HAMDEN, Conn. – The Yale women's ice hockey team has practically made it a holiday tradition to advance to the Nutmeg Classic championship game, and 2016 will be no exception. Thanks to a goal by senior forward Phoebe Staenz and a save from freshman goaltender Tera Hofmann against UConn in the final round of the shootout following a 1-1 overtime tie Friday night at Quinnipiac's High Point Solutions Arena, the Bulldogs advanced to the tournament championship. They will face Merrimack in the title game Saturday night.
The shootout win came after what could have been a disheartening finish to regulation, as the Bulldogs allowed the game-tying goal with just 11 seconds left.
"We still have to find a way to close games," said Joakim Flygh, Yale's Susan Cavanagh Head Coach of Women's Ice Hockey. "I did not like our third period one bit -- I thought we were too timid. But I liked our response in overtime as far as pushing back, and it was great for us to still find a way to win in the shootout."
Yale (4-5-2, 2-5-1 ECAC Hockey) outshot the Huskies 16-6 in the opening frame, but UConn goalie Annie Belanger impressed with a series of tough saves. She kept the Bulldogs from taking advantage of a power play late in the frame, gloving a one timer by senior forward Krista Yip-Chuck and then turning aside shots by sophomore defenseman Julia Yetman and sophomore forward Jordan Chancellor.
UConn regrouped and outshot the Bulldogs 13-12 in the second, but Hofmann stopped them all -- including a dangerous wraparound try by forward Rebecca Lindblad 6:30 in. Right after that a penalty on the Huskies gave Yale its second power play, but Belanger made a spectacular save with her right leg to deny junior forward Eden Murray and keep the game scoreless.
It was on the third UConn penalty of the game that Yale hit paydirt. After getting the puck from Murray, Yip-Chuck waited patiently for a chance to make a pass as she headed towards the goal from the right circle. She finally fed the puck across to a wide-open Yetman at the far post, and Yetman tapped in her third goal of the year to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead at 10:35.
"Krista obviously saw the ice," said Flygh. "And it was good on Yeti to jump. I think she was almost surprised the puck found her. Any time you get a wide-open net, someone's doing a good job setting it up."
The Yale penalty killing unit kept UConn from even getting a shot on goal during its first power play of the game later in the second, and Hofmann came up with a big save in the final minutes of the period after a turnover in the Yale zone enabled forward Briana Colangelo to fire an uncontested wrister from close range.
Junior forward Courtney Pensavalle nearly put Yale up 2-0 90 seconds into the third, but her shot hit off the crossbar and bounced out. Hofmann then closed up the five hole to deny forward Leah Lum, who had deked her way around a defender in transition, with 13 minutes left in the game.
Shortly after that Yale had to kill off back-to-back penalties, spending nearly four straight minutes on the kill and getting multiple saves from Hofmann. UConn pulled Belanger for an extra skater after a timeout with 2:57 to play, but had to put her back in after an offside call 35 seconds later. She made a pair of big saves on Murray and Staenz before coming off with 45 seconds left.
The Huskies struggled to get control of the puck as the clock ticked down, but Lindblad won a battle along the right boards and then tossed the puck across to forward Justine Fredette for the game-tying goal with just 11 seconds left in regulation.
After neither team scored in overtime, the game went into the books as a tie -- extending the unbeaten streak to six for UConn (8-4-3, 3-2-1 Hockey East) and snapping a four-game losing streak for Yale.
A shootout was held to determine which team would advance to the championship game, and both teams scored on each of their first two shots -- Yale got goals from Yip-Chuck and sophomore forward Emma Vlasic. That left it to the third and final shooters, and Staenz deked Belanger before backhanding in the goal that made it 3-2 Yale in the shootout. Hofmann followed with a denial of forward Theresa Knutson to seal the shootout win.
Hofmann, in her first game back after missing last weekend with an injury, appears to have picked up right where she left off. She finished with 31 saves Friday.
"She's very composed," said Flygh. "That's her personality. She's also a very smart goaltender as far as reading the play and getting to the right spot. She doesn't overextend herself."
Belanger made 38 saves for UConn, which will play No. 8 Quinnipiac in the consolation game Saturday afternoon.
Yale is making its ninth trip to the Nutmeg Classic Championship game in the tournament's 13-year history. Merrimack advanced Friday after tying Quinnipiac 1-1 after overtime, then winning the shootout 2-0. Warriors goalie Samantha Ridgewell made 43 saves to help overcome a 44-12 QU shot advantage.
Report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org, Yale Sports Publicity)