March 20, 2019

PU Women’s Hockey Falls in NCAA Quarterfinal, Sees Defeat as Lesson for Team on the Rise

GOAL ORIENTED: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sarah Fillier chases down the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, freshman star forward Filler scored both goals for Princeton as it fell 5-2 to second-seeded Minnesota in the NCAA quarterfinals. The Tigers ended the winter with a record of 20-8-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When the Princeton University women’s hockey team played at Minnesota in the 2016 NCAA quarterfinals, the Tigers got on the scoreboard first but then yielded six unanswered goals on the way to a 6-2 loss.

Last Saturday, when Princeton headed to Minnesota for a rematch in the 2019 NCAA quarters, it took an early 1-0 lead on a goal by freshman star Sarah Fillier.

This time, the game turned into a nail-biter rather than a rout. After Minnesota forged ahead 2-1 in the second period, Princeton knotted the game at 2-2 on another tally by Fillion.

The contest stayed deadlocked at 2-2 until midway through the third period when Minnesota went ahead 3-2 with 8:13 remaining in regulation. Princeton eventually pulled goalie Steph Neatby to get an extra attacker in the ice and generated excellent chances by Maggie Connors and Sharon Frankel but couldn’t find the back of the net. The Gophers proceeded to tack on two empty net goals in the last 1:06 to make it a 5-2 final.

Princeton senior defenseman and co-captain Stephanie Sucharda was proud of how the Tigers pushed the Gophers in contrast to their previous meeting.

“Freshman year we came in and got that lucky goal and after that, it was Minnesota’s game,” said Sucharda, as quoted on the Princeton sports website.

“I think this year we were right with them and we had a pretty even game. We had our fair share of chances and I don’t think it was very similar to my freshman year at all.”

While Princeton didn’t cash in its late chances, Sucharda saw the performance as a sign of success to come.

“It’s very tough; but I think the prep work we did to put ourselves in that position, to tie the No. 2 team in the country, that we were inches away from that,” added Sucharda.

“I think that says a lot about our program and especially moving forward I think our future is looking really good.”

Princeton head coach Cara Morey saw the defeat as a potential blessing in disguise for a program the rise, reflecting on the end of a superb campaign which saw the Tigers go 20-8-5 and set a team-record unbeaten streak of 20 as they rose to fourth in the national rankings.

“I know that this was a critical learning experience that the majority of our team is going to take forward next year,” said Morey in her postgame comments included on the Princeton website.

“We graduate four seniors [Sucharda, Karlie Lund, Keiko DeClerck, and Kimiko Marinacci] so the bulk of our team is back and the bulk of this team went through some really critical experiences today that we haven’t had. You know when you’re playing a program like Minnesota, who is consistently in this position, and in their home rink, you’re going to have to play that much better to win because they’ve been through these moments so many times. They can weather the storm and bounce back. They have resiliency to them because they’ve been here, they’ve done it, and there’s a calm to that. For our players it’s pretty new.”

Returning its top four scorers in Fillier (22 goals, 35 assists), freshman Connors (26 goals, 17 assists), junior Carly Bullock (21 goals, 22 assists), and junior Claire Thompson (9 goals, 19 assists), Princeton appears poised to enjoy a lot of good moments next winter.

“I think next year we’re going to have a good chance of winning this game,” asserted Morey.

“Next year when that critical time comes, we’ve already been though it once, and I think this is going to make all our players stronger.”