An Elite Eight: Yale Women's Hockey Class of 2009
Feb. 20, 2009
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - As the eight seniors on the Yale women's hockey team prepare to graduate, they leave knowing they have brought the program to the cusp of a dramatic transformation. When they arrived, the Bulldogs were just recently removed from a long string of losing seasons and the renovation of Ingalls Rink was still just in the planning stages. In a few more months, the renovation to Ingalls will be complete and future generations of Bulldogs that play at "The Whale" will take aim at matching or exceeding the accomplishments of the Class of 2009.
By that time, the eight seniors will be on their way to becoming doctors, teachers, and more. When they return to Yale as alums they will know that they each played a role in building the program that calls Ingalls home.
Start with defenseman Helen Resor, who was the first member of the class to come to Yale. She was originally a member of the Class of 2008, and thus was part of the historic 2004-05 season in which the Bulldogs set the school record for wins (16) and advanced to the ECAC Hockey semifinals for the first time in school history.
Resor played a key role in that season, and one of her goals goes down as one of the most significant in school history. Playing a home playoff game for the first time, the Bulldogs trailed Princeton 3-2 at 14:26 of the third when they were awarded a penalty shot. Resor was selected to take it.
With the puck at center ice and the crowd on its feet, Resor took off toward Princeton goalie Roxanne Gaudiel. The Tiger net minder ranged far out of the crease to challenge the play. Resor came up with a perfect deke to get Gaudiel sprawled out, leaving a wide-open net for her to backhand the puck in. The Bulldogs would eventually win the game 4-3 on a goal in overtime by forward Deena Caplette '06, who was mobbed by her teammates along the boards right in front of the Yale Band.
"We were down, we ended up having the penalty shot, going into OT, and Deena put home the last goal," Resor recalls. "It was the most amazing experience, going to celebrate over by the glass. I still remember that celebration. Then we went on to play Harvard [in the semifinals], and we played them so, so well. That team was just fantastic -- hard workers."
A product of nearby Greenwich, Resor was well-known in the New Haven area long before she arrived at Yale. She was a highly visible prospect from an early age and made the U.S. Under-22 Select Team in 2003 at the age of 18.
Senior forward Maggie Westfal, who grew up 20 miles from Greenwich in New Canaan, certainly remembers Resor's name from her childhood.
"Growing up, I would always hear `Helen Resor is playing at Greenwich Skating Club', `Helen Resor is playing at Stamford'," says Westfal. "She just stood out and always does. That followed her here."
Resor chose to come to Yale at a time when the Bulldogs were still growing as a program, having never won more than 12 games in a season. Rival coaches attempted to sway her from her choice.
"Coaches from other schools would say this was not the place for me if I wanted to make the National team," Resor recalls. "It turned out not to be true. Yale was the perfect fit for me. It was the best choice I've ever made. I love this place more than anything. It's given me so many opportunities."
Resor's decision to come to Yale, and subsequent selection to the Olympic team, helped raise the program's national profile. That has continued on through her senior season. She is now a nominee for the Kazmaier Award as the top player in the country, and is also in the running for the NCAA Frozen Four Skills Challenge. An offensive-minded defenseman with a blistering slap shot, Resor is tied for ninth on Yale's career assists list and is tied for 12th on Yale's career points list.
"Helen is the best hockey player I've ever played with," says Westfal. "Not because she was on the Olympic team and had so much success with them. Her ability to skate up and down the ice as fast as she does for as long as she does every game is amazing. She kills herself every game. She is one of the most competitive people that I've met, but at the same time knows when to separate hockey from life."
When Resor was away at the Olympics in 2005-06, the Bulldogs made some history of their own -- and the members of the Class of 2009, as freshmen, played big roles. Forward Danielle Kozlowski's goal at Dartmouth Feb. 3, 2006 was the game-winner in a 1-0 Yale win that snapped the team's 41-game losing streak against the Big Green. Eleven days later, forward Crysti Howser notched the game-winner in a 3-1 win at Brown that ended a 37-game winless streak against the Bears. The Bulldogs had established themselves as a team on the rise.
When Resor rejoined the team after the Olympics in 2006-07, she had some familiar company. Her cousin, defenseman Carry Resor, was now her classmate. Another cousin, defenseman Nina Resor '07, was also on the squad at that time. In fact, when the Resors graduate this spring it will bring an end to a run of Yale hockey players from that family that started with Helen's sister, Jane Resor '01.
"Helen would always want to go with Nina, and I'd be the younger one tagging along," Carry recalls. "But we had a lot of fun together. We spent the most time in Wyoming in the summer, riding and hiking and doing a lot of outdoor stuff with all of our cousins."
The family bonding has helped both of Yale's Resors on the ice, and Carry and Helen were united as a defensive pair near the end of their senior season.
"I love playing with Carry," Helen says. "She is always in the right position at the right time. She's played forward, she's played defense, and she will always be the person doing the system that we're supposed to be doing. She's so steady and she's so smart."
Carry Resor has made her impact as one of the team's hardest-working and most versatile players.
"Carry is a silent worker," says Westfal. "She really puts so much into hockey, and brings this attitude that she's going to work hard and doesn't care if anyone notices, doesn't care if she gets recognition for it. Every day she comes to practice and really puts her all into it."
As the daughter of a hockey coach -- her father, Tom, coaches at Noble and Greenough, where Carry and Helen both played -- it's no surprise that Carry is one of the most fundamentally sound players on the team.
"Carry's one of those solid, versatile players that we can throw anywhere and she's going to create something," Kozlowski says. "When she played forward she was always in there forechecking, creating scoring chances for her line, keeping their defenders fenced in so we could get a change. She gets the job done, and most of the time people don't notice because she's doing the right thing all the time."
Carry has also been one of the key components of the team's chemistry off the ice. This past season, the news that junior forward Mandi Schwartz had been diagnosed with leukemia hit everyone hard. The Bulldogs rallied around the cause and began thinking up things they could do, both big and small, to help their ailing teammate. Among the many ways they chose to show support was by wearing bracelets -- not ones that they just went out to the store and bought, but hand-made bracelets of blue and white string. Carry Resor was one of the driving forces behind that effort.
"She makes the team come together and is always willing to be there for someone when they need her," says Westfal.
Carry Resor's willingness to switch positions is not uncommon in this group; Westfal herself played defense for two years before returning to her natural spot at forward. And shortly into Kristen Stupay's career, she was asked to play defense for the first time since sixth grade. Stupay made the move with the type of selflessness that her teammates have come to expect from her. Now back at forward, Stupay understands her role on the team and is more than happy to take on less glamorous tasks while others handle the scoring load.
"Every time one of my teammates scores a goal, it's the best feeling ever," Stupay says. "I can't even describe it. I've never been a goal scorer, but I just love watching other people do it."
Even as a forward Stupay still brings a defensive mentality to the ice, and has developed into one of the team's best shot blockers and penalty killers. She got there by persevering through years where she saw time on the penalty kill in practice, going up against Yale's top power play units. She had the bruises to prove it, but not necessarily the playing time -- until recently.
Stupay is quick to attribute her shot-blocking prowess to learning from the one player whom every Bulldog agrees is the best in that area: Kozlowski.
"That's how I learned to block shots," Stupay says. "I watched Koz, and I still watch her to try to figure out exactly what she does to get that done, because it's extremely important."
Carry Resor sums up Kozlowski in no uncertain terms.
"Best. Shot blocker. Ever," Resor says. "Also, she puts in a lot of hard work and is really positive. She's good at getting people up for games, cheering people up if they're not having a good day."
Kozlowski's contributions go beyond just the way she throws herself around the ice for the sake of keeping an opposing shot from getting through. She's also one of the most active Bulldogs in terms of community service, volunteering regularly as part of Yale's Thomas W. Ford '42 Community Outreach Committee. She also has spent the past two Spring Breaks helping rebuild New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and this spring has initiated a leadership program for local eighth- and ninth-graders based on the Yale Athletics Department's Kiphuth Leadership Academy. The Kiphuth Leadership Academy is a unique program that develops Yale student-athletes to be world-class leaders in athletics, academics and life.
"Being an athlete at Yale, there are so many opportunities for you to do community service," says Kozlowski. "You're on a varsity team, so you're automatically a role model. The Thomas W. Ford Community Outreach Program makes it easy. A lot of athletes, especially people on our team, want to use their status to help other people as much as possible."
Kozlowski also stands out for her academic efforts, an area that the entire senior class is strong in. This season, every senior qualifies for the ECAC Hockey All-Academic Team, an honor that the group has already combined to earn a total of 12 times in the last two years. Kozlowski has gone above and beyond that, earning recognition as one of three finalists for the ECAC Hockey Student-Athlete of the Year Award last season. An anthropology major, she has done work at Yale that has been described as graduate school-level in its caliber.
"I think the reason why we all chose Yale, among other things, is that it's a balance between hockey and school," Kozlowski says. "That was something we looked for in a college; where they're not going to sacrifice academics for athletics like a lot of other places do. Our whole class has been really great at academics."
Also active in the community is Howser, who is one of 10 finalists nationally for the Hockey Humanitarian Award for the work that she does with local homeless shelters, the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, and other organizations.
"I went with her recently to the homeless shelter, and I was really impressed with how she interacted with people there," Stupay says. "It was very cool to see."
Howser is also an impact player on the ice, where she is second all-time at Yale in points and third in goals and assists.
"Howser is probably one of the most intense people I've ever seen play hockey," says Kozlowski. "She's also one of the hardest workers on our team. She's the one we look to for goals, and she's awesome on face-offs."
Howser began her Yale career playing both soccer and hockey, but after her sophomore season opted to focus on hockey. The magnitude of that decision was not lost on her hockey teammates, who knew she had been an All-Ivy League caliber player in soccer.
Howser's decision paid off with her selection to the U.S. Under-22 team for two years in a row, and last summer she scored a goal in the team's annual series with Team Canada.
"She made it a goal that she was going to get on that National team, and she did," Westfal says. "All the work that she put into making that decision paid off that day."
Helen Resor has been to multiple USA Hockey camps with Howser.
"I think there's no reason that Howser shouldn't be on the National team," says Resor. "Every time she goes up to camp she works so hard. She always finds a way to get some points, get the job done. She has the work ethic to get it done even after college is over. I've been impressed every time I've been at camp with her."
But as unique as Howser's athletic abilities are, she had company in the two-sport category: Westfal, who has played soccer and hockey all four years at Yale.
"My coaches [Rudy Meredith in soccer and Hilary Witt in hockey] made it easy," says Westfal. "I can't thank them enough, because they never put pressure on me to choose. I felt that whatever I did, they were going to support me."
As freshmen, Howser and Westfal were a part of what will go down as one the more memorable 24-hour periods for any Yale athletes. They helped the soccer team to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, where the Bulldogs' run was finally ended by a loss at Notre Dame on a Friday night. The next day, the duo made their Yale hockey debuts at an afternoon game vs. Dartmouth at Ingalls Rink.
"I remember we played really well at Notre Dame," Howser says. "It was such a great high for our soccer team. Even though we had lost, we went toe-to-toe with one of the best teams in the country. All of our families were there. We didn't go to bed that night, and we had a 7:00 a.m. flight the next morning. We probably slept about two hours at most, then came straight to the rink and put on equipment for the first time in months. It was a great two days."
"Howser and Maggie came after the hockey season had already started [Yale was playing its eighth game]," Kozlowski says. "We were like `Who are these kids coming in?' Then Maggie goes out there and she scores a goal. So we're like `OK, Maggie's pretty clutch.' One thing about Maggie is she always comes up with big goals when we need them."
Westfal credits Howser's presence with helping her make it through as a two-sport athlete.
"Playing with her for two years on both sports was a blessing," says Westfal. "If I had come in doing this by myself I don't know if I would have made it all four years."
Howser sees a competitive side to Westfal that explains how she can take the punishment of being "in-season" virtually year-round without thinking twice.
"Maggie is just determined to win and determined to do the best she can every day," Howser says. "That's what she brings to the table, and she's brought that in both sports. She's the same competitor in soccer as she is in hockey. She wants to win and she'll do everything she can to do that."
Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Westfal's four years of double-duty is that she has missed so few games due to any injuries. Other members of her class have not been as fortunate. Defenseman Carlee Ness has been limited to 60 career games due to a series of setbacks. After working hard to come back this past offseason, her senior season was cut short after five games. Ness has still been a presence for the team, though.
Ness' absence has been emblematic of a 2008-09 season in which the Bulldogs were hit hard by injuries. But the team did have one happy ending to a seemingly devastating blow. When senior forward Sarah Tittman was helped off the ice midway through Yale's 2-1 win over Providence at Ingalls Rink at the end of December, it seemed as if the Bulldogs had lost their captain for the year.
Tittman had torn her ACL, an injury that she had also suffered in eighth grade. She lost her entire freshman high school hockey season because of that injury, and she feared a similar fate this time around.
"I thought I was done," says Tittman. "Unfortunately I did this once before, so I didn't foresee being able to come back."
But Tittman handled the adversity well, and that did not go unnoticed by her teammates.
"She was actually pretty composed about it," says Stupay, Tittman's roommate. "I would have been a mess. She kept it together, for us. We needed a strong leader around and she continued to be that even though she was probably having a tough time with it on the inside."
Tittman eventually received word that, if she was willing to put up with some pain, she could actually skate without that ACL.
"I was told about two weeks after the injury that I would have the chance," Tittman says. "At the time I was still in a lot of pain so it didn't really seem like I had a legitimate chance, but once the pain started to subside and I got my strength back I decided to give it a shot. It takes a little extra to be ready to be ready to go on the weekends, but it's definitely worth it."
Tittman's return had an instant impact on her team.
"When she was gone, you could tell that she wasn't in the locker room," Stupay says. "She's not a loud leader, but she's a great one."
As the prototypical leader by example Tittman is universally respected by all of her teammates, and by her classmates in particular.
And for Tittman, the honor of being elected captain was just another memorable aspect of her Yale hockey experience as a member of the Class of 2009.
"It's really exciting to be around these people," Tittman says. "They all have so much to offer; so many different majors, so many different interests, and everyone is so intelligent. That's what's really fun about being part of this group."
Soon, the Class of 2009 will turn its attention to life after Yale. Stupay, Tittman and Westfal are all planning to go to medical school after taking a gap year. Ness is looking into nursing school. Kozlowski would like to use her anthropology background to go on a dig in a place such as Greece, then return to the U.S. and start a career in a field such as teaching or sports marketing. Carry Resor is interested in going abroad, teaching English as a foreign language. Howser is also looking into teaching and has applied for a number of jobs with nonprofits, with the eventual goal of going to law school.
And Helen Resor has some unfinished hockey business before she moves on, as she would like to make the Olympic team again. That will mean earning a spot on the National team tour, which will be determined at USA Hockey's National Festival this summer.
"I want to go back to the Olympics," Resor says. "I took some time off and realized that I wasn't done with it. I really want to make Vancouver [for the 2010 games]. I'm putting everything on hold, and I'm going to go for it. Either I get cut in August, or I make it back. I really want another chance at the Canadians, and I want to get gold this time."
Meanwhile, the renovation of Ingalls Rink continues. There have been significant improvements this season, including refurbished seating and new bathrooms and concessions stands. The bulk of the work, however, has taken place underground and out of public view, with new locker rooms and a strength and conditioning facility set to open later this year underneath the parking lot on the Mansfield Street side of the rink.
"It will be different next year, and it's too bad we seniors can't be around to enjoy the new amenities," says Howser. "But I love the rink, and I've loved playing in it for four years."
The Ingalls renovations will also include a new "Yale Hockey Heritage" area, recognizing the history of the program and some of its most significant players and accomplishments. Based on their contributions, it's safe to say that the Yale women's hockey Class of 2009 will always have a place there.
Story by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity