For the Princeton University women’s hockey program, the players in its Class of 2012 left an indelible impact.
The group of Ann-Marie Elvin, Julie Johnson, Heather Landry, co-captain Charissa Stadnyk, co-captain Paula Romanchuk, Danielle DiCesare, and Rachel Weber were immediate contributors when they joined the program in 2008.
Over the next four seasons, they provided production, leadership, and spirit in helping Princeton remain in the upper echelon of ECAC Hockey.
As the Tigers got together and started going through their paces in preparation for the 2012-13 campaign, the void was apparent to Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal.
“In preseason, a lot of the players couldn’t get over the fact that Paula and Rachel and those kids are gone,” said Kampersal, whose team went 12-15-4 overall last winter to finish seventh in the ECACH standings and ended up falling to Harvard in the league quarterfinals. “The preseason was a little fractured, different kids were doing different things.”
As the Tigers look forward to opening the season by playing at Rochester Institute of Technology on October 19 and Robert Morris on October 20, Kampersal senses that a new team identity is being forged.
“Since the first practice, things have come together,” said Kampersal, a former Princeton men’s hockey star who is in his 17th season at the helm of the program and is also the head coach of the U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team. “Our group this year is good. We just need some more team bonding.”
The Tigers took a good step last weekend as they topped the Toronto Jr. Aeros 4-1 on Friday and Brown 4-2 the next day in two exhibition contests.
“We played pretty well; we had good production offensively,” said Kampersal. “We need to get better defensively; our power play needs to be a little better.”
Kampersal is confident that freshman goalie Kimberly Newell can emerge as a reliable last line of defense along the lines of Weber, who developed into one of the top goalies in the ECACH.
“Newell is young but she comes with a lot of experience,” said Kampersal, who will be using sophomore Ashley Holt as his backup goalie. “She is legit. She played on the Canada U-18 team; she is one of the top goalie recruits in the country.”
The Tigers welcome back their two top scoring forwards from a year ago in Sally Butler (26 points on 15 goals and 11 assists in 2011-12) and team captain Denna Laing (22 points on 11 goals and 11 assists). In addition, talented junior Olivia Mucha (10 points on 4 goals and 6 assists in 12 games) should return to action as she battles back from shoulder surgery.
“Both Butler and Laing are strong,” asserted Kampersal of the junior stars. “Mucha is back; she may be out the next 8-10 days but she should help us.”
The Tigers will also need help from a group of veteran forwards which includes senior assistant captain Kelly Cooke (9 points on 4 goals and 5 assists) and classmates Alex Kinney (7 points on 3 goals and 4 assists) and Corey Stearns (6 points on 3 goals and 3 assists) together with sophomore Brianna Leahy (9 points on 6 goals and 3 assists).
“We need the seniors and juniors to lead the way,” said Kampersal. “We have good freshmen. They are good players but they need older players to help them get up to speed.”
The defensive unit will need to be good as the Tigers don’t boast much depth along the blue line. Junior assistant captain Gabie Figueroa (7 points on 2 goals and 5 assists) and classmate Rose Alleva (8 points on 2 goals and 6 assists) should form one defensive pair with sophomores Ali Pankowski (13 points in 3 goals and 10 assists) and Brianne Mahoney (5 points on 2 goals and 3 assists) working together. Promising freshman Karen MacDonald figures to get plenty of ice time as well.
“Gabi and Rosie will lead the way; Pankowski and Mahoney have to step up,” said Kampersal.
“MacDonald is a steady Eddie; she is a good learner. She just needs to adjust to the speed of the game. All of the kids are going to play a ton; they are going to have to work hard.”
Kampersal realizes that his team is going to have to put in some good work to have a successful opening weekend.
“We don’t know much about RIT; they were Division III champs last year and are making the move up to Division I,” said Kampersal.
“They brought in some transfers; it is going to be a big weekend for them. We played Robert Morris last year and they have some real good players. They picked up some players from Niagara when that program was discontinued. It is going to be a long road trip; we are going to Rochester and then heading to Pittsburgh.”
As he looks ahead to the season, Kampersal believes his squad has what it takes to maintain the legacy of last year’s seniors.
“I want them to play hard, play smart, and be tough; we expect to compete in the ECAC,” maintained Kampersal.
“We don’t know where we will end up; it is a really tight league. We need goaltending and defense to be solid; we have to tighten up in the D-zone. Our power play has to be good; it was substandard last year.”