Over the last four seasons, Megan Ofner served as the go-to player for the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team.
The skilled forward scored 124 points over her stellar career, including 32 points last season on 19 goals and 13 assists as she helped PDS go 10-7 and win the Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic (WIHLMA) ‘B’ title.
With Ofner now at Sacred Heart and playing for its Division I women’s hockey program, the Panthers are left figuring out how to pick up the slack offensively without their star.
In the view of second-year PDS head coach Lorna Gifis Cook, it will take more than one player to replace Ofner’s output and she is relying on production from senior tri-captain Zeeza Cole (17 points on 11 goals and six assists last season) and juniors Mimi Matthews (13 points on five goals and eight assists) and Mary Travers, who was sidelined due to injury last year.
“I am looking for a collective effort,” said Cook, whose team was slated to open the season with a game at Pingry on December 4 before hosting its annual tournament, now known as the Harry Rulon-Miller ’51 Invitational at PDS, with a game against Summit on December 8 and the event wrapping up the next day.
“I have been happy with Zeeza, Mary, and Mimi. They are picking up where they left off last year. They are getting shots on the net with intention and they are hitting corners in practice. They just need to work on delivering in games.”
The Panthers boast some depth at forward with junior Lexie Fairman, sophomores Sophie Ward and Sophie Jensen, and freshman Emma Stillwaggon.
“Lexie improved a lot last year; she seems comfortable and excited about this year,” said Cook.
“She needs to build up her confidence early. Sophie Ward and Sophie Jensen bring energy and enthusiasm. They enjoy being part of the team and work as hard as they can. We need to give them specific roles and have them deliver. Emma as a freshman goes as hard as she can, I am trying to work with her on conserving energy but I love the enthusiasm.”
Cook loves watching junior defenseman Robin Linzmayer (16 points in 2012-13) in action around the blue line.
“Robin stands out every time she is on the ice; she takes control of the game,” asserted Cook of Linzmayer, an All-WIHLMA honorable mention choice last winter.
“She needs to be confident in her decision-making and provide offense when it makes sense. She has to help us with our production.”
PDS will need production for its two other veteran defensemen, junior Colby Triolo and senior tri-captain Louise Hutter.
“Colby works harder than anybody, on and off the ice,” said Cook. “She is fun to coach and I was really happy with the way she improved last year. Louise is getting more confident with the puck. She will take her chances but she is smart. I have been really happy with her leadership. She is more vocal and has been eager to take charge.”
Senior star goalie and tri-captain Daisy Mase has taken charge since she arrived at PDS as a sophomore, starting from day one.
“Daisy gives us the confidence we need going into every game,” said Cook of the star netminder who had a goals against average of 2.3 and a save percentage of .916 in earning All-WIHLMA second-team honors.
“She is going to steal some games for us and there will be other games hopefully that we won’t need to steal. There will be close games and she will keep us close. She is one of the top goalies in the state. She is really competitive which is a great quality for a goalie because it means she never gives up.”
Sophomore back-up goalie Katie Alden [this reporter’s daughter] is giving the team value.
“A lot of the girls have commented on how much better Katie has gotten since last year,” said Cook.
“She is very knowledgeable about what she has to do. She has grown three inches and being bigger and taller has helped her.”
Cook is confident that the Panthers can make big strides this winter. “I am really excited about how much they are going to improve,” said Cook.
“In terms of fundamentals, I have seen a big improvement already from where we were on the first day of practice. I think the fact that we have more skaters is good. We have more depth and the girls have to work hard to get playing time.
A major key to success for PDS this winter will center on generating offense.
“We need to be patient with the puck to see what is open on the ice and we need to work on getting the puck deep,” said Cook.
“We need to work away from the puck. It starts with effort and the right kind of effort.”
In Cook’s view, her players are ready to make that kind of effort. “The girls are smart and driven,” said Cook, noting that new assistant coach Brie Zdunkiewicz has added passion and defensive expertise to the program. “They are a very coachable group. It is a matter of building confidence.”