PU Women’s Hockey Rallies to 1st ECACH Title, Will Play at Northeastern in NCAA Quarterfinals
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Princeton University women’s hockey goalie Steph Neatby turns aside a shot on recent action. Last weekend, Neatby starred as Princeton defeated Clarkson 5-1 in the ECAC Hockey semifinals on Saturday and then rallied from a 2-0 deficit to edge No. 1 Cornell 3-2 in overtime in the title game to earn the program’s first ECACH crown. The Tigers, now 26-6-1 overall, are next in action when they play at Northeastern on March 14 in an NCAA quarterfinal contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
When the Princeton University women’s hockey team started the ECAC Hockey playoffs by surviving a three-game marathon against Quinnipiac, including winning a double overtime thriller in the decisive third game, it believed that experience could lead to a deep postseason run.
“I don’t think they realized how hard that first series was going to be,” said Princeton head coach Cara Morey. “I think it really prepared them for the next games.”
Facing a hard game in the semis on Saturday against a Clarkson team that had beaten it 2-1 on February 15, the Tigers rode a three-goal outburst in the second period to a 5-1 victory at Ithaca, N.Y.
“It was surreal, hockey is interesting, you can have a ton of chances and you can feel like they just never go in the net,” said Morey, who got goals from Solveig Neunzert, Shannon Griffin, Sarah Fillier, Kate Monihan and Maggie Connors in the win with goalie Steph Neatby making 29 saves.
“Then all of a sudden, pucks are finding the back of the net. They were good goals. Their goalie is excellent so we really had to make sure that she couldn’t see the puck as the shots were coming. I think that was a big factor.”
The next day in the championship game against No. 1 Cornell, which was undefeated in league play and posted a pair of regular season wins over the sixth-ranked Tigers (3-1 on November 2 and 5-1 on December 6), Princeton found itself trailing 2-0 three minutes into the game.
“After the second goal, I was thinking ugh, let’s just keep this respectable,” said Morey
“But after we all settled in and the girls started playing, the message was hey, it is fine, there is so much hockey left. It was 2-0 with 17 minutes left in the first period and 57 minutes left in the game. We had the advantage of less pressure, we weren’t expected to win. We knew we could win but the pressure was on Cornell.”
The Tigers put the pressure on the Big Red, getting goals from Fillier and Carly Bullock in the second period to tie the game at 2-2.
The foes remained knotted at 2-2 and the game headed into overtime. “I felt pretty confident that we were going to win the game,” said Morey, noting that the Tigers gained momentum as the contest unfolded. “Going into overtime, I said if we are going to be here, we might as well win this thing.”
Princeton ended up winning the game and its first-ever ECACH title as Mariah Keopple scored in the first minute of overtime to give the Tigers a 3-2 win before a crowd of 1,495 at Lynah Rink.
“I think that everyone was expecting them to hang their heads and proclaim defeat after the second goal went in,” said Morey.
“Our girls are different, they are down two goals in the first three minutes and they are just starting to dance. They are cheering and having fun on the bench and the momentum started to switch. They have so much grit and so much resiliency. They have won games in so many different ways now.”
While the team’s big three of Fillier, Connors and Bullock came up big over the weekend, Morey got contributions throughout the lineup.
“The second goal against Clarkson with Kayla Fillier to Annie McDonald to Shannon Griffin on the back door was one of the nicest goals I have seen all year,” said Morey
“It was awesome to see them do it. Kate Monihan got her first goal and Solveig Neunzert scored.”
Seeing the Tigers win the program’s first-ever ECACH crown was an awesome feeling for Morey.
“It is unbelievable, I truly believe we have the toughest league in college hockey,” said Morey, whose team improved to 26-6-1 with the win over Cornell.
“It is such an elite league and to come out as champions of that, it took me until today to process it. I woke up and it was, oh my god, we won the ECAC Championship. It is huge. I had no idea that Princeton had never even made it to the championship game. I looked on the trophy to see and it has been given out since 1984 so that is a bit shocking. It is such an honor to bring the cup back to Princeton. I feel like we have been on an upward trajectory for quite a few years so it is awesome to finally see us win.”
Princeton will look to keep winning as it heads to Boston, Mass. to play at No. 4 and third-seeded Northeastern (32-4-2) in the NCAA quarterfinals on March 14.
“I feel they are built a lot like us, it is going to be like playing against ourselves,” said Morey.
“They have a very similar lineup with some really high-end forwards. They have Alina Mueller who is up for the Patty Kazmaier Award. She is a Swiss player. They have a French player, Chloe Aurard, who is kind of like a Carly Bullock. They have Skylar Fontaine in the back that is like a Claire Thompson [Princeton star defenseman]. They have one of the best goalies in the country in Aerin Frankel.”
In order to earn a spot in the Frozen Four, the Tigers will be focusing as much on themselves as their opponent.
“We have to play our game; we beat teams with speed and tenacity,” said Morey.
“When we are all over them and we are on top of pucks, that is when we do well.”