Bulldogs Blank Crimson for First Time Since 1980 Behind 29 Saves from Leonoff
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Saturday's 2-0 win at Harvard was one for the record books for the Yale women's ice hockey team, as the Bulldogs blanked the Crimson for the first time since 1980 and won at Harvard for the first time since 1981. Junior forward Jackie Raines and sophomore defenseman Kate Martini scored for the Bulldogs, and junior goaltender Jaimie Leonoff made 29 saves for the historic victory.
This was the type of game that Yale head coach Joakim Flygh envisioned when he took the Yale job four years ago, after helping the Crimson to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances and a 71-20-8 record in his three years as an assistant coach. Harvard had been 15-0-2 against Yale in the last 17 meetings between these two teams, dating back to the last Bulldog win (3-1 at Ingalls Rink on Nov. 18, 2005). There had been one close call at Bright-Landry Hockey Center -- a 3-3 overtime tie on Oct. 29, 2010 in Flygh's first season. But the "Bright Blight" that dated back to a 4-2 Yale win Feb. 28, 1981 did not come to an end until Saturday. This is also believed to be Yale's first win against a top-five team since the Bulldogs beat Harvard 3-2 on Nov. 12, 2004, when the Crimson were ranked No. 3 in the country.
"We just worked hard," said Flygh of his team's effort. "That's the most complete game we've played since I've been here -- from the goaltending, to the defense, to the forwards. It was a team win in every sense."
The Bulldogs had shown flashes of potential earlier in the year, including a pair of one-goal losses to nationally ranked opponents to start the season. Still, they entered play Saturday on the heels of a heartbreaking 5-4 loss at Dartmouth Friday night. In that game, the Bulldogs let two leads slip away, and the Big Green scored the game-winning goal in the final minute.
"We're a good hockey team, but we've been very inconsistent," said Flygh. "The kids were up for this game. After last night we challenged them. Every time we've challenged them, they've responded."
That response came quickly, in the form of an early goal that set the tone for the rest of the game. Raines started the play by digging the puck out of the corner on the right side and getting it to sophomore forward Hanna Åström low in the circle. Åström got a piece of it, and when a Harvard defender attempted to clear the puck it popped up in the air. By the time it got back down to the ice Raines had swooped in behind the play, and she one-timed the puck low into the right corner at the 6:42 mark.
"Jackie ended up with the puck and she just buried it. A goal like that gives you a little bit of a cushion, and momentum," said Flygh. "It also gives you the belief you can play with them."
The goal was another sign of the impact that Raines could have on this season. She was Yale's leading goal scorer as a sophomore in 2011-12, but an injury ended her 2012-13 campaign before it began. She did not return to the ice until last weekend, but her perseverance has paid immediate dividends. She now has four points in her four games back, and gets credit for the game-winner in one of the biggest wins in the program's history.
"I just worked hard on my off-ice training while I was out," Raines said. "It was hard not being able to play. It was definitely motivating to see our team doing well while I was gone and to know the potential that we had. I was excited to come back in and contribute."
Flygh has noticed the difference in Raines' play.
"I was just saying to [assistant coaches] Eddie [Ardito] and Jess [Koizumi], Jackie's a better hockey player now than she was a year and a half ago," said Flygh. "It says a lot about her that after not playing for nearly two years she has come back in and contributed immediately. She's provided a great injection of energy."
With less than five minutes to go in the first Leonoff made a great stop with her left leg on a shot from forward Gina McDonald, who was following up a blocked shot by the Crimson. Leonoff also made a series of stops on a late flurry by the Crimson from the doorstep, and the Bulldogs took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Harvard (12-2-2, 8-2-1 ECAC Hockey) had been 8-0-2 at home this season, including four shutouts, so just scoring one goal against the Crimson was a bit of an accomplishment. The Bulldogs eventually got to two, as Martini extended the lead at 11:56 of the second after a long Yale possession in the Harvard zone. At the blue line, she intercepted an attempt by the Crimson to clear the puck from the slot. Martini was wide open and ripped off a slap shot that eluded Harvard keeper Emerance Maschmeyer down low.
"That was a fantastic shot," said senior defenseman Tara Tomimoto, Yale's captain. "From the bench, we saw the seas part and Kate just wind it up."
That insurance goal wound up being more than enough for Leonoff and the Yale defense. The Bulldogs successfully killed off their fourth penalty of the game late in the third, not allowing a Crimson shot on goal. That was one of three Harvard power plays (out of five total) where the Bulldogs did not allow a shot -- a statistic that typified the type of defense that Yale played in front of Leonoff virtually all game long. This wound up being the fewest saves Leonoff has had to make in a game she has started since a 6-4 win at Union Nov. 16.
"We just played smart defensively, and won all the little battles all over the ice," said Tomimoto.
Yale (6-10-1, 4-5-1 ECAC Hockey) had a chance to increase its cushion with a power play with 6:01 to play, but a penalty on the Bulldogs with 5:11 left ended that Yale power play and eventually gave one to the Crimson.
After Harvard forward Miye D'Oench sent a backhander just wide of the net and had another shot deflected away, Leonoff covered up what wound up being the Crimson's lone shot on goal for that power play. Freshman forward Krista Yip-Chuck then won the face-off, and freshman defenseman Taylor Marchin cleared the puck. Marchin then intercepted a Harvard pass for another clear as the Yale penalty expired.
That penalty kill helped keep the final minutes relatively free of drama for Yale. Harvard called timeout and pulled Maschmeyer with 1:47 to play, but Leonoff swallowed up a slap shot by defenseman Marissa Gedman 40 seconds later. A too many men on the ice penalty on the Bulldogs gave Harvard a power play with 37.4 seconds left, but Yip-Chuck won the faceoff and senior defenseman Aurora Kennedy cleared the puck all the way to the other end of the ice -- very nearly scoring on the empty net.
Leonoff made her final stop with 8.3 seconds left, covering up a loose puck in front en route to becoming just the second Yale goalie ever to shut out the Crimson. Yale's celebration of the win was delayed momentarily by a cross-checking call on Harvard that stopped the clock with one second left, but after one final face-off in the Harvard zone the Bulldogs rushed out onto the ice to enjoy the historic win.
"The celebration felt a little different," said Tomimoto. "This is the first game where we've put together a good 60 minutes. We finally know the potential of our team. That was part of the celebration."
Flygh and his staff have stressed the importance of focusing on earning points in the ECAC Hockey standings no matter who the opponent is, but it was clear that Saturday's win had some special meaning.
"You want them to act like they've been there before when they win, but in this case it was great to see our kids happy and excited," said Flygh. "They should be. They played a great hockey game."
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity