February 22, 2017

After PDS Girls’ Hockey Loses in Prep Final, Asplundh Helps Panthers Take 3rd in WIHLMA

NET GAIN: Princeton Day School girls’ hockey goalie Annika Asplundh guards the net in the state Prep championship game last week. Senior star Asplundh made 36 saves in a losing cause as PDS fell 2-1 to Morristown-Beard in the February 14 contest as the tournament was revived after an 11-year absence. Last Sunday, Asplundh and the Panthers turned the tables on Mo-Beard, edging the Crimson 3-2 in the WIHLMA (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) Hengerer Division third-place game. PDS, now 14-11-1, hosts Mater Dei on February 23 to wrap up its season. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the state Prep girls’ hockey tournament being played for the first time since 2006, Annika Asplundh and her teammates on the Princeton Day School girls’ hockey team were fired up to host Morristown-Beard in the title game last week.

“I was really excited; I came into it positive, hoping for the best,” said senior star goalie Asplundh.

“Win or lose, you have to enjoy it and have fun, especially since it is my senior year.”

Asplundh didn’t have time to savor the moment as Morristown-Beard controlled possession in the first period of the February 14 contest, peppering her with shots.

“I knew I had to come out strong, especially playing a good team with good players,” said Asplundh, who made a number of point blank saves before yielding a goal in the last minute of the period as Mo-Beard took a 1-0 lead. “I knew what to expect with the shots so I was ready.”

Even though PDS trailed 2-0 heading into the third period, the Panthers felt the game was still up for grabs.

“It was just make sure that you stay positive and come out strong and try to get a goal back and get the momentum going,” said Asplundh, reflecting on the discussion in the locker room at the intermission after the second period.

In the first minute of the third period, the Panthers cut the Crimson lead in half as sophomore forward Maddy Birch found the back of the net to make it 2-1. Energized by the tally, the Panthers pressed forward the rest of the period, generating a number of chances.

Asplundh, for her part, held the fort at the defensive end, making some stops as Mo-Beard didn’t score again. PDS, though, couldn’t break through again and the game ended in a 2-1 victory for Mo-Beard.

“I thought we maybe could have had a comeback; towards the end it wasn’t looking too good but we had our chances,” said Asplundh.

“I have been in the situation before, you have just got to stay big and make the big saves.”

Asplundh has dealt with a tough situation this winter, being sidelined due to injury for two stretches.

“Missing a lot of time hasn’t been too helpful to getting the momentum going but with the team back now I am hoping we can build off these games,” said Asplundh.

Heading into the WIHLMA  (Women’s Interscholastic Hockey League of the Mid-Atlantic) Hengerer Division tournament last weekend, Asplundh thought the loss to Mo-Beard could be a blessing in disguise for the Panthers.

“I feel like we have a lot to learn from this game,” said Asplundh. “If we can learn from our mistakes, we can make the most out of this weekend.”

At the WIHLMA competition, Asplundh raised the level of her game. She made 41 saves as fifth-seeded PDS topped fourth-seeded Portledge School (N.Y.) 3-1 last Friday in an opening round contest. On Saturday, Asplundh recorded 41 saves as the Panthers fell 3-0 to powerful Shandy Side Academy (Pa.) in the semis. On Sunday, PDS turned the tables on Mo-Beard, defeating the Crimson 3-2 in overtime in the third place game as Asplundh made 21 stops.

“Definitely my confidence has grown a lot,” said Asplundh in reflecting on her progress over the last four years.

“I have a positive outlook on everything even when games aren’t going so well.”

PDS head coach Lorna Cook knows that Asplundh inspires confidence for the Panthers when she is in the net.

“She gave us the effort tonight; she usually does and that is something we expect,” said Cook in the wake of the state Prep title game. “It was really too bad we couldn’t pick her up.”

It took some time for PDS to pick up the pace in the loss to Mo-Beard.

 “I think we were definitely excited; that may have been contributed to having a slower start,” said Cook. “We got a little bit panicked, they put on a lot of pressure right away and played pretty physical. It took us a little while to adjust.”

The Panthers were determined not to wilt under the pressure as they hit the ice for the third period.

“It was really just stay positive, this is where we had to figure out what we are going to do and how are we going to respond,” said Cook. “We just have to get one at a time; the mentality was we can do this. We still have time.”

Showing a battling mentality, PDS had the Crimson on their heels for most of the third period.

“That is what we talked about, really focus on just getting one; that is all we had to do,” said Cook.

“We had some good chances. We had a really good chance at the end of the second period too so I think we tried to build on that.”

Getting the chance to play in the Prep tournament and advancing to the final was a big plus for the PDS program.

“It definitely gave us something to get excited about,” said Cook. “It is disappointing for the seniors this year because they were a huge part of why the tournament is back, the way we have been able to grow our program and encourage more growth in high school hockey in New Jersey for girls in general. It would have been really nice to get this win here. It is one of those games that could go either way and they knew that.”

Cook had the sense that PDS was primed for a big run at the WIHLMA tourney.

“We are finding the net now and limiting the shots against is going to be big,” said Cook, whose team is now 14-11-1 and hosts Mater Dei on February 23 to wrap up its season.

“We are coming in as the lower seed. Maybe we are the underdog but we don’t view ourselves that way. We look at it like it is going to be a win for us and then we will focus on the semifinal after that.”

Asplundh, for her part, has been focused on enjoying her final campaign with the program.

“We have a good group of seniors and being the leaders on the team for the underclassmen has been great,” said Asplundh.

“We have been trying to incorporate everyone and trying to get everyone involved. It is definitely a good team effort all the way around.”