February 18, 2011

Salute to the Yale Women's Ice Hockey Class of 2011

by Chelsea Janes '12

NEW HAVEN, Conn. - As the Yale women's ice hockey team looks to the future, it will be well-served to look at the class of 2011 – Bray Ketchum, Sam MacLean, Lili Rudis and Jackee Snikeris – as a model of exactly the type of players it needs to build a championship future around.

The group is special: that rare class that will leave not only a massive statistical legacy, but also an even greater intangible one. For though their stats pepper the Yale record books, it is the heart, will and enthusiasm with which the class of 2011 played every day that will be most remembered by teammates, fans and coaches, alike.

"These four girls have been through highs and lows and overcome immense amounts of adversity," junior forward Aleca Hughes said. "Their ability to stay focused and driven during incredibly emotional times is inspirational."

During their four years, Ketchum, MacLean, Rudis and Snikeris have amassed 41 wins and made one ECAC Hockey playoff appearance (in the 07-08 season). That playoff run was certainly the highlight of the group's freshman campaign, a year that saw the Bulldogs pull off a huge tie at Dartmouth and wins in their last two regular-season games to clinch the playoff spot. The crew amassed its highest win total in the 2008-09 season, earning 12 victories that included an overtime win against perennial top-15 team Providence and a 3-2 victory over Clarkson.

After some early struggles in the 2009-10 season, the then-juniors pulled off an epic 2-2 overtime tie at then-No. 6 Cornell, followed by a huge win at Colgate that set them off-and-running before the winter break. Another impressive tie at Boston College and a convincing 10-1 victory over Sacred Heart also highlighted the 2009-10 campaign, but perhaps the brightest spot was the Bulldogs' first win over St. Lawrence in school history – a 1-0 game in which Snikeris posted a shutout.

2010-11 saw the arrival of a lot of new faces to Ingalls, including first-year head coach Joakim Flygh, who replaced Hillary Witt when she left to coach at her alma mater, Northeastern. But the leadership of the class of 2011 was a powerful force, leading the Bulldogs to their first point at Harvard (a 3-3 tie) since 2006. An overtime win against Clarkson and a solid win over Ancient Eight rival Princeton were also shining moments as the seniors led their team through a season filled with ups and downs, both on and off the ice.

"The senior class has been there for us through thick and thin – from heartbreak and tragedy to success and joy. They have always had our backs," junior defenseman Heather Grant said. "They bring passion, dedication, leadership and an incredible work ethic to everything they do."

If the class of 2011 is the pulse of the Yale women's hockey team, Bray Ketchum is its heart.

"If I had to pick one word to describe Bray, both in hockey and in life, it would be passion," Grant said. "Day in and day out, Bray brings skill, hard work, intensity and passion to the rink."

That hard work paid off right away for Ketchum, who burst onto the scene her freshman year with 20 points, finishing third on the team in goals (9), and second in assists (11). Fitting for a player named best clutch performer in a vote by her teammates, all of Ketchum's goals came in conference play. Ketchum tied for the team lead in goals in her sophomore season (13), while finishing second in the points race (23), good enough for a second-team All-Ivy League selection. Once again, clutch Ketchum scored all of her goals in conference play, finishing fourth in the conference in ECAC Hockey goals scored.

By her junior year, Ketchum had grown into an all-out ECAC Hockey superstar, being nominated for the prestigious Patty Kazmaier award while being selected to ECAC Hockey's all-star team and playing in an exhibition against Team USA. She led the Bulldogs in goals scored yet again (12), earning her second-straight second-team All-Ivy League selection.  This year, No. 27 is fourth on the team in goals (7), while posting a team-high 11 assists so far. Ketchum had a huge game-tying goal against Clarkson, and has been an integral part of nearly all of the Bulldogs' biggest goals this season. The Greenwich, Conn., native will finish in Yale's top 12 in career goals, assists and points, but her legacy will stretch far beyond the statistical realm.

"Bray is a true competitor," Hughes said of her first-line line mate. "She pulls through in clutch situations and wears her heart on her sleeve. She loves winning and there's nothing that makes me happier than seeing a big smile on her face after a big win … Her talent and love for the game has inspired this program. Bray is an unbelievable athlete."

As Ketchum established herself as a stalwart of the Bulldogs' offensive attack, captain Sam MacLean has been a comparably consistent force at the blue line throughout her career.

"As my partner on the blue line, Sam always had my back," Grant said of her fellow defenseman. "I knew I could count on her to pick me up when I was down, to push me to work harder, and to encourage me to the best that I could be."

Grant and her teammates recognized MacLean's leadership, voting her captain for the 2010-11 season. Like Ketchum, MacLean's career got off to a strong start, as she not only played regularly in every game as a freshman, but was also named to the ECAC Hockey All-Academic team, an honor she has repeated every season since. After receiving the Yale Coaches' Award for her work ethic in her sophomore season, MacLean continued her consistent leadership on the defensive side of the puck in her junior year, while also posting a career-high four goals and nine points. So far this season, MacLean has contributed a goal and four assists to the Yale scoring attack, while also maintaining her presence on defense and special teams.

Lili Rudis has also been an invaluable leader in the locker room for the Bulldogs over the past four seasons. Riddled by injuries that have kept her off the ice for much of her career, the Chicago native has still maintained an important presence in the Yale locker room. Rudis has also been recognized as a three-time member of ECAC Hockey's All-Academic team.

"Lili is a special teammate," Hughes said. "She has had a hard career battling injuries and setbacks, yet she always shows up to the rink with a smile on her face, eager to cheer on her teammates. Lili is extraordinarily selfless. She sets an amazing example for all of us … Lili's positivity is comforting."

Junior forward Lauren Davis echoed Hughes' sentiments: "Lili has always been there for us. She is a support that this team needs, and she has never wavered in that role."

Yet as stable, unwavering consistency goes, there is simply no one better than goalie Jackee Snikeris. Her leadership by example throughout her career is unquestionable, and her success on the ice has cemented her a place as a true legend in Yale hockey history.

Nearing the end of her senior season, Snikeris is on pace to break Yale's career goals against average and career save percentage records. All she has done this year is play to a stunning 1.98 goals against average, nearly unbelievable when one considers she has faced an average of more than 30 shots a game. She has upped her career save percentage to .931, playing to the tune of .941 in 2010-11, and has posted a Yale career record 15 shutouts, two this season.

When she was named first team All-Ivy League last season, Snikeris was the first Yale player to earn that honor since the 2003-04 season. She was also nominated for the Patty Kazmaier Award. She made 10 saves in her period of action against Team USA as a member of the ECAC Hockey All-Star team, and broke the Yale career record for shutouts – previously 12 – in that, her junior season. An honorable mention All-Ivy League selection her first two years, Snikeris set the Yale single-season goals-against average record in her second season at the Whale, playing to a 1.67 mark.

"Snik is undoubtedly the best goalie in the league, and possibly in the country," junior Genny Ladiges, who will take over for Snikeris between the pipes next season, said. "She's been the backbone of the team ever since her freshman year. She's blessed with an incredible amount of talent, but it's her unparalleled focus, fierce competiveness, exemplary work ethic and sheer determination that set her apart from everybody else. Getting the chance to see the preparation, hard work and focus that goes into being the best goalie in the nation has been a blessing."

Also an ECAC Hockey All-Academic selection every year, Snikeris was recently nominated for the ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year Award, a fitting recognition of what has been a truly exceptional collegiate career.

While their on-ice accolades are certainly impressive, the impact of the Yale Women's Ice Hockey Class of 2011 may not be fully felt until a few years down the road.

"The members of the senior class all possess incredible amounts of talent, but more than anything, they're a hardworking, determined, resilient group of individuals," Ladiges said. "Although our record may not indicate it, the senior class has brought significant strides to the program; a 100% work ethic isn't encouraged anymore; it's the standard. They aren't satisfied with mediocrity; anything less than a win results in heartbreak. They've built a legacy of passion, hard work, integrity and competiveness that remains the cornerstone of YWIH and will no doubt be recognized as the turning point in the program someday in the future."

Chelsea Janes '12 is the play-by-play voice of Yale women's ice hockey on Yale All-Access and also plays softball for Yale. This story appeared in the Yale women's ice hockey game program for Feb. 18-19, 2011.