Not Resting on Laurels from Superb 2018-19 Season, Princeton Women’s Hockey Psyched for Big Winter
SPEED SKATING: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sarah Fillier races up the ice in a game last winter in her freshman season. Star forward Fillier tallied 57 points on 22 goals and 35 assists in 2018-19 on the way to getting named as the national Rookie of the Year and earning All-American honors. Princeton, currently ranked sixth nationally, opens its 2019-20 season by hosting Syracuse for a two-game set on October 25 and 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
With the Princeton University women’s hockey team coming off a landmark campaign last winter that saw it produce a program-record 20-game unbeaten streak, win the Ivy League title, and rise to No. 4 in the national rankings, the Tigers are chomping at the bit to get the 2019-20 season underway.
“The preseason is a little longer than last year,”said Princeton head coach Cara Morey, who guided the Tigers to a 20-8-5 record last season and a spot in the NCAA tournament where they fell 5-2 to Minnesota.
“I think the girls are anxious to get started and get into some meaningful games.”
As sixth-ranked Princeton opens its season this weekend by hosting Syracuse for a two-game set on October 25 and 26, Morey is cautioning her players that they can’t rest on their laurels.
“We just have to keep reminding them that things don’t come easily,” said Morey. “The expectations are different this year, and that means it is time to work even harder.”
Princeton’s trio of star forwards — sophomores Sarah Fillier (22 goals and 35 assists in 2018-19) and Maggie Connors (26 goals, 17 assists), along with senior Carly Bullock (21 goals, 22 assists) — will make things hard on its foes.
“Sarah looks great. With Hockey Canada bringing her back this summer, she keeps elevating her game,” said Morey of Fillier, the national Rookie of the Year who was named to the Canadian National Women’s Development Team this summer along with Connors and Tiger senior defenseman Claire Thompson.
“Maggie has a whole other speed to her. She looks really fast and physically stronger than last year. Bullock just has that poise with the puck. She can pick corners, she can really snipe. She has been a leader off the ice, too. She is really setting the tone and helping the younger players adjust.”
With a solid core of returners of junior Annie MacDonald (5 goals, 11 assists), junior Sharon Frankel (4 goals, 12 assists), junior Sarah Verbeek (6 goals, 5 assists), and junior Shannon Griffin (4 goals, 5 assists) along with some promising freshmen in Annie Kuehl, Catherine Kerin, Daniella Calabrese, and Emma Kee, Princeton should have plenty of offensive firepower this winter.
“We have a lot of depth this year which is great,” said Morey. “Building the lineup is tricky this year because there is not much of a drop off. You have the top three forwards who produce a lot of goals and the rest are just all really hard working; they can all bring offense, they can all play defense.”
Morey is looking to senior star Thompson (9 goals, 19 assists) to spearhead the defensive unit.
“Claire just keeps getting better; she is at a point where we expect her to be a leader in the back,” said Morey.
“She is our captain. She is playing so fast and so confidently that managing risk/reward will be the main thing we need to work on.”
With a blue line crew of sophomore Mariah Keopple (3 goals, 11 assists), senior Sylvie Wallin (6 assists), sophomore Chloe Harvey (5 assists) together with freshmen Kate Monihan, Stef Wallace, and Solveig Neunzert, Morey has a lot of confidence in that unit.
“I think our defenders this year are going to be really tough for other teams to play against,” said Morey.
“All three of our freshmen look really strong and all of our returners look strong. I think the d-corps is outstanding right now.”
Princeton boasts a strong group of goalies in senior Steph Neatby (1.98 goals against average, .929 save percentage in 2018-19), junior Rachel McQuigge (1.88 GAA, .927 save pct.), and sophomore Cassie Reale (1.50 GAA, .936 save pct.)
“All three of them are playing great,” said Morey. “It is going to be a game-by-game decision. All three of them can win against a lot of teams. We don’t have a clear cut starter at the moment. They push each other at practice and challenge our forwards to make them better.”
In Morey’s view, a key challenge for Princeton will be to stay in the present and not get caught up in the hype.
“The key is to remember our culture and our values,” said Morey. “We need to play the way we have always played and not get wrapped up in rankings and not worry about thinking down the road. It is really taking it one step at a time and playing to our identity, which is work ethic, energy, and attitude. If we can continue to play with our values in the back of our minds, we will be OK. We can’t get ahead of ourselves.”
The Tigers will take that first step when they welcome Syracuse (0-7) to Hobey Baker Rink for the opening two-game set.
“It is going to be a tough weekend. Syracuse is very physical and really strong,” said Morey.
“They can wear teams down and can literally beat you up. We have to be smart and make the puck work. We have to play with a lot of speed so they can’t outmuscle us and rough us up.”