With the Princeton University women’s hockey team having lost six of seven games heading into exam break last month, the players needed to recharge their batteries.
“I definitely think we had time to refocus,” said Princeton junior forward Sally Butler.
“Things weren’t necessarily going our way before the break and we spent time together training, practicing, and getting ready. Our coaches definitely got us refocused for the end of the season.”
In returning to the ice last week, the Tigers showed a renewed focus as they topped Penn State 3-0 in a non-league contest on January 29 before resuming ECAC Hockey play by topping Yale 3-1 on Friday and routing Brown 6-1 a day later.
Starting the weekend in 10th place in the ECACH standings, two spots away from the top 8 and a playoff berth, Butler and her teammates knew they had to pick it up, starting with the Yale game.
“It was definitely a must win and the coaches got us pumped before the game and ready to go,” said Butler. “We know they are all teams we can beat so we just have to bring it.”
Against the Bulldogs, Princeton brought it from the beginning, generating a number of good scoring chances in the first two periods. But a Yale goal late in the second period left the Tigers trailing 1-0 going into the third and in danger of falling further behind in the race for a playoff spot.
“It is a little frustrating because we were all over the net; their goalie played very well, I thought,” said Butler.
“We definitely needed to reduce the turnovers at the blue line because that was something we weren’t doing too well. Beyond that, coach [Jeff] Kampersal was telling us to just keep going hard on them and get shots to the net and things will go in.”
Minutes into the third period, Butler helped get things going for the Tigers as she rushed the net and fed classmate Denna Laing, who banged home a goal.
“Our line has been jelling a little bit recently, I got back together with Laing and [Olivia] Mucha,” said Butler, a 5’9 native of Etobicoke, Ontario.
“It was a great forecheck by Mucha. Laing shot it down low to me and I was able to get it back out to her and she just buried it.”
Just over three minutes later, freshman Cristin Shanahan tallied on a superb diving effort to put the Tigers ahead.
“Oh my goodness, that was a big goal,” said a grinning Butler. “It was a great pass by [Alex] Kinney. Shanny just dove in there, no mistaking that one, it was a beautiful goal.”
Butler added an insurance goal, tallying an empty netter with 1:12 left in the contest to make the final margin. “It was nice to finish them off,” said Butler, who now has 14 points on the season with seven goals and seven assists.
Princeton head coach Kampersal was exhorting his players to finish better as they headed into the third period of the Yale game.
“I thought we controlled most of it early; there were a couple of times when Kim [goalie Kimberly Newell] bailed us out big time and that’s what we need from her,” recalled Kampersal.
“The message after the second period was that we need to bear down on our chances and that if we get one on that goalie, we can get a couple. She is real good but you have to get that first one.”
Sure enough, breaking through early in the third period helped lead to a three goal outburst.
“The first one ignited us,” said Kampersal, reflecting on the Butler to Laing combination. “It wasn’t pretty. It was just getting the puck in the net and good things happen when you do that.”
A day later, the Tigers got the puck in the net a lot against Brown, jumping out to a 5-1 lead after two periods on the way to the 6-1 triumph. Freshman Molly Contini led the way with three goals, her first college hat trick, with senior star and assistant captain Kelly Cooke chipping in a goal and two assists and sophomore Brianna Leahy notching two goals.
The big weekend improved Princeton to 9-12-2 overall and 4-10-2 in ECACH play, good for eighth place in the league standings. With Princeton hosting Colgate (8-16-3 overall, 3-10-3 ECACH) on February 8 and Cornell (19-4 overall, 14-2 ECACH) the next day in its final regular season home games, Kampersal doesn’t want his players dwelling on league playoff scenarios.
“We do think of games but we literally think of shift to shift and battling for that shift,” said Kampersal.
“I think they know exactly what is going on but you can’t think about clumps of games. There is so much that can happen so you really need to focus on the immediate present and doing your job because if you don’t then nothing else really matters.”
Butler, for her part, feels that the team has bought into Kampersal’s stay in the moment approach.
“We are trying to get each other pumped up and staying focused is definitely part of it,” said Butler. “We only have a few games left and every single game is crucial so we have to stick with this.”