There is no shortage of storylines across the ECAC this weekend.
Battered Bulldogs No More
Prior to this season, Yale’s victories have typically fallen into one of three categories: Boston College, D-III schools and first-year programs.
On Saturday, Yale added a win in a different category entirely: nationally-ranked programs, as the Bulldogs beat Princeton 3-1 on Saturday to split a home-and-home series.
As far as interim coach Hillary Witt knows, it’s the first Yale win over a top 10 school since national polls were introduced to women’s college hockey.
“The win was huge for our program and our future,” Witt said. “After losing 6-2 the night before, to come back and have the character and leadership to win the next day was huge for us.”
The loss was costly for No. 10 Princeton. While the Tigers might have expected to move ahead of St. Lawrence into third, they instead dropped two points back because of their split and the Saints’ gutsy tie against No. 1 Harvard.
Yale reversed a 1-0 deficit on Saturday thanks to two quick third-period goals in the span of a minute by sophomores Nicole Symington and Lisa Jacque. Senior Deanna McDevitt capped the win with an empty-netter. Freshman goaltender Sarah Love made 37 saves in net.
“It was just mental breakdowns in our ‘D’ zone,” said Princeton coach Jeff Kampersal of the defeat. “Surely I’m disappointed but give credit to Yale. They played hard and deserved to win that game. If there is a silver lining it’s that hopefully it’ll motivate us to finish our season strongly.”
Kampersal said of the Tigers’ 38 shots, fewer than 10 could be considered quality shots because Yale did such a good job forcing them outside, backchecking, and getting sticks into passing lanes.
The Bulldogs gave themselves some more breathing room in the race for sixth place with the victory, having split with Cornell and Colgate earlier this season. Next up for the Bulldogs is fifth-place Brown on Friday, before No. 1 Harvard on Saturday.
“We feel if we play the way did this weekend, we have a pretty good chance of pulling an upset [at Brown],” Witt said. “We’ll worry about Harvard after that.”
If the present standings hold, Yale would take on St. Lawrence in the first round of the playoffs. Though the Bulldogs fell 8-1 in their first meeting with the Saints, they came back and lost just 2-1 the next day, in a game where they felt like they had enough scoring opportunities to win the game.
Since Yale’s two leading scorers and top goalie are freshmen and six of the team’s seven leading scorers are freshmen or sophomores, Witt sees a bright future for the program, and she hopes to continue to be part of it. The “interim” title remains attached to her, though she hopes to change that this spring. In the meantime, though, her focus is on the present.
Only Bright For Harvard
— Princeton coach and Boston-area native Jeff Kampersal
Princeton’s next challenge is Friday night at Harvard. Kampersal is looking for a better result at Bright than the 7-1 defeat his team suffered during its last visit at the end of the 2001-02 regular season. Kampersal found the score particularly painful because he is from the Boston area himself.
“Last year at Harvard we had a really disappointing loss, one that I will remember forever,” he said. “We have a lot to prove.”
This weekend’s Harvard-Princeton game will have an interesting subplot in that Crimson captain Jennifer Botterill is just two points away from tying former linemate Tammy Shewchuk for the all-time Division I scoring record. That mark should be well within Botterill’s grasp against Princeton given that she has averaged 3.67 points per game this year.
Though Shewchuk is about to drop down in the all-time scoring charts, she is rising in the coaching ranks this week. On Sunday she led the Lawrenceville School to its first outright state prep title in her first job behind the bench.
If Botterill breaks the record on Friday, it will have occurred on the exact one-year anniversary of her running out the clock for Canada’s first Olympic gold medal.
St. Lawrence’s 3-3 tie at Harvard last Friday was among the most thrilling games in the ECAC this year. Saints coach Paul Flanagan said people told him it was the best hockey game they had seen, men’s or women’s, at Appleton Arena that year. The lead flip-flopped all evening, and both teams had chances to pull off the win in the end, but junior goaltenders Jessica Ruddock and Rachel Barrie came up big down the stretch.
St. Lawrence frustrated Harvard like few other teams have this year. No one had prevented the Crimson from taking the lead into the second period before St. Lawrence went up 1-0 at the first intermission on Friday. Harvard players said they felt that the Saints had broken their forecheck like no team. Only on rare occasions has the Crimson been forced to play much of the game in its defensive zone, and Friday was one of them.
Even though Harvard came up with a 6-1 win the next day, Flanagan said the weekend was still a confidence builder.
Since Princeton still has a tough schedule with Harvard, Brown, and Dartmouth to play and St. Lawrence has just two games against last-place Vermont remaining, the Saints appear to be in good position to lock down the all-important third seed in the ECAC playoffs.
As the regular season winds down, Flanagan’s focus will turn to special teams, which he felt was a big difference between the two Harvard games. In the first, the Saints limited the Crimson to just one shot on two power plays. On Saturday, Harvard scored two goals on five power plays. Harvard’s penalty kill silenced the Saints all weekend, as it has against almost every team.
The two upcoming games against Vermont now give the Saints a much lower-pressure environment to tweak their special teams.
“Special teams will be a focus for us this weekend,” Flanagan said. “I think we’ve identified where we gave Harvard opportunities.”
On the Road Again
The games with the biggest Frozen Four implications this weekend appear to be Dartmouth’s pair at No. 9 Mercyhurst.
Dartmouth beat the Lakers at Thompson Arena by scores of 11-1 and 5-2 in their series last year, but the Big Green is not expecting this round to be lopsided, especially because this time Dartmouth’s the team traveling to unfamiliar territory in Erie, Pa.
“Mercyhurst just had a bad day that first night, and I don’t think that’s characteristic of their team at all,” said Dartmouth coach Judy Oberting. “[The second] was a much closer game, certainly, and that’s we expect going into this weekend.”
Dartmouth will be missing Cherie Piper for the first game of the series due to a game disqualification she incurred against Colgate last weekend. The only comfort for the Big Green is that it has plenty of experience playing without Piper this season, including four games against nationally-ranked competition. Dartmouth beat Providence but lost to Minnesota-Duluth in Harvard in those four.
The Big Green has won eight of its last nine, with its only defeat in the past two months coming against Harvard. Dartmouth, ranked No. 4 in the polls and No. 5 in the PairWise Rankings, still has little room for error, though.
“There are implications Frozen Four-wise. We need to play as we have been for the past few weeks to continue to prove that we deserve to be there,” Oberting said.