, a preseason All-ECAC Hockey pick who was third in the country in goals-against average (1.59) last season. Kessler was in the middle of another fine season this year, establishing Harvard's all-time wins record (64) in a 5-1 win over Colgate Jan. 16, but suffered a season-ending injury after that. The Crimson had only one other goalie on the roster, freshman Laura Bellamy. Bellamy has started all five games since Kessler's injury, and has a .936 save percentage and a 1.25 goals-against average. Harvard was also able to get junior Kylie Stephens, who had left the team after playing sparingly in her first two seasons, to return to the roster to help fill the void.

Harvard's top two goal scorers are forwards Kate Buesser and Liza Ryabkina, who have 10 goals each. Cori Bassett is one of the top scoring defensemen in ECAC Hockey with 13 points (four goals, nine assists).

Following this weekend's games, the Yale women's team will join the Yale men's team on Sunday at  Ingalls Rink for the annual "Skate with the Players". Bring your own skates for the event, which takes place from 2:15 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. and also includes the chance to tour the recently renovated facility.