March 2, 2006
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - When the ECAC Hockey League All-Stars gathered at Ingalls Rink last fall to prepare for an exhibition game against Team USA, Harvard head coach Katey Stone had some questions for Yale senior goaltender Sarah Love.
"She asked me `Where did you play [while in high school]? How did we miss you?'," Love recalled.
As surprising as it seems given Love's all-star status and place as one of the best goaltenders in college hockey, she flew under virtually every school's recruiting radar screen -- including Harvard's and, for a time, Yale's.
"When July 1 came around, I really had only heard from two coaches," Love said of the summer before her senior year of high school. "Harry didn't call me until some time in August."
"Harry" was Yale Associate Head Coach Harry Rosenholtz, who handles the bulk of the team's recruiting. When Rosenholtz saw Love play at a tournament in Coburg, Ontario, in the fall of 2001, it set in motion a series of events that would change the course of the Yale women's hockey program.
Playing for the Cambridge Fury, Love showed Rosenholtz that she had all the skills on the ice to make an impact at Yale. She also showed a personality that was perfectly suited for Yale's chemistry-oriented locker room, where egos of any kind are frowned upon.
"From the very minute that I met her I knew that she was the kid," Rosenholtz said. "I knew that she had the type of character we wanted. She's one of the most real people you'll ever meet. She's genuine, she's honest, she's humble and she's appreciative of what she's had here at Yale."
Shocked that a talent like that was still available, Rosenholtz happily guided Love through the college application process. It was a whirlwind tour for the 18-year-old.
"Within about three weeks, I had seen Harry at the tournament, filled out an application, taken my tests, visited Yale and decided to apply," Love said. "It was really fast."
So fast, in fact, that Love had little time to research the history of what was then a struggling program. The year before, the Bulldogs had gone 3-23-2, but when Love visited the campus in October 2001 that was the furthest thing from her mind. She saw enough during her trip to convince her that Yale was the place for her.
"It was more the people than anything else," Love said. "I still didn't really know much about the team at that point, because we don't follow ECACHL or Ivy League hockey in Canada. When I came down, I roomed with Symie [Nicole Symington '05] and Nicolette [Franck '04]. I just fell in love with the place and the people. I thought it would be a great place to go to school for four years."
Rosenholtz' approach also made an impression on Love and her family. Her father Charles, a minister, recalled the way Rosenholtz helped them through the unfamiliar process of applying.
"We knew nothing about all of the criteria," he said. "Harry guided us through it step by step."
Sarah appreciated Rosenholtz' candor as well.
"He was really honest," she said. "You didn't feel like he was trying to cheat you out of anything. If he didn't feel like you were going to fit in to the school, he would suggest somewhere else. He just explained the whole process to us. I felt like I could relate to him, and it's been a good relationship ever since."
After Love decided to attend she began hearing more about the vision that Rosenholtz and Hilary Witt, who was promoted from assistant coach to head coach for the 2002-03 season, had for the program. The Bulldogs made some progress in 2001-02, inching up to 9-20-2 overall, but more work remained. On average, Yale was out shot 33-23 per game that season.
The thought of facing 300 more shots than the other team's goalie over the course of a season might have been daunting to some, but not Love.
"As a goalie, you'd rather get shots than go to a team where you face 10 shots a game," she said. "I said if I go to Yale, I'll get shots. I'll have a chance to develop as a goalie. That seemed like a great plan."
It's a plan Love had made work before. Growing up playing hockey, she developed a reputation for elevating the level of play of those around her and helping her team overachieve. During one game at the Bantam level, Love was sitting in the stands with an injured knee when her coach called her down to the ice. He inserted Love into the game, injury and all, just because of what her presence in the net would mean to the rest of the team.
"They believed in her that much," Reverend Love said.
That attribute quickly became apparent to Love's Yale teammates as well. Classmate Lisa Jacque, this year's captain, has seen the effect Love has had on the squad for the past four years.
"She's meant everything to our team," Jacque said. "When we were a struggling program, all we could really count on every game was that Sarah Love was going to make big saves and help keep us in the game. It's been really great for four years -- knowing that you have one of the best goaltenders in college hockey playing on your team makes you a lot more secure and it makes you a lot more ambitious about what you can achieve with her in the net."
Love's success comes from equal parts skill and hard work. Her easygoing nature belies the heart of a fierce competitor.
"Sarah has an incredible drive and determination that is unmatched," said sophomore goaltender Shivon Zilis, who has been learning alongside Love for the past two years. "Not only does she do all that is asked of her, but she goes beyond the requirements of the team to ensure that she is at a personal best; that's what a real team player does."
Rosenholtz has been with Love every step of the way, as he is also the team's goaltending coach.
"Harry's great," Love said. "He knows a lot and he does a lot to educate himself, which is really good for us. He's not stuck on one thing - he's constantly trying to learn new things and learn new tricks that could help you out. He never tried to change my style. He just worked with what I was good at and made me better."
There were signs of that work paying off in Love's freshman year, when she posted a .901 save percentage and 3.45 goals-against average in 28 games. But her sophomore campaign was a true breakthrough, as she set the school single-season records for save percentage (.931) and goals-against average (2.25) - shattering marks established by All-American Laurie Belliveau '98.
That was also the season that Love displayed the one attribute that distinguishes all great Yale athletes: the ability to play big against Harvard. When the Bulldogs traveled to the Bright Center on March 6 to take on their archrival, they brought with them a 38-game losing streak against the vaunted Crimson. Harvard entered that game with a 23-3-1 record; Yale was just 12-12-3. The Crimson lineup was loaded, including Olympians Julie Chu and Angela Ruggiero.
What ensued was a legendary Yale-Harvard battle. Witt would later say that it seemed as if there was Plexiglas in front of the Yale net. Love withstood a 15-shot barrage in the first period to keep the game scoreless, and the Bulldogs rallied behind her effort.
"In the locker room after the first period, [Erin] Duggan reminded everyone how when we were kids, we would just go out and play hockey saying `I'm going to be like Patrick Roy' or `I'm going to be Gretzky' -- you'd just pretend," Love said. "She had everyone go around and say who we wanted to be. It took us back to having fun with it. I had fun that game."
Love's fun included an incredible 21 saves in the second period, one in which Yale put just five shots on net. The teams entered the third period with the game still scoreless.
Nine more saves in the third brought Love's total to an astounding 45 before the unthinkable happened. A penalty on Yale with 23 seconds left gave Harvard its ninth power play of the game. The Crimson scored with seven seconds remaining to hand the Bulldogs a heartbreaking 1-0 defeat.
Still, Love left the ice to an ovation from the Harvard crowd, her name firmly established in the world of women's college hockey.
"Everything worked that game," she said. "It's hard to say - it was probably the best game I've ever played. I couldn't tell you why."
Making 45 saves and losing would try the patience of any goaltender, but Love's grasp of the bigger picture enabled her to keep everything in perspective. That did not go unnoticed by her teammates.
"Sarah believes that we win as a team and we lose as a team," Jacque said. "She just goes out and gives her best every game."
There have been plenty of other games in which Love made a lot of saves only to come out with a loss. Still, she left no room for doubt when asked whether the thought that she may have gotten a few more wins had she played somewhere else ever troubled her.
"No," she said, "because being here and being part of building up the program for four years is something that most players don't get a chance to do."
And few would argue that what happened the next time Yale and Harvard met - November 12, 2004 - didn't make the sacrifice worth it. On that memorable night at Ingalls Rink, Love stopped 48 of 50 shots. The difference was that this time Yale was able to score three goals on the Crimson, ranked No. 3 in the country at the time, for a historic 3-2 victory. The 20-year drought was over; the result even earned a mention in the New York Times.
"It was awesome," Love said. "I remember running around the top [concourse at Ingalls] afterwards and getting high fives, signing autographs for little girls. It was so much fun. It was a big relief - we finally did it. We were on our way."
The Bulldogs continued on that way the rest of the year, setting the school record for wins in a season (16) and earning the program's first top-10 ranking, first home playoff series, first win in a playoff game and first win in a playoff series. Love values those accomplishments more than the individual records she had established before.
"Personal records are something that just happens," Love said. "It's the team records - the most wins, getting the playoffs at home, getting a playoff win - those are the ones that mean more."
Those accomplishments have kept coming in 2005-06, as Yale ended a 41-game losing streak against Dartmouth thanks to a 1-0 shutout from Love and also beat Brown for the first time since 1988 during a school-record seven-game unbeaten streak in February.
Love also earned ECACHL All-Academic honors for the third time this season, making her one of only five Bulldogs in school history to accomplish that feat. A history of science/history of medicine major, she has completed all the requirements to eventually apply to medical school and is interested in a career in sports medicine.
First, though, Love plans to continue playing hockey. Professional leagues such as the NWHL and WWHL in Canada are options, and Rosenholtz also believes she has the drive and ability to play for the Canadian National Team.
"I feel like it's been a privilege to work with her," Rosenholtz said. "What people don't see are the individual sessions once or twice a week. Those are things I'm going to miss --- her willingness to learn and her willingness to be coached. With some outstanding players, a lot of times they don't want to keep improving. Sarah's just the opposite. Sarah always wants to learn and always wants to grow."
While her career in a Bulldog uniform is drawing to a close, Love's effect on women's hockey at Yale will not end when she graduates. By raising the profile of the program she has made it easier for the Bulldogs to bring in top talent -- including Zilis, her heir apparent in net.
"Sarah was a lot of the reason I was attracted to the hockey program at Yale," said Zilis. "As any apprentice looks for the best expert to learn from, so was I looking for the absolute authority in goaltending. I realized that my game could improve most by learning from the best then running with that knowledge, and Sarah was always supportive and willing."
With Love departing as one of the conference's top goalies after being a relative unknown as a recruit, some of those ECACHL coaches that overlooked her four years ago may find her observations about Zilis a bit ominous.
"It's really exciting watching her in practice," Love said. "She makes some great saves. I can see some of what I do is rubbing off on her. Basically I just play my best and hope that she can see that."
report by Sam Rubin '95 (firstname.lastname@example.org), Yale Sports Publicity