February 5, 2011

Third-Period Rally Nets 2-2 Tie at RPI

Ciotti's Fourth Goal of Weekend Helps Bulldogs Earn Point

TROY, N.Y. – Trailing 2-0 heading early in the third period at RPI, the Yale women's ice hockey team was looking for a spark. It came in the form of a goal on a faceoff, as sophomore forward Alyssa Zupon set up junior defenseman Heather Grant for a slap shot that pulled Yale within one. The Bulldogs then got another goal just 39 seconds later from freshman forward Jenna Ciotti, and they held on for a 2-2 tie that got them a much-needed point in the conference standings.

Yale has been having much success on face-offs lately, and Zupon is right in the middle of that trend. She has won 69 of 103 draws over the last five games, and on Saturday she called the play that led to Grant's goal.

"That was something we talked about earlier in the season," said Yale head coach Joakim Flygh. "We felt face-offs were something we could control and generate offense from. Our kids are really paying attention to what we're trying to do. We put in eight or nine plays, and during the game we give them free range to make the calls."

That was the second goal of the weekend for Grant, who has already exceeded her point total for her first two seasons combined (3-6-9 this season). She has been a huge reason why Yale has picked up five points in its last three games despite having a pair of key defensemen, freshman Aurora Kennedy and sophomore Tara Tomimoto, out with injuries.

"The last five or six games Heather has been playing the best hockey I've ever seen her play," said Flygh. "She's really stepped up to help fill in for Aurora and Tara and she is playing well in every situation -- even strength, power play, penalty kill -- defensively and offensively. She's got a big shot."

Saturday's game seemed like a matchup of two teams that were mirror images of each other, as both are fighting for one of the final playoff spots in the conference standings while being beset by injuries and illness. RPI dressed only four defensemen for the game, while the Bulldogs had five.

Yale (7-14-3, 6-9-2 ECAC Hockey) had been on a roll with 12 goals in its last three games, the most goals in a three-game span in more than a year for the Bulldogs. The last two games had been wins by a combined score of 9-0.

But RPI (10-12-8, 8-8-3 ECAC Hockey) had snapped a four-game losing streak (including three shutouts) in dramatic fashion the night before, rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the third period for a 4-2 win over Brown. The Engineers carried that momentum over into Saturday. Any chance of senior goalie Jackee Snikeris getting her third shutout in a row ended quickly, as RPI forward Toni Sanders poked in a rebound at 1:31 of the first. Nine minutes later, forward Sydney O'Keefe extended the lead to 2-0.

Yale got the first power play of the game shortly after RPI's second goal, but could not capitalize. Engineers goalie Sonja van der Bliek turned aside a slap shot by Grant, and Zupon's deflection of a shot by senior forward Bray Ketchum went wide. van der Bliek finished off the penalty kill by stopping and covering a shot from senior defenseman Samantha MacLean.

Grant sent a shot along the ice from the blue line that hit off the side of the post with 4:30 left in the first, and shortly after that a penalty on the Bulldogs put Yale on the defensive. Freshman forward Jackie Raines broke up a pair of attempts by RPI to establish possession in the Yale zone. A steal and clear by junior forward Aleca Hughes at the blue line helped finish off the kill, Yale's 11th straight successful PK.

Snikeris reacted quickly to deny a back-hander in front by Sanders two minutes into the second. van der Bliek answered a minute later by stopping Hughes' attempt from the doorstep after a feed from Zupon. Yale went on the power play right after that but could not generate any chances.

The Bulldogs got another power play near the end of the second, and on this one they controlled the puck in the RPI zone and generated several quality chances. Slap shots by Hughes and Ketchum went wide, and one by Grant was blocked. RPI finally cleared its zone 70 seconds into the kill. After that the Bulldogs had one last chance, as Ciotti skated through the defense to get off a wrister from the left circle that van der Bliek stopped and covered. The Engineers' lead remained 2-0 heading into the third.

van der Bliek started the third with a save on a backhander by Ciotti 75 seconds in. Snikeris answered by stopping a tricky shot from forward Jill Vandergrift, who used a Yale defender as a screen, a minute later.

Yale began climbing back right after a scary incident. A collision at center ice left RPI forward Kristen Jakubowski down on the ice as the Bulldogs set up in the RPI zone. van der Bliek stopped a slap shot from sophomore defenseman Natalie Wedell, and when the Engineers gained control of the puck the officials blew the whistle so that Jakubowski could be attended to. She was eventually able to get off the ice, and on the ensuing faceoff Zupon set up Grant to pull Yale within 2-1 at the 4:13 mark.

Before the Engineers could re-group, Ciotti knocked in a loose puck to tie the game 39 seconds later. Freshman forward Patricia McGauley assisted on the play.

The Bulldogs nearly fell behind again with 9:40 to play when RPI forward Jordan Smelker skated in for a shot from Snikeris' left. The puck snuck behind the Yale net minder but bounced along the goal line and never crossed it before winding up harmlessly on the other side of the net. The goal judge mistakenly put on the goal light momentarily, but play continued and the score remained tied.

The Engineers turned up the offensive pressure after the quick Yale goals, and with 6:45 to play they forced Yale into a penalty with heavy traffic in front of Snikeris. Zupon started off that kill by backhanding the puck out of the zone, and a clear along the boards by sophomore defenseman Jamie Gray helped keep the Engineers at bay temporarily. Gray later made a crucial defensive play, tying up Smelker in the slot after a pass seemingly set her up for an open shot. Snikeris finished the kill with a kick save on forward Taylor Horton.

"I always say, your penalty kill is only as good as your goaltender," Flygh said. "We've worked on some things, but right now our success there is coming from our goalie."

The final 30 seconds of the game saw some more close calls for Yale. Snikeris made a save on a tough shot by Smelker. Right after that she got a piece of a hard slap shot from the point but the puck trickled behind her. She reached out with her stick to gather it in just before it crossed the goal line, and the teams headed to overtime tied 2-2.

Neither team mounted much of an offensive threat for most of overtime, and Snikeris made one save to finish with 28 for the game. Zupon sent a wrister on net from the left circle with 48 seconds to play that van der Bliek stopped. Shortly after that van der Bliek sticked aside a shot from Raines to finish with 20 saves, and Raines then sent another one wide.

MacLean flicked away RPI's final attempt to set up in the Yale zone, and the two teams settled for a point that leaves both of them with work to do in the season's final two weeks. With only the top eight teams making the playoffs, the Engineers and Bulldogs are part of a group of four teams (with Colgate and St. Lawrence) all within four points of each other battling for the last two playoff spots.

"In between the second and third periods we talked about how this game could really define our season," Flygh said. "Winning would have been great. Four points is a huge swing in the standings. But to be able to battle back to tie showed a lot of character. This should be a really interesting last two weeks. I'm encouraged by the way we're playing."

Yale visits No. 2 Cornell next Friday.

Report by Sam Rubin '95 (sam.rubin@yale.edu), Yale Sports Publicity

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