Having spent much of January dealing with exams, Danielle DiCesare was bursting with energy when the Princeton University women’s hockey team hosted Robert Morris University last Monday.
“We were excited to get out of the library and finally have a game, for sure,” said senior forward DiCesare, a native of York, Maine.
“We haven’t played Robert Morris yet so we didn’t know what to expect. We were fired up and ready to go.”
DiCesare got the Tigers off to a good start in their first action since a loss at Cornell on January 14, scoring a goal late in the first period to give Princeton a 1-0 lead over the Colonials.
“We always pass on our line when we have scoring opportunities,” said the feisty 5’4 DiCesare, reflecting on her fifth goal of the season and the 25th in her Princeton career.
“So this game, every time we had a chance, we wanted to shoot. That was exactly what Cookie [Kelly Cooke] did and it was a great rebound. It was great to see the line effort.”
The Tigers continued that effort in the second period as defensemen Rose Alleva and Ali Pankowski scored to give Princeton a 3-1 edge heading into the final 20 minutes.
“All of our goals were team efforts; that was nice to see,” added DiCesare. “There were assists on each goal.”
Things weren’t so nice in the third period for Princeton as the Colonials scored to narrow the gap to one and got a late power play and then pulled the goalie to add an extra attacker to put the pressure on Princeton.
DiCesare, together with Cooke, Alleva, and Gabie Figueroa, held the fort on the penalty kill as the Tigers ultimately prevailed 3-2.
“The 6-on-4 is always interesting; it was definitely dicey,” said DiCesare. “We almost got it out a couple of times but then it got fumbled. We had our defensemen blocking shots and Rachel [Weber] made some great saves. We got it done.”
With Princeton now at 9-10-4 overall and 7-7-2 in ECAC Hockey play, the Tigers will need to get it done if they are to earn home ice for the playoffs. Princeton currently sits in seventh place in the ECACH standings, six points away from fourth and the last spot to host a series.
“We have six huge games to set us up for the playoffs,” said DiCesare. “It was really nice to get back; normally we don’t have a game before we get back into the ECAC play. It was awesome to get this game and get ready. We know what we have to do for the next six games.”
In DiCesare’s view, the formula for success is simple. “We just need to play consistent; I think we just beat ourselves in the first half of the season,” asserted DiCesare.
“We came back after the holiday break and we put together six consistent games and we had a pretty good record and now we need to do the same thing.”
Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal, for his part, liked how his players took care of their business on and off the ice during the exam break.
“The kids worked really hard during exams,” said Kampersal. “They definitely paid attention to their academics and did well there. The captains and the seniors made sure that they were down here. There was not a lot of quantity time but just quality with a half hour, or 40 minutes to do their work and get on with their academics. They stayed in great shape, just like over the holiday break.”
The Tigers showed fresh legs in the early stages of the game against Robert Morris.
“I thought we played really well; we had the advantage for sure,” said Kampersal. “Robert Morris is a solid team but they had played a tough weekend against Niagara so it was their third game in four nights. We definitely understood that.”
DiCesare’s early tally gave the Tigers an advantage. “Danielle worked hard; Cookie made a nice play throwing it to the net,” recalled Kampersal. “Danielle took it from her skate to her stick so it was a nice goal.”
The tallies by Alleva and Pankowski were the products of some good work.
“Rosie made a nice fake and shoot on her goal,” said Kampersal. “We have been working on the power play with Pankowski. Corey [Stearns] made a nice pass to her. Ali has an absolute bomb, it was a nice catch and shoot for Pankowski.”
Kampersal acknowledged that the Colonials put a scare into the Tigers over the last 20 minutes of the contest.
“I think we were expecting to come out a little stronger and I think they found their second wind in the third period and we were holding on for dear life,” said Kampersal.
With 5:36 remaining in regulation, Kampersal called a timeout to settle things down.
“I told them they have worked so hard and that they are starting to let it slip away and that their will should outlast their skill right now,” said Kampersal, recalling the message he gave to his players.
The Tigers showed iron will on the game-ending penalty kill. “Cookie, Rosie, Gabie, and Cheesy [DiCesare] did a phenomenal job,” said Kampersal. “They showed a lot of heart and soul at the end there; that is what we need.”
In Kampersal’s view, the Tigers needed the challenge presented by Robert Morris before they get back into ECACH action by playing at Dartmouth (14-6-2 overall. 10-4-2 ECACH) on February 3, and at Harvard (14-6-1 overall, 11-4-1 ECACH) a day later.
“We wanted to play a good, solid hockey team,” said Kampersal. “Hopefully it will get us ready for next weekend. I don’t think we could have gone three weeks without a game and then go on the road against Harvard and Dartmouth and expect to compete the way that we want to against those guys.”
Princeton’s seniors are primed to compete hard as they put the finishing touches on their superb careers.
“Now we have the last six ECAC games with four at home,” said Kampersal, whose group of seniors includes Charissa Stadnyk, Paula Romanchuk, Heather Landry, and Julie Johnson in addition to DiCesare and Weber.
“They know that the home games are coming to an end at some point so hopefully they take advantage of each and every one. It is a special group; I know they realize how special this time is.”
DiCesare, for her part, is ready to take advantage of her last few weeks in a Princeton uniform.
“I am just trying to have fun, that’s my biggest thing,” said DiCesare. “I will give my best effort every game because I am not going to have anything left.”