March 13, 2019

PU Women’s Hockey Falls in ECACH Semis But Gets NCAA Bid, Will Play at Minnesota

GOING FOR IT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Karlie Lund goes after a puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior forward and co-captain Lund contributed an assist as Princeton fell 3-2 in double overtime to Cornell in the ECAC Hockey semifinals. The disappointment over that loss turned to joy a day later as the Tigers were awarded an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. Princeton, now 20-7-5 overall, will play at second-seeded Minnesota (30-5-1) in a national quarterfinal contest on March 16. The selection marks the program’s third NCAA appearance overall and first trip to the national tourney since it fell 6-2 to the Gophers in the 2016 quarterfinals at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Last weekend turned out to be nerve-wracking for the Princeton University women’s hockey team.

On Saturday, Princeton headed north to play at Cornell in the ECAC Hockey semis, knowing that a loss could doom its chances of getting invited to the NCAA tournament.

The Tigers jumped out to a 2-0 lead early in the second period on goals by Claire Thompson and Carly Bullock but couldn’t hold off the Big Red, losing 3-2 in double overtime.

“I thought it was a really tight, even game obviously, it was back and forth,” said Princeton head coach Cara Morey.

“We probably had five opportunities to end the game and they probably had three or four good scoring chances to end it earlier. It was just waiting; somebody was going to put it in and it happened to be them.”

As a result of the defeat, which left the Tigers at 20-7-5 overall, the squad’s players and coaches were on pins and needles as they waited for the NCAA Selection Show at 9 p.m. on Sunday evening.

“I was confident at the beginning, I was thinking that we were going to get in because of our body of work,” said Morey, whose team won the Ivy League title, finished second in the ECACH standings, reached a national ranking of fourth, the highest ever for the Tigers, and set a program record with a 20-game unbeaten streak.

“It shows that we had a great season. It was a double overtime loss. We had the 20-game unbeaten streak. As we got closer to the selection show, it started to really worry me. They don’t just go by the numbers. They look at the numbers as a guideline but when it is that close in percentage points, it could have gone any number of ways.”

Things went the Tigers’ way as they learned that they will play at second-seeded Minnesota (30-5-1) in an NCAA quarterfinal contest on March 16.

“We were watching the show together at Cannon, just the players and staff,” said Morey. “When they announced it, there were tears in people’s eyes. They were so excited and happy that our season isn’t over yet.”

The selection marks the program’s third NCAA appearance overall and first trip to the national tourney since the Tigers fell 6-2 at Minnesota in the 2016 quarterfinals at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis.

Morey acknowledged that Princeton will be in for some nervous moments as they face the Gophers, one of the traditional powerhouses in college women’s hockey.

“The biggest challenge is just their history of being great, it is hard to beat teams that have been in this position a lot more often than our team has,” said Morey of Minnesota, which is making its 17th straight appearance in the NCAA tournament and has won four national championships in the last seven years. “We are a pretty young team and we are new to this success.”

With the four Tiger seniors having played in the 2016 NCAA contest at Minnesota, Morey believes that experience will be a plus.

“Our seniors have been through it; I think that is helpful but they are the only class that has ever been in this position,” said Morey.

“It will help because they are our leaders. The familiarity with it is kind of ironic in that it is the exact same trip for them.”

Princeton senior forward and co-captain Karlie Lund, a native of Eden Prairie, Minn., is excited about the return trip to her home state.

“This time around I think our team is more confident in ourselves and our ability to play at the top level,” said Lund as quoted on the
Princeton sports website.

“We also have a very close-knit team where everyone supports one another. Minnesota is a great team, so it should be a good game. Having the chance to play in Minnesota one last time is incredible. I played all my youth and high-school hockey in Minnesota, so to have one of my last games there will be bittersweet. There are a few Minnesotans on the team, so hopefully we can have a good amount of Tiger fans at the game.”

Morey is confident that her team will be up to the challenge after navigating the emotional roller-coaster last weekend. 

“I think we just have to stay calm, not get wrapped up in the hype, not get lost in the crowd noise and the hysteria around the event,” said Morey.

“We just have to play our game and just really believe that we can. It is going to be important to take away time and space from a lot of their superstar players. They have a phenomenal roster, they are strong, they are creative, and they are offensive minded.”

With the Tigers boasting such stars as freshman forwards Sarah Fillier (20 goals, 35 assists) and Maggie Connors (26 goals, 16 assists) along with junior standouts, forward Bullock (21 goals, 21 assists), defenseman Thompson (9 goals, 19 assists), and goalie Steph Neatby (a goals against average of 1.88, .930 save percentage), and senior defenseman Stephanie Sucharda (3 goals, 9 assists) and Lund (10 goals, 16 assists), Princeton has the talent to give the Gophers a hard time.

“We have a really solid roster from top to bottom,” said Morey, whose team didn’t have the services of Connors last weekend due to injury.

“We have a lot of depth, we have a lot of offensive power, we have great defenders, and we have three amazing goaltenders. We definitely have all of the pieces, we just have to do our thing.”