Dec. 30, 2008
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - With an already-depleted lineup facing the loss of the team captain midway through the game, trailing 1-0 heading into the third period against one of the top goaltenders in the country, Tuesday afternoon's game against Providence at Ingalls Rink felt very much like a test of willpower for the Yale women's hockey team. The Bulldogs were up to the challenge. Senior forward Maggie Westfal tied the game with 13 minutes to play and senior forward Crysti Howser delivered the game-winner 14 seconds into overtime for a thrilling 2-1 win.
"That was a gutsy effort," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt, whose team made it through this game with a rotation of just eight forwards and five defensemen at the end. "Missing so many players, our kids dug deep and found a way to win."
Yale (6-6-0, 3-4-0 ECAC Hockey) had not played in 26 days, while Providence (9-7-2, 5-2-1 Hockey East) had not played in 24. The Friars looked sharp early on and the game might have gotten out of hand were it not for the work of sophomore goaltender Jackee Snikeris, who ended the first half of the season on a roll and quickly made it clear that she was still very much on top of her game. Snikeris' first test came a minute in when a turnover enabled Providence to keep the puck in the Yale end. Forward Jackie Duncan was alone right in front of the net and attempted to backhand in a pass from the boards behind the Yale goal. Snikeris reacted quickly to get a pad on the puck and knock it away.
The Bulldogs did not have a shot on goal until a pair of attempts from the blue line by junior defenseman Alyssa Clarke eight minutes in, and by that time Providence had already put seven shots on Snikeris. Play evened up after that, and Yale had a golden chance 12 minutes into the game when senior forward Danielle Kozlowski outraced a pair of Providence players to get to a loose puck in the Providence zone. Friars goalie Genevieve Lacasse came charging out to deny Kozlowski's attempt. Lacasse could not control the puck, however. Trailing the play, senior forward Sarah Tittman had a look at an open net but a diving Kozlowski had inadvertently fallen on the ice in front of her.
The Bulldogs had to kill off two penalties in the first. Snikeris capped off the busy period with her 13th save, turning aside a shot from forward Laura Veharanta off a turnover.
Another Yale penalty three minutes into the second enabled Providence to get on the scoreboard. Off a pass from behind the net, Veharanta had a shot that she missed, but she was able to get her stick back on the loose puck to knock it past Snikeris at 3:26.
A flurry of Yale shots four minutes later ended with Lacasse losing her stick but managing to freeze the puck. Matching penalties five minutes after that led to four-on-four hockey for two minutes, but neither team was able to take advantage.
Things took a turn for the worse for Yale later in the period. With multiple players sidelined heading into the game and senior defenseman Helen Resor off at the USA Hockey Holiday Camp, the Bulldogs knew they would be playing this game with far less than the full complement of players. But they could not have been prepared to see Tittman, the team captain, leave the game with an injury late in the second after breaking up a Friar scoring chance. The Bulldogs had to regroup quickly, as the Friars went on the power play shortly after the Tittman injury.
"We've been fighting a lot of adversity lately," Witt said. "This is just another piece of the puzzle. The team responded very well."
Snikeris came up with another key save on a blast from the right circle by forward Mari Pehkonen during the Providence power play, but the Yale netminder's biggest stop of the period came later. Defenseman Erin Normore had a breakaway off a long pass from Lacasse and skated right to the doorstep, but Snikeris anticipated her every move and denied the shot. The Bulldogs were eventually able to clear away the loose puck minutes before the end of the second period.
Yale entered the third facing the unenviable task of trying to mount a comeback against Lacasse, who started the day fourth in the country in save percentage. The Bulldogs utilized their first power play of the game, a minute into the third, to apply some offensive pressure. Howser just missed tipping in a shot by sophomore defenseman Samantha MacLean, and sophomore forward Bray Ketchum followed that up with a slap shot that Lacasse stopped. Westfal and freshman defenseman Heather Grant sent shots just wide as the power play came to an end.
The Bulldogs hit paydirt on their next power play. Grant started the play by sending a slap shot on goal that Lacasse could not control. Senior forward Kristen Stupay kept the puck alive with heavy traffic in front of the net, and it eventually came out to a wide-open Westfal in the right circle. With Lacasse out of position, Westfal rifled the puck into the upper right corner of the net at 6:58.
"It looked like the net was open, but Maggie had to keep her composure," Witt said. "Some players would get so excited in a situation like that they'd miss the shot. Maggie kept her composure and finished it off."
Three minutes later the Friars very nearly got the lead back with a tricky shot. Forward Alyse Ruff got the puck in the slot off a faceoff in the Yale zone and quickly wristed one on net. Snikeris reacted just as quickly to glove the shot and generate another faceoff.
Lacasse came up with her biggest save of the day when Howser got behind the defense with six minutes to play, as the freshman netminder got her pads on the shot attempt to keep the score tied. The Bulldogs were whistled for a penalty shortly after that, giving the Friars a chance to take the lead on the power play. But Kozlowski blocked Providence's first shot attempt and Stupay cleared the puck.
Grant blocked a shot later in that penalty kill and took care of the clear as well. The freshman blueliner made another huge play later when a turnover in the neutral zone gave the Friars a 2-on-1. She dove to the ice to smother forward Abby Gauthier's attempt at a crossing pass and eliminate the scoring threat.
One final flurry nearly gave Yale the win in regulation, but freshman forward Aleca Hughes backhanded one wide and Lacasse stopped Howser's attempt to backhand one in right after that. A kick save on MacLean in the waning seconds of regulation left the teams still tied at one.
As overtime began, the crowd at Ingalls Rink -- already packed with dozens of youth teams in town for the Connecticut Polar Bears tournament -- grew larger as fans began showing up for the second half of the doubleheader, a Yale men's game against Minnesota State-Mankato. The ending gave them all something to remember.
Howser won the opening faceoff back to Grant, who sent the puck deep along the boards. Lacasse stopped it behind her net and attempted to play it up along the boards, but Hughes intercepted the puck. Hughes then sent the puck back down towards Ketchum behind the net. She fed Howser low in the right circle, and it looked like Howser was going to keep heading toward the boards. Instead she pulled up and wristed one through Lacasse's five hole for an ending that was as quick as it was stunning.
"We just told them to shoot the puck low," Witt said. "Aleca made a nice smart play to get the puck to Bray, Bray got it to Howser and Howser finished. It was a fitting end to a really good game."
Snikeris ended the day with 26 saves, and now has stopped 97 of 103 shots (.942) in her last five games. Lacasse made 34 saves.
"I said at the beginning it was going to come down to goaltending," said Witt. "Their goalie was very good, but Snik was amazing."
Yale visits Northeastern Friday night at 7:00 p.m.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (email@example.com), Yale Sports Publicity
Video by David Dikranian