CANTON, N.Y. – As the seventh seed in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, the Yale women's ice hockey team was facing a huge challenge this weekend at second-seeded St. Lawrence, the No. 5 team in the country. The Saints entered Saturday third in the nation in scoring defense (1.48 goals per game) and tied for sixth in the nation in scoring offense (3.33 goals per game). They were also seventh nationally on the penalty kill (89.2 percent) and ninth on the power play (16.9 percent). Their offense featured two forwards -- Kennedy Marchment and Brooke Webster -- who had just been named finalists for the Kazmaier Award.
Yale's challenge grew even greater after the Saints took game one 4-1 Friday night. On Saturday, needing a win against one of the best teams in the country to stave off elimination, Yale went toe-to-toe with the Saints again. But in the end, thanks in part to a pair of power play goals, the Saints proved too much for Yale to overcome. SLU's 4-0 win gave the Saints a 2-0 win in the series, ending Yale's season.
While Yale (10-17-4, 8-12-2 ECAC Hockey) was fighting for its playoff life, St. Lawrence (26-4-4, 16-3-3 ECAC Hockey) also had plenty at stake. The latest PairWise projections had the Saints ranked fourth in the country, and with NCAA Tournament selections just over a week away SLU certainly wanted to solidify its chances of not just making the tournament but getting one of the top four seeds in the eight-team field.
The lone tally of the first period came on special teams. The sequence began with a penalty on St. Lawrence, and Yale had one of its best chances to get on the scoreboard thanks to sophomore Julia Yetman -- back in the lineup after being sidelined for Friday's game -- intercepting an attempted clearing attempt at the SLU blue line and following it up with a wrister that was stopped by a nice kick save from Saints netminder Grace Harrison. Just seconds after that, a too many players on the ice penalty on Yale left the teams skating 4-on-4. And when the SLU penalty expired, the Saints struck. Marchment took a cross-ice pass at center ice, carried the puck in, deked her way through the Yale defense and flipped a shot high over the glove of sophomore goalie Kyra O'Brien for a 1-0 lead at 15:03.
Yale began the second with a series of good chances, thanks in part to a penalty on the Saints three minutes in. But the Saints took advantage of their first shot on goal of the period and wound up taking a 2-0 lead. After a steal in the neutral zone, Webster backhanded a pass across the ice to forward Hannah Miller that wound up getting deflected over to Marchment all alone in the right circle. She fired a shot inside the far post at 5:36.
St. Lawrence had scored twice in a span of less than two minutes in the second period Friday to turn a 1-0 lead into a 3-0 lead. A similar story played out Saturday, this time with a pair of goals in 13 seconds dramatically shifting the scoreboard in SLU's favor. The first came on a power play at 10:30, as Webster netted her team-leading 22nd goal of the year. The Bulldogs then made a change in goal, sending freshman Tera Hofmann in for O'Brien, and she was greeted shortly after the ensuing face-off with the unfortunate sight of a pass finding a wide-open forward Justine Reyes on the left wing. Reyes wristed one in at 10:43 to make it 4-0.
Despite the score, the shot totals indicated the progress that Yale made in just 24 hours. SLU had a 31-15 edge in shots Friday, but on Saturday it was just 16-12 after the second period. The Saints finally pulled away in that category by outshooting the Bulldogs 12-6 in the final frame.
Hofmann made a great save during a penalty kill early in the third, getting her right leg out to deny Webster five minutes into the period. But Yale could not muster a comeback at the other end, and Harrison finished with 18 saves for her ninth shutout of the season (second in the country). Hofmann finished with 14 saves while O'Brien made 10.
In the end, Yale's season turned on a series of injuries that befell the team starting in the game at No. 10 Quinnipiac Feb. 4. The Bulldogs had won five in a row prior to that game, but went 0-6-1 after that. Still, they wound up tied for second in the Ivy League standings, tied for the best finish in school history.
St. Lawrence will play the third seed, No. 7 Cornell, in the ECAC Hockey semifinals next weekend. Cornell advanced Saturday by sweeping Colgate. The top seed, No. 3 Clarkson, will host the semis and championship after sweeping Rensselaer. The Golden Knights' opponent is still to be determined: fourth-seeded No. 8 Princeton forced a third game Sunday by beating fifth-seeded Quinnipiac 2-0 in their quarterfinal series.
This wound up being the final game for Yale's five seniors -- defenseman/forward Abby Gahm, goaltender Hanna Mandl, defenseman Taylor Marchin, forward Phoebe Staenz and forward Krista Yip-Chuck. That quintet has seen the program make dramatic progress over the last four years. The team was just 9-16-7 their freshman year, but surpassed that win total this season. The Bulldogs have qualified for the ECAC Hockey playoffs three times in the last four years after going five years without a playoff appearance prior to that. Overall the seniors led the team to 44 wins.