December 29, 2006

Yale Upsets No. 8/9 UConn 3-0, Will Play for Nutmeg Classic Championship

Dec. 29, 2006

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Looking quite refreshed after 27 days off for exams, the Yale Bulldogs got their first win over a ranked opponent this season by upsetting No. 8/9 UConn 3-0 in the first game of the Nutmeg Classic Friday afternoon at Ingalls Rink. Senior forward Sheila Zingler, freshman defenseman Berit Johnson and sophomore forward Crysti Howser scored, while junior goaltender Shivon Zilis made 28 saves for the shutout. The win means that Yale's game vs. Quinnipiac at Ingalls Rink Sunday at 4:00 p.m. (WYBC 1340 AM) will determine the Nutmeg Classic championship.

The Bulldogs came out firing, hammering UConn goaltender Brittany Wilson with 23 shots in the first period. Senior forward Christina Sharun had the best opportunity to score early on, as a loose puck in the UConn zone drifted toward her with no defender nearby. Sharun unleashed a powerful slap shot that hit the post and deflected away from the net.

A great job of forechecking by senior forward Jenna Spring set up Yale's first goal, as she took the puck away from the Huskies in their own end and sent it toward the board behind Wilson. Zingler picked it up there and sent it in front of the net, where it slipped past Wilson at the 14:45 mark.

"I thought we were peppering that goalie with a lot of quality shots and we couldn't buy a goal," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt. "Then all of a sudden we just throw the puck at the net trying to make a pass and it goes in. That's hockey. That's how it works some times."

Despite limiting UConn (11-5-1, 7-1-1 HEA) to only six shots on goal for the period, it looked as if the Bulldogs (6-7-0, 3-6-0 ECAC) would only have a 1-0 lead to show for it as the first period wound down. Finally, a faceoff in the Husky zone set up another Yale score with 1:53 to play. Freshman forward Mandi Schwartz won the draw back to Johnson. Her first shot was blocked, but she grabbed the loose puck and sent it past Wilson for her first collegiate goal.

"She had the poise to get it under control, walk it around the defender and get another shot off," said Witt.

The Bulldogs, enjoying the deepest roster they have had in a long time, rolled all four lines effectively in order to negate any chance that the long stretch without games would have a negative effect on the team's stamina.

"We tried to make the shifts short," Witt said. "We tried to get everybody in the game, and save some people. I think we got a little tired in the second period after the first. The first period was the best period of hockey I've ever seen them play."

The second period saw another barrage of shots from Yale matched by saves from Wilson, who would end the game with 41 stops. The Huskies had an early chance to get on the board spoiled when Johnson broke up a pass from Jaclyn Hawkins in the Yale zone. Sophomore defenseman Maggie Westfal denied another scoring chance from the Huskies after having her own shot blocked -- she got back on defense to disrupt Dominique Thibault during a two-on-one for UConn.

Wilson continued to keep her team in the game, denying a wraparound try by Zingler midway through the period and then closing the five hole on a backhander by Howser right in front of the net off a feed from behind the net.

The UConn defense also had its share of moments, deflecting a shot by sophomore forward Danielle Kozlowski high and wide after a pass from Sharun found her all alone in the slot.

As the period wore on the Huskies were able to generate some more offense, but Zilis was up to the task. Hawkins skated in and managed to snap off a shot with a Yale defender right in front of her in the slot, but Zilis kept her eye on the puck and kept the puck out of the net.

With 41.9 seconds remaining in the second period Zilis covered Britney Chandler's shot from just outside the crease, but that sequence led to the first penalty of the game: an interference call against senior defenseman Regan Gilbride. Zilis gloved a Thibault shot with 7.9 seconds to play and then denied another shot with 1.3 seconds left. With the faceoff in Yale's zone with that little time remaining, the Huskies pulled Wilson and set up for a brief 6-on-4. Howser won the draw, however, negating UConn's chance to utilize the two-man advantage.

Howser then placed Yale firmly in control of the game with the Bulldogs still killing off that penalty 31 seconds into the third period. She stole the puck at the Yale blue line and came in all alone on Wilson, wristing one past her stick side for a short-handed goal.

"She created that goal on her own," Witt said of Howser, who has five points in the last four games. "She took the puck away and then had the breakaway. If she can score goals like that, we're going to score a lot more than we have been."

The Huskies got another power play 1:43 into the period but once again came up empty. Two more penalties on the Bulldogs later in the period also came and went without a goal, though they did help make the third period the lone one in which UConn had the edge in shots (13-7). Zilis stopped all of them to register Yale's first shutout of the season.

The win was Witt's first over her former college coach, Heather Linstad, who coached Witt when both were at Northeastern. Still, Witt was quick to give credit for the victory to her assistant coach, Kim Mathias. Until Friday morning Witt was in Lake Placid, N.Y., for the USA Hockey Holiday Camp that started on Tuesday (she will be an assistant coach for Team USA at the 2007 IIHF Women's World Championship). With associate head coach Harry Rosenholtz away recruiting, it was up to Mathias to handle Yale's three practices in the two days leading up to the UConn game.

"Obviously Kim prepared them well the last couple days, so I have to give her some credit there," Witt said. "She's really stepped up to the plate with me being gone."

Mathias and Rosenholtz shared the coaching duties earlier this season when Witt missed two games while coaching at the Four Nations Cup, and Yale won both of those games.

Thanks to Friday's win, the Bulldogs can win the Nutmeg Classic championship if they beat Quinnipiac on Sunday at Ingalls. UConn plays at Quinnipiac Saturday in the second game of the tournament. The Huskies won the inaugural tournament two years ago and the Bobcats won last year, a fact that has not been lost on the Bulldogs.

"We talked about how it's important because Quinnipiac and UConn have both won it," Witt said. "It's time for us to step up to the plate and give ourselves a chance to win it. We took the first step today."

Note: The game was broadcast on USCHO.com as its "Game of the Week", and an archive of it (video and audio) is available on USCHO.com.