Feb. 23, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - After four months and more than 120 conference games, the ECAC Hockey playoff picture still was not clear heading into Saturday's regular season finale for Yale and RPI at Ingalls Rink. The Bulldogs and the Engineers both had a shot at claiming the last of the eight available postseason spots. Fittingly, the game came down to the final period, where freshman Samantha MacLean's goal provided the necessary margin for Yale to extend its season with a 3-2 win.
"All week long we talked about having fun and leaving it all on the ice," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt. "Our kids did a good job with that."
All season long, MacLean and sophomore Alyssa Clarke have been two of Yale's most reliable defensive players. But on Saturday, with the season hanging in the balance, the two showcased their offensive skills. After RPI took a 1-0 lead in the first period junior forward Sarah Tittman tied the game in the second. Clarke and MacLean then both scored off slap shots to give freshman goaltender Jackee Snikeris (17 saves) all the offensive support she needed. It was the fifth goal of the season for Clarke and the second for MacLean.
"They did a great job getting pucks on net with traffic in front," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt. "Clarkie and Sam came through with some big plays. We needed them today."
Yale (11-12-6, 8-10-4 ECAC Hockey, 7th) advanced to the playoffs for the seventh consecutive season with the victory. The Bulldogs also moved one point ahead of Cornell, which lost to Harvard Saturday afternoon, and wound up finishing seventh in the standings. The Engineers would have moved past Yale into the eighth and final playoff spot if they had won; instead they finish four points behind Yale.
The Bulldogs had an early barrage of shots turned aside by RPI netminder Ashley Mayr, and one from a tough angle by freshman forward Bray Ketchum hit the post. Snikeris had to range out of the crease four minutes in to smother forward Allysen Weidner's attempt. Snikeris also denied forward Kendra Dunlop's attempt to tip in a crossing pass right in front.
The first turning point of the game came on a delayed penalty against Yale. Operating with an extra skater the Engineers got the puck into the slot and forward Nicole McDonald and defenseman Ellen McNamara chipped away at it. It eventually came loose to forward Allison Wright, who was unmarked low in the right circle, and she knocked it past Snikeris' glove side at the 11:18 mark.
RPI (13-15-5, 6-12-4 ECAC Hockey, 9th) kept the pressure on, and Clarke and junior defenseman Helen Resor had to hustle back to disrupt a potential breakaway for forward Jamie-Lynn Stewart. Resor then broke up a chance for forward Whitney Naslund, and right after that the Bulldogs had to go on their first penalty kill of the game.
Sophomore forward Caroline Murphy blocked a shot at the start of the RPI power play, and sophomore forward Mandi Schwartz got in front of another one right after that, scooping up the loose puck and backhanding it to the other end of the ice. Snikeris gloved a shot by forward Julie Aho just as the Bulldogs got back to full strength.
That wound up being the only penalty kill Yale had all game, the first time all season the Bulldogs allowed an opponent only one power play.
"We did a good job moving our feet [to avoid penalties]," Witt said. "You tend to stay out of the penalty box when you move your feet."
Snikeris made another big stop by denying forward Brooke Thompson during a 2-on-1 with a Yale defender falling to the ice. Junior forward Maggie Westfal had Yale's last grade-A scoring chance of the period, sailing a shot wide with 30 seconds left.
The Bulldogs came out firing in the second period and it paid immediate dividends. Westfal slowed down an attempted clear along the left boards, and sophomore defenseman Berit Johnson got the puck at the point. Her shot from there was deflected by Tittman, and Mayr got a piece of it but not enough. The puck trickled past her to tie the score 54 seconds into the period.
That snapped a 10-game goal-scoring drought for Tittman, who had scored 11 in her first 17 games.
"Tittman played the way she was playing at the beginning of the year," said Witt. "She was confident with the puck and she skated hard through the neutral zone."
Tittman just missed getting in another deflection 30 seconds later. Mayr came up with a pair of big saves when Resor carried the puck into the zone and sent one on net. She made a stick save on that one and on junior forward Crysti Howser's attempt to knock in the rebound.
Shortly after that junior forward Kristen Stupay drew the first penalty of the game on the Engineers. Clarke saw her first slap shot on the power play gloved by Mayr, but when Howser won the ensuing faceoff back to Clarke she teed up another one. This one sailed past Mayr to give the Bulldogs their first lead of the game, 2-1, at 6:40 of the second. It was Howser's 18th assist of the season, moving her into a tie for fourth on Yale's single-season list in that category.
Mayr denied Westfal from right in front of the net after a nice feed from Tittman, and the Engineers dodged another bullet with 7:30 left in the period. Mayr ranged far out of the net to control a loose puck with Tittman bearing down on her, and Tittman deflected Mayr's attempted clearing pass. With Mayr out of the net Tittman could not control the puck enough to get a solid shot off, and the Yale lead remained one.
RPI was whistled for a penalty near the end of the period but the Engineers had the best shot of that sequence. Snikeris had to make a quick kick save of a shot by Aho just seconds before the period ended. Yale had outshot the Engineers 20-3 in the second.
"We played really well in the first 10 minutes of the game," Witt said. "Their goal deflated us, but we regrouped between periods. We did a nice job controlling the puck in the offensive zone in the second."
Yale got some much-needed breathing room when junior forward Danielle Kozlowski won a faceoff in the RPI zone back to MacLean, who quickly unleashed a slap shot that appeared to deflect in off an RPI player at 2:05.
Snikeris continued her smart play a minute later, jumping out from the crease to knock away a loose puck with Gersten looking to slap it in. She also made a nice glove save on Wright, who was free high in the slot after a nice back-handed pass.
Besides her goal Clarke also continued to do the little things, including diving to the ice to block forward Melanie Guillemette's attempt at a centering pass with 11:30 to play.
But any chance the Yale fans in the crowd of 723 at Ingalls could rest easy was eliminated two minutes later. RPI defenseman Laura Gersten made things interesting when she intercepted a pass outside the Yale blue line and skated in on Snikeris, backhanding one in at the 11:31 mark to bring the Engineers within one.
But that was as close as RPI would get, as Snikeris finished off with some big stops in the final minutes. She covered a dangerous loose puck to her right with six minutes to play, then later made a pair of saves on Gersten and Weidner, holding on to the puck after an RPI player crashed into her. Snikeris also gloved a shot by forward Nicole McDonald that was partially blocked and fluttered through the air on net.
RPI pulled Mayr with 90 seconds left but could not get any quality chances.
The weekend sweep, including a 2-1 win over Union Friday, indicated that both Snikeris and senior goalie Shivon Zilis (17 saves Friday) are in a groove heading into the playoffs. Witt did not hesitate to start the freshman in goal Saturday with the season on the line, as both goalies have been getting one start per weekend all season long.
"We have faith in both goalies," said Witt. "We had a routine, so we wanted to keep things normal and not panic."
Adding to the emotion of Yale's celebration was the fact that the win extended the careers of Zilis and Ann-Renee Guillemette, who were honored as part of Senior Day ceremonies at the game.
"We tried to keep our focus on the game, since it was essentially a playoff game," Witt said. "As the same time we wanted to honor our seniors, since Ann-Renee and Shivon have done so much for this program. Our message was to make sure they had some more games to play. Our kids rallied around them."
The Bulldogs finish as the seventh seed in the ECAC Hockey standings and will travel to the No. 2 seed, St. Lawrence, for a best-of-three quarterfinal matchup starting next Friday at 4:00 p.m.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity