Pair of Goals from Ketchum; 28 Saves from Snikeris
HAMDEN, Conn. – For the sixth time in the tournament's seven-year history, the Yale Bulldogs will play in the Nutmeg Classic Championship game. The Bulldogs advanced to the title game with a 5-2 win over UConn Friday night at Quinnipiac's TD Banks Sports Center. Senior forward Bray Ketchum had a pair of goals to pace the Yale offense.
Yale (3-6-2, 2-3-1 ECAC Hockey) got some good news before the game even began with the return to health of senior goalie Jackee Snikeris. When Snikeris went down with an injury in the third game of the season it was initially feared to be season-ending, but she wound up missing just seven games. Junior goalie Genny Ladiges and sophomore goalie Erin Callahan filled in admirably for Snikeris, stopping 256 of 280 shots (.914). Snikeris returned with a vengeance Friday night, stopping 28 of 30 Husky shots.
"Last week she was starting to get healthy, and was able to participate in some practices," said Yale head coach Joakim Flygh. "By Monday of this week we knew she would be ready to go. We wanted to get her in this game; she's been the backbone of this team for so long. She adds to a great goaltending unit that we have in place."
UConn (5-8-1), which had beaten Yale in each of the last three Nutmeg Classic Championship games, gave Snikeris some early tests. Seven minutes in Huskies forward Jennifer Chaisson came out from behind the net to Snikeris' right and tried to stuff the puck in but was denied, and her attempt to put in the rebound was also stopped. A minute later forward Taylor Gross was open in the left circle and tried a wrister but Snikeris gloved it.
Junior forward Aleca Hughes took the puck down the other end of the ice after Snikeris' save on Gross and, even with two defenders on her, got off a tricky backhander in front that UConn goalie Alexandra Garcia was able to stop. Right after that Garcia was just able to cover up a shot from the point by senior defenseman Samantha MacLean with freshman forward Jenna Ciotti looking for the rebound.
The Bulldogs had been hemmed up in their own zone right before breaking on top. After a series of near misses by the Huskies MacLean got the puck and carried it through the neutral zone looking mainly for the chance to dump it in for a line change. But as she made her way past the blue line she saw a chance to take aim at the net and unleashed a hard slap shot that was powerful enough to hit off Garcia and still bounce in over the line.
MacLean started heading off the ice thinking the save had been made. Instead she was mobbed by her team mates and the Bulldogs had a 1-0 lead.
"There's no question we're a better hockey team when we play with a lead," Flygh said. "We got a little lucky there, but we carried it forward and kept building on that lead."
UConn got the first power play of the game with a minute to go in the first, but Snikeris was able to cover Gross' attempt to tip in a shot by defenseman Maude Blain. Right after that, freshman forward Jackie Raines drew a penalty on the Huskies that ended the UConn advantage.
The Bulldogs controlled play for much of the second period, and finally extended their lead when Ketchum backhanded one in at 8:18. Six minutes later a loose puck in the Yale zone wound up on the stick of UConn defenseman Sami Evelyn high in the right circle. She was able to tee up a hard slap shot, but Snikeris stopped it and covered it.
Garcia made a nice stop on a slap shot from sophomore defenseman Tara Tomimoto off a feed from Ketchum with five minutes left to play in the period, and after that the Huskies were able to get back in the game. Play continued for several seconds after a shot by Gross got past Snikeris at 17:17, but the officials ruled that it had hit inside the goal before bouncing out. Yale went into the second intermission leading 2-1.
After Garcia gloved a shot by Ciotti early in the third, the Huskies got another power play. It wound up being part of a turning point that sealed the win for the Bulldogs. MacLean set the tone for the Yale penalty kill by diving to the ice to smother a Husky pass, then feeding it to Hughes. Hughes carried the puck down the ice and almost got off a short-handed chance.
The Huskies were able to get their offense going again with a two-on-one a minute into the power play, but Snikeris made the save when forward Brittany Murphy tried shooting instead of passing with MacLean back on defense and blocking the passing lane.
Shortly after killing off the penalty the Bulldogs swung momentum even further in their favor. Tomimoto took a feed from Ketchum and fired a shot on net from the right point. Raines was there to poke in the rebound to put Yale up 3-1 at 8:05.
Less than three minutes later freshman forward Jennifer Lawrence extended the lead. The Huskies thought they had Raines tied up right in front but she was still able to get the puck on net, and Lawrence poked it in to make it 4-1 Yale at 10:59.
Combined with the penalty kill, the two goals in three minutes put Yale in charge of the game.
"[Assistant coach] Jess [Koizumi] and I were talking about that part of the game," Flygh said. "We always talk with our kids about being able to weather the storm. To kill that penalty and then score two goals was something we were really happy to see."
A power-play goal by Chaisson with five minutes to play gave the Huskies a chance to make the final minutes interesting. They pulled Garcia with just under three minutes to play, and Snikeris immediately gloved a shot by Chaisson. Ciotti just missed putting in an empty-netter with a long-distance shot with 90 seconds to play.
An icing call on the Bulldogs with 53 seconds left gave the Huskies a faceoff in the Yale zone, and a sprawled-out Snikeris covered one final attempt to get back in the game. With 15 seconds left, Hughes sent the puck ahead to Ketchum for an empty-netter that made the final 5-2.
That is seven goals in the last five games for the Bulldogs' top line of Hughes, Ketchum and sophomore forward Alyssa Zupon.
"It's great to see those three really starting to click," Flygh said. "They've done a great job leading off games and setting the tone with their enthusiasm. This was one of those games where we generated a lot of offensive chances and were rewarded for it."
Yale plays Quinnipiac, which beat Sacred Heart 9-1 Friday afternoon, in the championship game Saturday at 7 p.m. The Bulldogs and Bobcats last played each other for the championship in 2006, when the Bulldogs won 7-3.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity