Bulldogs Fall in Best-of-Three Quarterfinals, Ending Season
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- An unforgettable ECAC Hockey playoff series between the Yale women's ice hockey team and No. 5 Harvard came to an end Sunday afternoon at Bright-Landry Hockey Center, with the Crimson prevailing 4-0. With the win, Harvard takes the best-of-three quarterfinal series two games to one and advances to next Saturday's ECAC Hockey semifinals. The loss ends Yale's season, but it certainly did not end without a fight.
"We had not been to the playoffs in a long time, so that was obviously a step forward," said Joakim Flygh, Yale's head coach. "But when you get there, you're not satisfied after a loss. Our kids gave it everything they had, though, so it's heartbreaking."
After playing back-to-back double overtime games -- nearly 100 minutes of hockey Friday night and more than 80 minutes of hockey Saturday night -- both teams had to contend with fatigue entering the decisive third game. Yale had won 3-2 on Friday night on a power play goal by sophomore Janelle Ferrara, but Harvard countered Saturday afternoon by winning 3-2 on a goal by forward Miye D'Oench.
Harvard (23-5-4, 16-3-3 ECAC Hockey) elected to start freshman goaltender Brianna Laing, who had won game two, again on Sunday -- passing up Emerance Maschmeyer, a finalist for the Kazmaier Award who had started game one. Yale junior goalie Jaimie Leonoff, whose 108 saves in the first two games were a major reason why there even was a game three, got the start for the Bulldogs.
Yale (9-16-7, 6-9-7 ECAC Hockey), in the playoffs for the first time since 2008, came close to making history by advancing as the No. 7 seed. Since the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals became a best-of-three series in 2002, the lowest seed to win a quarterfinal series had been No. 6 seeds Quinnipiac in 2012 and Rensselaer in 2009. Even winning a game has been rare for seeds that low -- it happened just twice before, in 2004 (No. 7 Colgate beat No. 2 St. Lawrence in game two), 2010 (No. 7 St. Lawrence beat No. 2 Clarkson in game two).
In the end, though, it was not meant to be for the Bulldogs -- and Harvard's offense made that clear early. A goal by forward Hillary Crowe at 5:30 of the first gave Harvard a 1-0 lead, and its first chance of the series to play with a lead. The Crimson then got another first when defenseman Sarah Edney scored at 11:20 of the first -- that was the first time in the three-game series that either team had a lead larger than one goal. Leonoff got back on track by making a great save on a shot by forward Samantha Reber during a two-on-one with 2:30 to play. The Bulldogs got a power play late in the first but Laing stopped the only Yale shot with the man advantage.
"We were tired," said Flygh. "That showed in the first period, but you have to give credit where credit is due -- Harvard played well."
Freshman forward Gretchen Tarrant drew a penalty on the Crimson 10 minutes into the second period that led to one of Yale's best scoring chances. On the ensuing power play, freshman forward Phoebe Staenz fed the puck across to sophomore forward Hanna Åström in the left circle for a wrister. Laing reacted quickly to get across and glove the shot by Åström to keep the Bulldogs off the scoreboard.
Shortly after that the Yale penalty kill unit, which was a perfect 12-for-12 in the first two games, faced its first major test. The first Bulldogs penalty of the game came at 11:57 of the second, and the kill got off to a good start thanks to blocked shots by freshman forward Krista Yip-Chuck and sophomore forward Jamie Haddad. But another penalty on the Bulldogs right after that led to a 5-on-3 for Harvard.
Ferrara, Haddad and senior defenseman Tara Tomimoto came out for the kill. They limited Harvard to two slap shots from distance by Edney, and Leonoff stopped them both. A penalty on the Crimson then ended the 5-on-3 prematurely, reducing Harvard's advantage to 4-on-3.
With the teams skating 4-on-4 after that Leonoff made one of her biggest stops. After blocking a Yale slap shot at the Harvard blue line, Crimson forward Dylanne Crugnale came charging in on Leonoff on a breakaway but was denied.
During the abbreviated Yale power play after that Laing made saves on Yip-Chuck, Martini and Marchin. During another Yale power play late in the second, she denied a slap shot by Martini and then Ferrara's attempt at a follow up. The Bulldogs kept the offensive pressure on, though, and during one flurry Laing even lost her stick. But she was still able to keep the puck out of the net, disrupting a wraparound attempt by Jackie Raines with two minutes left. By the time the power play was over she had stopped five Yale shots, bringing her two-period save total to 21. The Crimson kept its 2-0 lead into the second intermission.
"I think Harvard's second goal served as a wake-up call for us," said Flygh. "We had some great opportunities in the second period on the power play. If one of those goes in, it's a different game."
On its 14th try of the series, early in the third period, the Harvard power play unit finally got one on the Yale penalty kill unit. Crowe followed up a blocked shot by rifling one past Leonoff at the 6:04 mark to make the score 3-0.
Looking to get back in the game, Yale got a power play with 7:17 remaining. After Laing denied shots by Raines, Ferrara and Kennedy, D'Oench got a short-handed breakaway. Leonoff made another fantastic save though, waiting patiently as D'Oench took the puck all the way to the right post. Leonoff met her there with her left leg, denying D'Oench's attempt to stuff the puck in.
Leonoff was shaken up after a collision with a Harvard player late in the third, but immediately went back to work with another great stop on a point-blank shot by Reber with four minutes to play.
Yale pulled Leonoff for an extra attacker with just over two minutes to play, but after Laing stopped a shot by Staenz forward Jessica Harvey scored an empty-netter with 1:45 to play for the 4-0 final score.
Leonoff finished with 23 saves for the game, and 131 for the three-game series. Laing made 30 stops for the shutout. Yale, which had been outshot 113-82 in the first two games, finished the third game with a 30-27 shot advantage.
This marks the final game for Yale's senior class – Tomimoto, the team's captain, and senior forward Patricia McGauley both saw ice time Sunday, while forwards Paige Decker and Ashley Dunbar were injured an unable to play.
"The seniors overcame a lot during their careers," said Flygh. "A couple of years ago we only won one game. But they bought in to what we're doing and helped get us where we are today. Tara has been a great captain, and has shown a great work ethic. "Pooch" [McGauley] is a happy-go-lucky kid and a great teammate. When we had people injured and were looking for someone to step up, she did. She had the best season of her career as a senior. It's unfortunate that Paige and Ashley had their careers ended by injury, but that class has still really made an impact."
Despite the losses to graduation, Yale returns all but one of its top nine scorers next year -- and all of its goalies -- giving reason to believe that this weekend's effort will serve as a stepping stone for much greater achievements for the program next year and beyond.
"We've got some great building blocks," said Flygh. "Our kids are motivated. This weekend saw a lot of growth."
The other ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series all went according to form and ended Saturday afternoon. No. 1 seed Clarkson swept No. 8 seed Dartmouth, No. 3 seed Cornell swept No. 6 seed Princeton and No. 4 seed Quinnipiac swept No. 5 seed St. Lawrence.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity