November 27, 2019

With Keopple Emerging as Top Defender, PU Women’s Hockey Stifles No. 5 Clarkson

KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Mariah Keopple (No. 2) battles for the puck in recent action. Last Friday, sophomore defenseman Keopple had an assist on the winning goal as eighth-ranked Princeton edged No. 5 Clarkson 2-1 at Hobey Baker Rink. A day later, Keopple and the Tigers defeated St. Lawrence 6-2 to improve to 9-2 overall and 7-2 ECAC Hockey. Princeton hosts a pro women’s squad for an exhibition game on December 1 and then resumes ECACH action by hosting Cornell on December 6 and Colgate on December 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

After soaking up some valuable lessons last winter during her freshman season on the Princeton University women’s hockey team, Mariah Keopple has passed on some of that knowledge to this year’s newcomers.

“Last year we had a lot of seniors on defense; coming in this year it was very different without them,” said sophomore defenseman Keopple.

“These freshmen are stepping into these roles that they need to. It is really great to see them and have some people I can help guide.”

Last Friday evening, Keopple stepped up, getting an assist on the winning goal as eighth-ranked Princeton edged No. 5 Clarkson 2-1 at Hobey Baker Rink.

“As a defenseman I wanted to have a little patience on the point,” said Keopple, a 5’9 native of Menomonie, Wis.

“It was scrambling down low. We were waiting for everyone to set up, get ready and smash it home.

The Tigers were scrambling from the opening face-off, sparked by a spirited crowd on hand for the program’s annual Black Out Baker Night.

“We started out really strong, the entire week we were planning for a huge matchup, especially with Black Out Baker and all of the hype,” said Keopple.

“We love having a lot of people here and a lot of energy flowing; there was a lot of energy on the team throughout the bench. It was unbelievable.”

In the third period, Clarkson got a shot of energy as it scored with 14:13 left in regulation, forcing the Tigers to hold the fort.

“It was a battle. Everyone was tired in the third period,” said Keopple.

“We tried to get the puck out hard and fast and just keep going down the ice. We knew we couldn’t let down in the third period.”

Princeton head coach Cara Morey liked the way her team came out of the gate as it dominated puck possession in the first period.

“This is always such a big game for the girls, they look forward to Black Out Baker so much,” said Morey.

“It is only our second year doing it but it is the biggest crowd we get. They just feed off the energy; they were flying.”

Princeton built up a 19-5 edge in shots in the first period but didn’t find the back of the net until sophomore star Sarah Fillier scored with 38 seconds left in the period to put the Tigers ahead 1-0.

“It was extremely important because if you dominate a team in the first period like that and go into the locker room with nothing, it is a much different scenario,” said Morey.

Fillier got the second goal midway through the second period as the Tigers got Clarkson on its heels with a 2-on-1 breakaway featuring Maggie Connors and Fillier.

“I am glad they ended up finishing and scoring on that,” said Morey. “It was obviously a broken play but we ended up scoring. They worked so hard for that goal.”

Morey acknowledged that it wasn’t easy to finish off the Golden Knights.

“We are starting on a penalty kill and you know they are going to press and press,” said Morey.

“We have to not get too emotional or not get too panicky. We start to get tired in the third, you don’t have quite the jump. The mistakes start to happen, there is some fatigue and nerves. It is only a two-goal lead and then all of a sudden it is a one-goal lead and they start gripping their sticks a little tight and start making  decisions they wouldn’t make earlier in the game.”

Having Fillier, a member of the Canadian national program, gives Princeton a jump on the competition.

“She is next level; she is one of those special players who comes through maybe once a decade,” said Fillier.

“I think if anybody hasn’t seen her play yet, they better get down to Baker Rink before she graduates.”

The team’s top line, which includes sophomore Connors and senior Carly Bullock along with Fillier, showed how special it is over the weekend.

“They were on the ice a lot, it is not sustainable but we needed to do that against a top five team in the country,” said Morey, who got another big game from the trio a day later in a 6-2 win over St. Lawrence as Bullock had two goals and an assist with Fillier and Connors each tallying a goal and an assist.

“They were also unselfish tonight, they didn’t care who got the goal, who got the assist, or who got anything. They also tried to play defensively as much as offensively which was really big. I thought Maggie Connors really focused on playing more physical, she had a couple of big back checks.”

The Tigers also came up big on the blue line against Clarkson.

“I thought defensively we did really well because they are threatening,” said Morey. “They are an extremely dangerous offensive team and that one line is incredible. It is hard because you are really focusing on that and you have to change the way you are playing. I thought that was our best game defensively. I thought our defense had good gaps, they kept it simple.”

Keopple is emerging as a very good player for the Princeton defensive unit.

“It is her second year so she is really starting to get a lot more poise,” said Morey, whose team ended the weekend at 9-2 overall and 7-2 ECAC Hockey.

“She used to press plays a lot last year but now her decision-making is better. She has a lot more confidence in her game; when she keeps it simple she will play really well.”

In Morey’s view, pulling out the win over Clarkson, which has won three NCAA titles in the last six years, was a confidence builder for her squad.

“Clarkson historically is always that one you circle on the calendar because they are such a great team,” said Morey, whose team hosts a pro women’s squad for an exhibition game on December 1 and then resumes ECACH action by hosting Cornell on December 6 and Colgate on December 7.

“I think we also got lucky. They are banged up so their roster is a little short. The girls always look forward to playing the Clarkson game. It was a really big win for us, I am really happy for them.”

Keopple, for her part, is happy with how things are going for the Tigers.

“Coming off the last weekend’s sweep and coming in and winning this game, we have momentum,” said Keopple.

“We are just going to continue to play our systems; play them hard and do what we know how to do and not change up too much.”