Feb. 23, 2005
New Haven, CT - Yale clinched home ice in the ECACHL playoffs for the first time ever with a 4-2 win over No. 9 Princeton Wednesday night at Ingalls Rink. Deena Caplette, Helen Resor, Jenna Spring and Ali Turney scored Yale's goals, while Sarah Love made 20 saves. Yale (14-14-1, 12-7-1 ECACHL) had to win the game -- its regular season finale -- to ensure that Princeton (14-8-5, 8-7-3 ECACHL) could not catch the Bulldogs for the fourth and final home ice spot in the conference standings. The Tigers play two games next weekend when Yale is off, but are now six points behind Yale, as are Brown and Colgate. The victory was the appropriate finish to a regular season that saw the Bulldogs achieve several milestones, including the school record for victories.
"What can you say," Yale head coach Hilary Witt said amidst the post-game celebration. "When I got here four years ago I never thought I'd know what this feeling was."
Neither team could get an edge in the first period, with Yale holding a slim 7-6 advantage in shots but unable to get one past Princeton's Roxanne Gaudiel, second in the conference in both goals-against average (1.78) and save percentage (.929).
"In the first period, the nerves made for heavy legs, but I think our team did a great job fighting through it," Bulldog captain Erin Duggan said.
The Tigers broke in front at the 6:05 mark of the second when Sonja Novak knocked a rebound of a Heather Jackson shot past Love. Yale responded nearly ten minutes later, as Spring worked the puck off the boards to Gaudiel's left and sent a pass across the ice to Resor at the top of the faceoff circle. There, the Yale freshman wound up for a powerful slapshot that sailed into the net through heavy traffic. Spring (along with Turney) picked up an assist on the play as an appropriate reward on a night when she typified the intensity of the Bulldog attack.
"Jenna Spring and Kristin Savard, the two of them forechecked really well today," Witt said. "Jenna, every time she went in there she'd come up with the puck some way, somehow. And Savard was flying today."
Still, the teams appeared headed into the second intermission tied at one until a late penalty on Princeton gave the Bulldogs another chance to score. Duggan intercepted an attempt at a clearing pass along the boards just inside the blueline in Princeton's zone and fired a shot on net. Gaudiel made the stop, but Spring was at the doorstep to backhand the rebound in for a 2-1 lead just 30.7 seconds before the buzzer.
The Bulldogs then got an insurance goal that changed the complexion of the third period and wound up being the game-winner. Just 21 seconds in, a flurry of activity in front of a fallen Gaudiel ended when Turney stuck the puck in for her second goal of the season.
"That was huge," Witt said. "Typically if we have a lead we tend to lay back a little bit in the third if we're up a goal, and that's been a problem for us with leads this year. We decided that we were going to go right after them and try to get a goal real quick ... You've got to be real happy for Ali Turney to get the game-winner on senior night."
Princeton took advantage of a Yale penalty to creep closer on a power-play goal by Laura Watt with 4:31 remaining, setting up a dramatic finish for the sizable contingent of Bulldog fans who turned out for the rare mid-week game. Yale sustained pressure in the Princeton end, but when the Tigers got the puck into the Yale zone with under a minute to play Gaudiel (36 saves) headed to the bench in favor of an extra attacker. Love made a stop shortly after that and froze the puck. After Love stopped one more Tiger shot, the Bulldogs put the game out of reach when Caplette controlled the puck in the Yale end and skated it down for the empty-netter with 30 seconds to play.
"I've never seen our team play as smart as we did after they got that power-play goal -forechecking properly, dumping the puck in, getting across the red line and just playing really smart hockey," Duggan said. "When they had the extra skater, this week we definitely practiced that and I think our team executed it - a great job."
As time expired, the Bulldogs swarmed on to the ice to celebrate the historic victory. It was particularly rewarding for the three seniors, who joined the Bulldogs in 2001 off a school record-tying 23-loss season. Adding to the emotions of senior night was the fact that one of the members of the class - Nicole Symington - was injured and unable to play. The Bulldogs entered the game knowing that Symington might be healthy for the playoffs, so a win could give her another chance to suit up at Ingalls. Her classmates, Duggan and Turney, played a big role in making sure that would happen.
"It sounds kind of corny, but I think a lot of people wanted to win for her just because then we could have more home games that she'll probably be able to play in," Turney said.
"She's such a big part of this team," Duggan added. "She definitely has a lot of heart. A lot of players wanted to step it up and win it for her."
The victory, Yale's fourth over a nationally-ranked team this season, also extended Yale's school record for wins in a season to 14. The Bulldogs broke the previous record, 12, last Saturday with a 3-0 win at Vermont.
The playoffs begin with a best-of-three quarterfinal series March 4, 5 and 6 (if necessary). Yale will be the No. 4 seed, hosting the No. 5 seed (opponent to be determined by this coming weekend's games). All games will take place at Ingalls Rink. The winner of that series advances to the ECACHL semifinals the following weekend in Schenectady, N.Y.
report by Sam Rubin '95, Yale Sports Publicity Department