Final Game for Yale's Class of 2011
NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Yale women's ice hockey team came up just short in its bid for a memorable ending to the 2010-11 regular season, falling to Princeton 4-1 at Ingalls Rink Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs had been seeking their third win in five days, one which would have clinched them a spot in the ECAC Hockey playoffs, but instead they saw their season come to an end -- and with it the Yale careers of the Class of 2011: forward Bray Ketchum, forward Lili Rudis, defenseman Samantha MacLean and goalie Jackee Snikeris.
Yale started the week in 10th place, but wins over Brown on Tuesday and Quinnipiac on Friday put the Bulldogs in position to reach the postseason for the first time since 2007-08. Yale needed some help to get in on Saturday, and ironically both of the other games the Bulldogs were impacted by wound up turning out the way Yale needed: Dartmouth beat Colgate and St. Lawrence beat Rensselaer. A win or a tie vs. the Tigers would have put Yale in the playoffs as the eighth and final seed, but it was not meant to be. After falling behind 1-0 the Bulldogs rallied back to tie the game, but Princeton scored the game's final three goals for the win.
"Getting the first goal today was something that we could have used badly," said first-year Yale head coach Joakim Flygh, noting that the Bulldogs were 7-1-1 when scoring first this season. "We battled back and got a goal, but just couldn't keep going. You have to give credit to Princeton, they had some really nice goals."
Yale (9-17-3, 8-12-2 ECAC Hockey, t-8th) was playing its fifth game in nine days, and all of those games had been played under heavy pressure to earn points to keep pace in the conference standings. A 4-2-1 stretch heading into Saturday had helped Yale partially overcome a 1-7-0 stretch right before that, but ultimately the Bulldogs could not get the one more point in the standings that they needed. Princeton (16-12-1, 13-8-1 ECAC Hockey, 4th), seeking to seal a home-ice spot in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, set the tone early by outshooting Yale 12-6 in the first period.
Sophomore defenseman Jamie Gray had the biggest defensive play of the first, snaring a loose puck along the goal line after a shot by forward Corey Stearns to keep the game scoreless early. The Tigers took the lead on a goal by forward Sally Butler at 9:19.
The Bulldogs killed off their first penalty right after that, and had one of their best offensive chances of the period four minutes later. Freshman forward Ashley Dunbar slid a pass to freshman forward Jackie Raines across the slot, but Princeton goalie Rachel Weber was able to get over and get just enough of the puck to keep it in front of her and cover it.
A penalty on the Tigers with three minutes left in the first gave Yale the chance to draw even. Junior forward Aleca Hughes controlled a loose puck behind the Princeton net and sent a pass along the boards to junior defenseman Heather Grant at the blue line. Grant launched a slap shot that Weber made a kick save on, but sophomore forward Danielle Moncion was in perfect position to backhand the rebound into the open net at 18:52.
The fact that Hughes was even out on the ice Saturday was evidence of the type of culture that bodes well for the future of the Yale program. Hughes had taken a hard hit in the third period Friday night against Quinnipiac, and played the rest of that game through pain that clearly affected her on Saturday as well. But with Yale battling for a playoff spot, and with the roster already thinned by season-ending injuries to Rudis, freshman defenseman Aurora Kennedy and sophomore defenseman Tara Tomimoto -- and with the chance to extend the careers of the senior class hanging in the balance -- there was no chance that Hughes was going to take Saturday off.
"That kid has so much heart," Flygh said. "I wish she could have been fully healthy for this game. No-one wanted this more for the seniors. It breaks my heart that she had to play hurt, but she would never complain."
Snikeris made one of her best saves in the final seconds of the first, getting a leg on forward Denna Laing's attempt to stuff in a crossing pass from forward Alex Kinney. But Princeton re-claimed the lead on a goal by Laing just 41 seconds into the second period, as a pass deflected in off her body in front of the net.
Snikeris went right back to work with a save on Butler off a pass from Laing 30 seconds later. Yale then had to kill off another penalty, and that successful kill was highlighted by a diving one-handed clear by sophomore forward Alyssa Zupon. Raines helped finish off the kill with a steal in the Yale zone that she carried down to the other end of the ice.
Weber made a pair of saves on tough shots by Ketchum midway through the second, and Ketchum also sent a one-timer wide during a power play late in the period. Forward Paula Romanchuk extended Princeton's lead to 3-1 with a goal 46 seconds before the second intermission.
A goal by Laing at 9:48 of the third put the game even further out of reach for the Bulldogs. Yale came up empty on a power play right after that, with freshman forward Jenna Ciotti producing the only shot on goal. A pair of late penalties on the Tigers gave Yale the chance to try to tack on one more goal for the season, but a shot by Ketchum was deflected wide as the final seconds ticked off.
Yale thus finished the season in a three-way tie with Colgate and RPI for the eighth and final playoff spot, but lost the tiebreaker. RPI's 2-1-1 record head-to-head vs. the other two teams gave the Engineers the eighth seed in the upcoming ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.
Snikeris made 24 saves Saturday and finished the season with a .941 save percentage, breaking the school single-season record in that category. She also has the school single-season goals-against average record (1.67 her sophomore year), and the career marks for save percentage (.931), goals-against average (2.12) and shutouts (16). Ketchum finished her career seventh on Yale's career goals list (41), 11th on Yale's career points list (84) and 12th on Yale's career assists list (43).
The seniors were honored on the ice after the game, and at that point the disappointment of the loss was temporarily put aside as the Bulldogs also paid tribute to two other members of the team who played a huge role in the 2010-11 season. As the team posed for one more picture together, they were joined by their adoptee from the "Bulldog Buddies" program, Giana Cardonita, the nine-year-old girl who has emerged as a huge part of the team as she continues recovering from surgery for a brain tumor. The Bulldogs also brought out the No. 17 jersey of their teammate Mandi Schwartz. The jersey had been hanging behind the bench for every game, home and away, since Schwartz suffered a relapse in her battle with cancer several weeks ago.
With those two reminders of life beyond hockey for perspective, Flygh praised the seniors for the role they played in what was a particularly emotional season.
"They set a standard for the future," Flygh said. "For us as a staff, I couldn't be prouder or more thankful than to have a group like this. They worked their tails off and kept this team together through thick and thin. Winning hides a lot. When you have some tough times like we have had this year, the house can crumble pretty quickly. I'm extremely impressed with how they kept this team together."
Flygh had coached against the Bulldogs as an assistant at Harvard, but still could not have known all that he would find on his roster once he took over as head coach at Yale last summer. With a season under his belt now, he sees plenty of building blocks for the future that he envisions for Yale Women's Ice Hockey.
"I saw a lot of heart and a lot of passion," Flygh said. "These kids want to win. They are willing to do what it takes. We're not going to go away. The seniors put a great foundation in place, starting with the way they practiced. There was a big change in this team starting in November, and it started with the seniors getting after the team in practice. As a coaching staff, we really wanted to instill a great work ethic as one of the hallmarks of our team, and that has been accomplished."
For more on the Yale women's ice hockey Class of 2011, read the story that appeared in the game program for Feb. 18-19.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity