HAMDEN, Conn. – A furious third-period comeback by the Yale women's ice hockey team came up just short Saturday night at Quinnipiac's High Point Solutions Arena, as Merrimack held on for a 4-3 win in the Nutmeg Classic Championship game. The Bulldogs trailed 4-0 heading into the third period but rallied thanks in part to a pair of goals from senior defenseman Taylor Marchin, who was named to the All-Tournament Team.
Both teams had advanced to the championship by winning shootouts after 1-1 overtime ties Friday. Merrimack topped No. 8 Quinnipiac 2-0 in the shootout, while Yale beat UConn 3-2.
The first period was evenly played, but a rough stretch of less than a minute for Yale (4-6-2, 2-5-1 ECAC Hockey) shifted the score decidedly in Merrimack's favor. First, a shot from the point by Warriors defenseman Dominique Kremer fluttered through traffic and past Yale sophomore goalie Tera Hofmann at 13:24 to give Merrimack the lead. Then, 37 seconds later, forward Mikyla Grant-Mentis found a loose puck at her feet in the slot and tossed it on net. After Hofmann made a stop, the puck wound up on the stick of forward Katelyn Rae wide open at the left post. Rae, the Warriors' leading goal scorer, buried her 10th of the season. Yale went into the second trailing 2-0.
Several big saves by Hofmann helped Yale kill off its first penalty of the game early in the second. Four minutes into the period, senior forward Phoebe Staenz nearly scored on a breakaway but pushed the puck wide off the post. Two minutes later Merrimack goalie Léa-Kristine Demers reacted quickly to stick aside another Grade-A chance, this one a shot from the slot by sophomore forward Emma Vlasic.
Merrimack (5-10-2, 2-7-0 Hockey East) then took advantage of a 3-on-1 to increase its lead, as Grant-Mentis fed forward Emily Volpe and Volpe executed a nice deke before depositing the puck past Hofmann at 10:11 of the second.
Demers (34 saves) came up with a pad save on junior forward Eden Murray in the final five minutes of the second, then stopped a shot by senior forward Krista Yip-Chuck 30 seconds later as the Bulldogs kept the offensive pressure on. Following that save the puck drifted dangerously loose behind Demers for several moments before the Warriors were able to clear it out of the crease.
En route to earning Tournament MVP honors, Rae struck again at 16:54 of the second, beating Hofmann on the short side after driving in from the right boards. The Bulldogs brought senior Hanna Mandl on in relief, as Hofmann exited with 18 saves.
The third period was dramatically one-sided, as Yale outshot Merrimack 21-3, but ultimately it was not enough. Marchin's first goal came on a power play at 8:05, as she passed the puck to sophomore defenseman Julia Yetman at the top of the left circle, then got it back and fed it to Yip-Chuck in the left circle. Yip-Chuck sent it back to Marchin for a slap shot that made it 4-1.
Demers made a big save on Yip-Chuck with less than 10 minutes to play, and Warriors defenseman Paige Sorensen hit the post with seven minutes left. That set up a dramatic finish, as Yale pulled Mandl for an extra attacker multiple times in the final 3:45. It worked at 16:40, as freshman forward Laura Anderson poked in a rebound off assists by Murray and junior defenseman Mallory Souliotis to pull Yale within 4-2. Mandl came back out for the faceoff, but was eventually pulled again.
The Bulldogs controlled the puck in Merrimack's zone for most of the final minutes, but it was not until just 6.8 seconds were left on the clock that they scored again. Marchin's second goal was assisted by junior forward Courtney Pensavalle and freshman defenseman Saroya Tinker. Yale won the ensuing faceoff but Staenz sent a shot wide and time ran out on the comeback attempt.
This was the first Nutmeg Classic championship for Merrimack, which is in just its second season. The Warriors had lost their two Nutmeg Classic games last year -- to Yale and UConn -- by a combined score of 7-2.
In the consolation game earlier Saturday, Quinnipiac beat UConn 3-2.
Yale next plays on Dec. 10, hosting New Hampshire.
2016 Nutmeg Classic All-Tournament Team
D Taylor Marchin, Yale
D Taryn Baumgardt, Quinnipiac
F Mikyla Grant-Mentis, Merrimack
F MacKenzie Lancaster, Quinnipiac
F Leah Lum, UConn
G (Laurie Belliveau Award) Samantha Ridgewell, Merrimack
MVP Katelyn Rae, Merrimack