For Sally Butler, her next-to-last regular season weekend at Baker Rink started on a down note as the Princeton University women’s hockey team dropped a 3-2 heartbreaker to Harvard last Friday evening.
Coming into Saturday’s game against Dartmouth, Butler and her teammates were determined to hold their heads high in the wake of the loss to the Crimson.
“We were going for the Ivy League championship; we had a chance,” said senior forward Butler, referring to the Harvard loss.
“We had to put it behind us right after the game. Coach [Jeff] Kampersal told us to let it go and just focus on today because Dartmouth is always a tough team to play against.”
The Tigers proceeded to show their mental toughness as they edged Dartmouth 3-2.
While Princeton got off to a slow start against the Big Green, it rose to the occasion in the latter stages of the contest. “I think we picked it up as the play went on,” said Butler, a 5’9 native of Etobicoke, Ontario.
Princeton seized momentum when it scored two goals in the first five minutes of the third period to take a 3-1 lead.
“That was huge,” said Butler reflecting on that key sequence. “It is always good to get two quick like that and step on a team and get the momentum and get them second-guessing themselves but they did fight back and at the end there it got scary.”
It was good for Butler to set up classmate Denna Laing for Princeton’s third goal, a tally that turned out to be the game-winner.
“Laing was just in front with her stick on the ice so I was lucky to get it through to her and she just put it away,” said Butler, recalling her assist which was her team-high 13th on the season. “She has been having a great season putting the puck in the net so you just get it to her and it goes in.”
With Princeton going 2-1 since returning from its exam break to improve to 11-9-3 overall and 7-7-2 ECAC Hockey, Butler believes the Tigers are going in the right direction.
“It is not a bad start, obviously it would have been nice to beat Harvard yesterday,” said Butler.
“It is always big for us, not just because of the standings but because of the rivalry so that would have been nice. We just have to look forward.”
The Tigers have been benefiting from a nice chemistry this winter. “We definitely have a better dynamic this year, the team as a whole gets along better,” said Butler.
“We have a very good bunch in the freshmen and they are going to be great for the team down the road.
Princeton head coach Kampersal is proud that his team didn’t let down in the wake of the disappointing loss to Harvard.
“I think we had so much passion, energy, and heart last night,” said Kampersal.
“It is always tough to bounce back the next day, particularly against a really good team like Dartmouth that is in the same boat as us, fighting for points. So that was a good, gutsy win.”
Kampersal liked the guts his team showed over the last 20 minutes of the contest.
“In the third period, we are usually stronger than most of the teams that we play,” asserted Kampersal.
“I think we are in really good shape. The Tuesday night game [a 6-1 win over Penn State on January 28] was good to get us going after exams; sometimes that hurts us for this weekend. They did a good job.”
Kampersal credited Butler with doing a good job of hanging in on her feed to Laing for the decisive goal.
“They didn’t play together this week but they played together that one shift and that was nice,” said Kampersal.
“Sally was actually out there a little bit longer that she should have been but she made a nice little play to her.”
Sophomore forward Jaimie McDonnell had a nice game as she contributed a goal and an assist in the third period.
“Jaimie had a big goal for sure and then she played tough and blocked a couple of shots at the end,” said Kampersal.
“I like her toughness on the boards. She is a hockey player so she has good instincts.”
The Tigers also got some tough play along the blue line. “I thought the defense did a good job,” added Kampersal.
“I thought Ali Pankowski clicked all weekend. She put a lot of shots on net and played good, solid D. I thought Gabie Figueroa and Brianne Mahoney stepped up and did a good job.”
If the Tigers are going to stay in the top eight in the ECACH standings and make the playoffs, they are going to have to keep stepping up.
“We are fighting for our playoff lives again,” said Kampersal, whose team is currently in sixth place and just missed qualifying for the postseason last winter.
“We have six to go and they are all against tough opponents so I told them that every game is going to be like the Harvard, Dartmouth games, an absolute battle.”
In Kampersal’s view, his players are prepared to fight to the end. “All year, their approach has been really good,” said Kampersal, who will be looking for Princeton to keep on the winning track as it plays at St. Lawrence on February 7 and at Clarkson on February 8.
“Sometimes we start out a little slow but their weekly approach in terms of how they sleep, how they eat, how they train has been focused. Yesterday they played their hearts out against Harvard so there was not much to say, you can’t ask for any more than that.”
Butler, for her part, is determined to play her heart out to the final whistle of her career.
“It is bittersweet, all good things come to an end,” said Butler, who has tallied 77 points on 36 goals and 41 assists in 112 appearances for Princeton.
“I think the goal is to just keep the season alive as long as possible and, beyond that, you just have to give your best effort everyday. You need enjoy it while it is still here and make it last as long as it can, that is what we are going to be aiming to do.”