February 25, 2007

Bulldogs Fall to No. 6 Harvard 2-1, Bow Out of ECAC Playoffs

Feb. 24, 2007

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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. - For one brief moment, it looked as if the Yale women's hockey team was ready to tack on one more highlight to the 2006-07 season. Freshman forward Mandi Schwartz' goal with 2:36 remaining tied the second game of the Bulldogs' ECAC quarterfinal series vs. Harvard 1-1 and sent shock waves through the crowd at the Bright Center. But then Harvard struck back thanks to Olympian Julie Chu, who answered 29 seconds later with a goal that propelled the Crimson to a 2-1 victory in the game and a 2-0 win in the series.

"I thought our team played as hard as they ever had," said Yale head coach Hilary Witt. "They battled and they gave it everything they possibly could. The effort was there. It's devastating to lose like this, but they left everything on the ice."

Harvard won game one Friday 3-1 thanks in part to a 38-20 edge in shots. From the start it was apparent that Saturday's game would be different, as the Bulldogs outshot the Crimson 7-3 in the first period. Yale came out firing, starting a minute in when freshman forward Denise Soesilo, at the head of an odd-man rush, flipped a shot on goal that Brittany Martin made a nice glove save on.

Right after that Schwartz and senior forward Christina Sharun cycled the puck down low to Martin's left, then set up sophomore forward Sarah Tittman in front for a backhander that Martin was able to freeze. Freshman defensman Alyssa Clarke then tried a shot from the point that Martin grabbed.

Five minutes in Harvard had its first quality chance against Yale's Shivon Zilis, but she stopped a shot from Canadian Olympian Sarah Vaillancourt that was set up by Chu.

The Bulldogs' first penalty kill was a solid one, starting with Schwartz blocking a shot from the point. Senior forward Kristin Savard later intercepted a Harvard pass and cleared the puck. Sophomore defenseman Maggie Westfal dove to break up a pass and clear the puck later in the PK, and Savard got the final clear to deny the potent Crimson power play.

Yale got its first power play at the 12:09 mark, but Martin stopped a shot from U.S. Olympian Helen Resor. The Bulldogs then executed one more penalty kill, highlighted by Zilis stopping a shot from Lindsay Weaver and then, on her back, managing to get to the loose puck to deny a rebound attempt.

The Crimson utilized a power play early in the second period to go ahead 1-0. Jennifer Sifers rifled a shot from the right circle past Zilis on the near side at 3:28.

The remainder of the period was a back-and-forth affair with only one more penalty, a call against the Crimson that Yale could not utilize to tie the game. As the period drew to a close Harvard had a series of good chances stopped by Zilis. She smothered a wrister from the slot by Vaillancourt with four minutes to go, then stopped a slap shot from the point by Cori Bassett a minute later.

The Bulldogs did put together a flurry in front of Martin with time winding down in the second, but amidst the traffic the puck hit off the outside of the post and bounced away. Harvard held its 1-0 lead heading into the third period.

Yale generated some quality chances early in the third. Five minutes in Martin sticked away a slap shot from Resor at the point and there were no Bulldogs in position to get the rebound. Six minutes in sophomore forward Danielle Kozlowski tried to stuff one in amidst a pile of players but Martin covered it.

A penalty on the Bulldogs with 13:32 left in the game put a momentary crimp in the Yale comeback plans, but Schwartz showed tenacious forechecking skills and was able to take the puck in for a wraparound attempt while short-handed. With 11 minutes to play senior forward Sheila Zingler sent the puck just wide on a breakaway.

Another penalty on Yale with 8:51 remaining , followed by a pair of matching penalties on each team shortly thereafter, turned the game into a special-teams affair for most of the next four minutes.

With the teams skating 4-on-4 Harvard nearly put the game away. It was at the six-minute mark that Zilis, who made 95 saves in three games vs. Harvard over the last eight days, came up with another brilliant one. First she sprawled out to deny Chu, and while she was down on the ice Vaillancourt swooped it to try to stuff in the rebound. Zilis somehow managed to use her leg to swat the puck away from the open net.

"Shivon made one of the greatest saves I've ever seen in hockey," Witt said. "She made the initial save [on Chu], and that was acrobatic. Then Vaillancourt had the entire net and Shivon just came around with break-dancing move and got her leg on it. It was incredible."

Buoyed by that save, the Bulldogs kept fighting for the game-tying goal. When Martin faked a cover of the puck Kozlowski raced in to steal it away, setting up Clarke for a shot that was blocked.

With under three minutes to play Resor came around the net and slid the puck in front, but the Crimson defense tied up the Bulldogs in the slot and no-one could get to the puck. Yale maintained control in the Harvard zone, however, and Tittman came off the corner of the net to Martin's right and sent the puck in front. This time it deflected through to Schwartz on the other side, and she slammed it home for the momentary rush.

It was Schwartz' fifth tally of the year, and the third assist for Tittman. The goal was a fitting reward for two underclassmen who have spent much of the season serving as unsung heroes for the Bulldogs.

"We have a lot of faith in our younger kids and we know they're going to just continue to get better," Witt said. "It's nice to see them score such a big goal."

But after the face-off the Crimson took control of the puck in the neutral zone and Vaillancourt fed it ahead to Chu for the game-winner.

Chu, who has played in two Olympics and three World Championships for Team USA, is a player that Witt knows well. Witt played with her on the 2000-01 National Team and coached her at the recent Four Nations Cup.

"The thing about Chuey is she's just so clutch and she's just so poised," Witt said. "She leads by example. She's an incredible athlete and an incredible person."

Even after the Chu goal the Bulldogs kept up the pressure. Zingler sent in a long shot that Martin sticked aside with two minutes to play. Shortly after that, with a face-off in the Harvard zone, Yale pulled Zilis for an extra attacker. Zilis returned briefly for another face-off, this one in the neutral zone with 1:14 remaining, and she made one more save. That gave her a .908 save percentage for the season, fourth-best in school history. Her 2.69 goals-against average is fifth-best.

With a minute to go Yale was able to get the puck into the Harvard zone for a shot by Savard that Martin stopped, and a pair of shots from Resor and Westfal went wide. Martin stopped a shot by senior forward Jenna Spring and the final seconds ticked off with the puck behind the Harvard net.

Harvard (23-6-2) will play second-seeded St. Lawrence in the ECAC semifinals next week. Top-seeded Dartmouth hosts the tournament and will play Colgate.

For Witt, the game-tying goal and its aftermath provided a roller-coaster ending to the season.

"It was pretty exciting," Witt said of Schwartz' tally. "The bench exploded. It was great to see those kids so happy. Unfortunately it didn't last very long. But they never gave up. Even when we went back down 2-1 they still battled and we had a few chances. We just couldn't finish."

The Bulldogs ended the season at 15-14-2, the second-highest win total in the history of the program. Yale also set the record for goals in a season, ending with 96.

Yale loses eight seniors to graduation: Savard, Sharun, Spring, Zingler, defenseman Regan Gilbride, forward Kelsey Johnson, goaltender Carrie Horbatuk and defenseman Nina Resor. They leave with more wins (54) than any class in school history.

"I told them how proud I was of them," Witt said. "Thing didn't go our way in this game, but we can't worry about that so much as be proud of what they've meant to this program."

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

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