After scoring a total of 11 goals in her first three seasons on the Princeton University women’s hockey team, Kelly Cooke has saved her best for last.
The gritty 5’1 forward has emerged as Princeton’s go-to scorer in her senior season, tallying a team-high 13 goals in 25 games, the eighth best in ECAC Hockey.
For Cooke, her outburst has been a bit surprising, even to her. “I don’t know; I think it is partly desperation,” said Cooke, a native of Andover, Mass. who starred at Noble and Greenough before coming to Princeton.
“I think a lot of it is playing with Corey [classmate Corey Stearns]. We played together in high school. We have played all year together and it has worked out well for both of us. She is such a great playmaker. I have been getting lucky, she has been setting me up all year.”
Coming into its game against visiting Cornell last Saturday, Cooke and the Tigers were desperate to bounce back from a disappointing 6-1 loss to Colgate the day before.
“I think every one realized after last night that in order to make the playoffs, we have to play our hearts out every night,” said Cooke, who scored Princeton’s lone goal in the defeat to Colgate.
The Tigers went out and fought the No. 4 Big Red tooth-and-nail, trailing just 1-0 heading into the third period.
“It was great that everyone came back and played the way we did today,” said Cooke. “We had all of our lines and defensive pairs playing well tonight which gave us a chance to win.”
Princeton tied the game at 1-1 with 18:04 left in regulation and it looked like the Tigers might pull off the upset. But the Big Red scored seven minutes later and went on to a 4-1 victory as Princeton dropped to 9-14-2 overall and 4-12-2 in ECACH play.
“We hung on for a long time and once we got that goal, we definitely had the momentum,” recalled Cooke. “But when they scored, it took the wind out of our sails.”
Cooke and classmates Stearns and Alex Kinney have made a habit of hanging out together before games this winter.
“It is crazy how fast time flies; you always hear that from the seniors when you are coming up through the ranks,” said Cooke.
“After the first warmup, Kinney, Corey, and I always sit in the stands for just a minute or two before we go to the locker room. It was weird sitting there today, knowing that we are not going to come back here as players.”
For Cooke, moving up the ranks to serve as an assistant captain this season has presented some challenges.
“It is definitely tough,” said Cooke. “Our coaches always say that instead of just worrying about yourself, you have to worry about the whole team which is a tough place to be but it is also great to see the team grow throughout the year.”
Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal wanted his team to show some growth in the wake of its disappointing performance against Colgate.
“Yesterday was really unfortunate; we were really flat,” said Kampersal. “It was just a real bummer, we laid a big egg. That was a humongous game; it is still not over for us but that was a humongous game. Today, the kids wanted it. I thought yesterday, they didn’t want it as much as Colgate did. Today they wanted it badly.”
In Kampersal’s view, the team brought some extra emotion to the table on Saturday, knowing it was the last home game for the seniors and that it had fallen to ninth place in the ECACH standings, one spot out of a playoff berth.
“It was Senior Day and the fact that they know that every point right now is really critical,” said Kampersal
“Cornell scored a really nice goal there at the end to make it 2-1. They made a nice zone entry and a nice catch. They are a really skilled team and they made the most of their chances but I thought Kim [freshman goalie Kimberly Newell] played great and everybody played really well, staying out of the box and doing the little things, all that stuff that we didn’t do the day before.”
Cooke has certainly done a lot of good stuff this winter for the Tigers. “Cookie has had a humongous year, no question,” said Kampersal.
“She brings a lot of heart and soul with a lot of quickness and good penalty killing. She has scored some big goals this year. I think that her and Corey playing together helps.”
The Tigers have also been sparked by the play of Stearns and Kinney. “Corey is a really good playmaker, she is a dynamite puck handler and passer,” asserted Kampersal of Stearns, who leads Princeton in scoring with 27 points on four goals and 23 assists.
“Kinney has had a good solid senior year, no question. She had some big goals earlier in the year. She has been a steady, calm player.”
Princeton will need to come up with some big goals if they are to get back into the top eight and earn a spot in the ECACH playoffs.
“We have to get points in the north country, no question and then it is the Yale, Brown weekend,” said Kampersal, whose team plays at sixth-ranked Clarkson (23-7 overall, 15-3 ECACH) on February 15 and at St. Lawrence (16-11-3 overall, 11-5-2 ECACH) a day later. “Hopefully that will set up to be another playoff weekend, we’ll see.”
Cooke, for her part, believes that the Tigers have the spirit to force their way into the playoff picture.
“We all brought it tonight and the will was just to compete with a team that is fourth in the country like that; it shows a lot about our team’s will,” said Cooke.
“We have definitely hit rock bottom at times but we have always managed to come out of it. We had great games against Yale and Brown last weekend; we were really flowing well. I definitely think that if we play this way next weekend and the weekend after, we are good to be in the playoffs.”
No matter what happens, Cooke is enjoying the way she has played in her final campaign.
“I guess we have been appreciating it all year, we knew it was going to come to an end so we definitely savor our moments,” said Cooke, who now has 44 points in her Tiger career on 24 goals and 20 assists. “Corey and I are having the seasons of our life so it has been a pretty fun ride so far.”