Dec. 29, 2007
HAMDEN, Conn. - Yale will have the chance to defend its Nutmeg Classic championship thanks to freshman forward Bray Ketchum's sudden-death shootout goal, which ended a thrilling back-and-forth game with Niagara Saturday afternoon at Quinnipiac's TD Banknorth Sports Center. The Bulldogs rallied from a pair of two-goal deficits, tying the game 4-4 midway through the third period and then advancing on Ketchum's tally. Yale will play No. 9 UConn, which defeated Quinnipiac 3-2 Saturday night, for the title.
The question confronting the Bulldogs entering the day was who would step up and handle the scoring load with junior forward Crysti Howser and junior defenseman Helen Resor away at USA Hockey's Holiday Camp and sophomore forward Denise Soesilo out with an injury. That trio has 54 career goals in Yale blue; the rest of the Bulldog roster combined had 49 entering Saturday.
"I didn't even mention it (to the team while preparing for the game)," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt. "It is not an excuse for us. We have to be able to play with what we have, and there's enough talent in that locker-room to win."
At first it looked as if Yale (4-5-4) would not have an answer. Both teams were playing with only 14 skaters and coming off three-week breaks but Niagara (6-8-3) dominated the first period, posting a 15-4 edge in shots on goal.
Two of those shots hit the back of the net with little that Yale senior goaltender Shivon Zilis could do. At the 13:45 mark speedy 5-foot-2-inch forward Ashley Riggs, a Canadian national team camp invitee, stick handled her way through the Yale defense and deked Zilis down before backhanding the puck up into the right corner. Four minutes later Zilis made a kick save on a blast from defenseman Alison Malty but Riggs was all alone on the right side of the crease to corral the rebound and put it in for her 100th career point.
The Bulldogs solved their offensive woes briefly in the second period and made their first comeback. Yale's top line, restructured to include Ketchum at center with Howser at USA Hockey's Holiday Camp, generated a series of shots. Niagara net minder Jill Zelonis was able to stop a quick shot by Ketchum, but Ketchum then won the faceoff. That eventually led to a shot for junior forward Maggie Westfal that Zelonis stopped. Later in the sequence, as Zelonis attempted to control the puck along the post, junior forward Sarah Tittman kept working away at it. Tittman was able to knock the loose puck in at the 57-second mark.
The Bulldogs kept the offensive pressure on after the goal, and after a flurry in front of Zelonis sophomore forward Caroline Murphy knocked the loose puck from the slot out to freshman defenseman Samantha MacLean alone at the left point. MacLean teed up a high, hard slap shot that flew past Zelonis to tie the score at 1:50, her first career goal and Murphy's first assist of the season.
"It's funny -- I asked Sam how many goals she had before the game," said Witt. "She's been fantastic. For a freshman to come in and do what she's done is remarkable. It was nice to see her get rewarded with a goal."
But the Purple Eagles responded immediately. Forward Mary McKinnon's goal with traffic in front of the net made it 3-2 Niagara three minutes after MacLean's goal. A penalty on the Bulldogs then enabled Riggs to tack on one more, knocking a deflected pass from McKinnon over Zilis' right shoulder for the power-play score and the hat trick at 7:18.
"We played great for the first two minutes of the second, but then we reverted right back to where we were in the first period," Witt said.
After McKinnon hit the post with five minutes left, Murphy had the last chance of the period. Zelonis got just enough of her hard slap shot to deflect it away with a minute remaining.
Niagara forward Meagan Bleiman's shot hit the crossbar three minutes into the third, and a checking penalty on the Bulldogs five minutes later enabled the Eagles to keep up the offensive pressure. Zilis made a pair of saves on that penalty kill, and they turned out to be crucial. Two minutes after the Niagara power play ended, Tittman struck again to pull Yale within one. Her slapper off the rebound of a shot by freshman defenseman Berit Johnson made it 4-3 with 7:50 left, with Ketchum also picking up an assist.
It was Tittman's seventh goal of the year, one more than she had in her first two seasons combined, and helped cement her role as one of the Bulldogs' go-to players.
"Tittman is a natural leader," said Witt. "She didn't have her legs in the first period, but she found a way to fight through it. I'm really happy for her."
The Bulldogs kept up the pressure right after the Tittman goal, with Murphy once again in the middle of the action. She and sophomore defenseman Alyssa Clarke each picked up assists after junior forward Danielle Kozlowski swooped in from the right side to bang home the rebound of a blocked shot, tying the game at four 24 seconds after Tittman's goal.
Zilis denied Riggs with a glove save on a shot from right in front of the net with five minutes to play. After putting five shots on goal in the first period alone, Riggs got only five more the rest of the way.
"We told our team that Riggs is a very skilled, crafty player," said Witt. "She is tough to find, but as the game wore on I thought we did a better job of recognizing her and making things difficult for her."
An interference penalty on Yale with less than five minutes to play could have proved costly, but MacLean set the tone by controlling the puck along the boards for a long stretch right at the start of the penalty kill. Kozlowski then finished it off by blocking a pair of shots, including one that lodged in her uniform.
The Bulldogs also had to kill off a penalty in the middle of overtime, and Zilis started that one off with a lunging glove save on a shot by defenseman Shannon Moulson. Clears by Westfal, Tittman and Ketchum kept the Purple Eagles at bay, and Zilis ended the OT by stopping Riggs' shot from the Niagara blue line as time expired. It was her 31st save.
The game was officially recorded as a 4-4 tie and the shootout was held to determine which team would advance to play for the tournament title.
Scheduled to be best-of-five, the shootout began with Zilis coming out aggressively to turn aside a shot by Riggs. After Zelonis stopped Ketchum, Zilis denied forward Marie Linander Henriksen's backhander with her left pad. Zelonis' save on Westfal ended the second round.
McKinnon nearly snuck one past Zilis to start round three. Zilis got a piece of the shot with her right leg, sending it over her body up in the air. It then bounced dangerously towards the corner of the net behind Zilis before trickling wide.
After Zelonis denied Murphy Yale had another scare at the start of round four, as forward Megan Price hit the post. Zelonis then made a save on sophomore forward Mandi Schwartz. The fifth round was supposed to be the final round, but after Autumn Stutz sent a shot high and wide and Tittman was turned aside by Zelonis the shootout moved to a sudden-death sixth round.
Riggs had a chance to give her squad the lead, but she missed on a shot after deking Zilis out of position. Ketchum then beat Zelonis on her blocker side to end the game, touching off a celebration from the Bulldog bench.
"Bray's a natural goal scorer," Witt said. "She knows how to put the puck in the net."
Yale will play UConn at 7:00 p.m. at TD Banknorth Sports Center, and Niagara will play Quinnipiac in the consolation game at 3:00 p.m.
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity