January 27, 2007

Yale Stymies Niagara 1-0 Behind 21 Saves from Zilis

Jan. 27, 2007

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Percentage-wise, junior goaltender Shivon Zilis has played more of her team's minutes in goal than any other netminder in the ECAC. She has started 12 games in a row, and in the last nine days alone she has seen over 300 minutes of action. Apparently all that work agrees with her, because Saturday afternoon Zilis posted her fourth shutout in the last 11 games to help Yale to a 1-0 win over Niagara.

"She was fantastic today," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt of Zilis. "There were a lot of scrums in front of the net, and she covered them and got rid of them."

Zilis made 50 saves against No. 1 Mercyhurst on Friday despite being under the weather, and -- while her performance indicated otherwise -- she still was not back to 100 percent on Saturday.

"She fought through it," Witt said. "We needed her to, and she did it."

Playing their fifth game in nine days, the Bulldogs (12-10-1, 7-8-1 ECAC) came out of the gate slowly and were outshot in the first period 7-5. But Zilis turned aside all of the Purple Eagles' attempts, including one on a penalty kill. Operating from behind the goal Ashley Riggs set up Melanie Mills right in front of the net, but Zilis was able to quickly maneuver into position to deny the shot. Zilis also stopped Katie Gray just before Gray crashed into the net as time expired in the period.

Zilis came up with a huge stop when Megan Price came in on a short-handed breakaway early in the second. Price tried going to her backhand at the last second but Zilis got her left leg out to deny the shot.

Over 33 minutes of scoreless hockey finally came to an end when Yale went on the power play after a brief scuffle behind the Bulldog net. After one hard slap shot by senior forward Christina Sharun sailed wide, sophomore forward Sarah Tittman got the puck out of the corner and passed it back to sophomore defenseman Maggie Westfal at the blue line. Westfal drew the attention of the defense before sliding a pass across the ice to Sharun for another slap shot, and this one found the back of the net.

"It was a beautiful shot by Christina," Witt said. "The more you can get the puck moving to the net on the power play, the better your chances are of scoring."

Tittman and her linemates, senior forward Kristin Savard and freshman forward Denise Soesilo, were all on the ice for that goal and continued to develop as a viable scoring threat in addition to the line of sophomore forward Crysti Howser, senior forward Jenna Spring and senior forward Sheila Zingler (those three were all held without a point on Saturday, the first time since Dec. 1 that has happened).

"I thought Savard battled really hard today," Witt said. "She's just a great leader. When she goes hard, everybody seems to step up. Tittman and Denise battled hard -- that whole line had a great game. They didn't do anything flashy, but they did all the little things to help this team."

Zilis' workload was distributed evenly in terms of numbers -- seven saves in each period -- but the degree of difficulty on those saves seemed to get ratcheted up as the game wore on. A pair of penalties on Yale gave Niagara (7-14-5, 2-2-0 CHA) a brief 5-on-3 late in the second, and with one Bulldog still in the box Zilis denied Gray from just in front. With 30 seconds left in the period she kicked away a slap shot from Riggs, a member of Canada's U-22 team and the Purple Eagles' leading scorer (8-10-18).

Niagara goalie Allison Rutledge did everything she could to keep her team in the game, turning aside a flurry of Yale shots midway through the third period, but Zilis wound up outdoing her. With 4:30 left, Niagara's Lisa Agozzino grabbed a loose puck at center ice and skated her way past two Yale defensemen as she charged in on net. Zilis calmly sticked aside Agozzino's attempt to keep the 1-0 lead intact.

The Purple Eagles pulled Rutledge (21 saves) with 1:37 to play, and soon got a face-off in the Yale zone. A penalty on the Bulldogs with 32 seconds remaining left Yale facing a 6-on-4 Eagles advantage, and Niagara called a timeout to set up its offense. Yale sent out Howser, Savard, Tittman and Westfal to kill off the penalty. Howser won the faceoff against Riggs and the Bulldogs then blocked three straight shot attempts to end the game.

Zilis is now one shutout away from tying the school season record of five, first set in 1987-88 by Tiffany Bingham and equaled by Sarah Love in 2003-04.

The loss to No. 1 Mercyhurst Friday had left Yale with a three-game winless streak for the first time all season. With six crucial conference games remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs wanted to end their non-conference schedule on a high note and they did just that with the win Saturday afternoon.

"It's been a tough stretch," Witt said. "We battled hard against Colgate and tied. We didn't play our best game against Brown. We played tough against Mercyhurst. We had to find a way to get out of that non-winning streak, and we did today."

Yale returns to action Friday at Quinnipiac (3:00 p.m.) in a game that will be broadcast live by WYBC 1340 AM.

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

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