MUCH BETTER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Olivia Mucha glides up the ice in recent action. On the mend from shoulder surgery that sidelined her much of last season, Mucha broke out last Friday with two goals in a 3-0 win over Union. The Tigers, now 5-7-2 overall and 2-6-2 ECACH, have a two-game set with Quinnipiac (!0-7-2 overall, 6-3-1 ECACH) this weekend, hosting the Bobcats on December 7 before playing them at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on December 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
After leading the Princeton University women’s hockey team in scoring as a freshman in the 2010-11 season, Olivia Mucha’s second college season didn’t go as well.
The 5’5 forward played only 12 games before suffering a season-ending shoulder injury that required surgery.
Mucha didn’t get back on the ice until this August as she skated at the Ice Line rink in her hometown of West Chester, Pa.
“I got to train with a lot of college age and junior boys at home so the physicality wasn’t much of a problem and being comfortable with my shoulder from my surgery,” said Mucha.
But Mucha suffered a setback once she arrived at Princeton for her junior year.
“I had a strep throat starting from the first day I got back and I had to get my tonsil and adenoids taken out,” said Mucha.
Coming into last Friday night’s game against visiting Union, Mucha was struggling to find her form, having scored two goals as she played in seven of Princeton’s first 12 games.
Over a 15-minute span in the second and third periods, Mucha started clicking, scoring two goals as Princeton skated to a 3-0 win.
With the Tigers knotted in a scoreless tie entering the second period, Mucha could feel the team pick things up.
“I think we honestly fed off each other’s energy, whether it is the line or the other teammates,” said Mucha, recalling a period which saw the Tigers score two goals to seize control of the contest.
“The defensemen were stepping up and getting the puck up. That is exciting for the forwards because we get to do our job, opening up things and it all started from there.”
It was exciting for Mucha to notch her first goal, a power play tally which gave the Tigers a 2-0 lead with 5:38 left in the period.
“I just remember that we were able to establish our power play,” said Mucha.
“We saw if we shot the puck and moved it quick, they were off angle. Gaby [Figueroa] was looking to the left and seeing it closed and then shooting it to get an opportunity, I just tried to screen the goalie.”
On her second goal, which came 8:49 into the final period, Mucha used her trademark grit.
“It was just Gaby getting a strong, hard shot on net,” said Mucha. “I don’t remember too much, I just remember it hitting my stick. Mostly, it was a scramble.”
For Mucha, her performance and the team’s solid win were heartening. “It was definitely a good step,” asserted Mucha.
“I think it has been tough for our team to establish what type of team we are from our graduation loss and mixing around players with some injuries. It has been an amazing feeling that our team, even so small, can be so dynamic.”
Having missed so much time due to injury, Mucha has dedicated herself to do whatever she can for the team whenever she is on the ice.
“No matter how great shape you are in, you are going to get tired, you are going to get frustrated,” said Mucha.
“I think everyone on the team hits that stage. Having these injuries, I know how much I get jealous when I watch. Even if I can’t get a goal, I am going to go out there and try to get the puck deep, do something smart.”
As Mucha gets up to full speed, she knows the Tigers have her back. “I am close to 100 percent; it’s all relative because it has been a struggle since I have been here,” said Mucha.
“I feel confident. I need to remember that if I am not 100 percent I have a team that will play with me. It doesn’t matter how one individual is.”
Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal acknowledged that his team struggled in the early going on Friday.
“We were definitely sluggish, we still battled but we weren’t really executing well,” said Kampersal.
“We were just a little bit sloppy in catching passes. Then in between the periods, those are the things that we talked about. This is almost like a de facto playoff weekend and we need all the points we can get now because we have more games than a lot of people so we need to accumulate them because people will catch up with us when we are in exams in January.”
Kampersal was glad to see Mucha accumulate some points in the win over Union.
“Mucha is still banged up,” said Kampersal. “She is just a heart and soul kid. Her freshman year, she was one of our top scorers and her sophomore year she was our top scorer for most of our season after only playing 12 games. She can provide the offense for us.”
The team’s three seniors, Kelly Cooke, Corey Stearns, and Alex Kinney, have been providing a spark for the Tigers.
“They stepped up, the seniors have been doing a good job all year, no question,” said Kampersal, who got three goals from Cooke and three assists from Stearns on Saturday in a losing cause as Princeton fell 4-3 to Rensselaer to move to 5-7-2 overall and 2-6-2 in ECAC Hockey play. “Cookie gets the first goal tonight; she has had a phenomenal year.”
Princeton got one of its best defensive efforts of the year in the win over Union as freshman goalie Kimberly Newell earned her first college shutout with 19 saves and defenseman Figueroa and Alleva each got two assists in addition to their strong play along the blue line.
“It was awesome; I thought Bri Mahoney was unreal, just in control,” said Kampersal.
“All of them were really good. Once again, if those four or five kids control it, we are in good shape.”
Although Princeton stubbed its toe against Renssalear, Kampersal believes his team is in a good place.
“I thought starting with the Clarkson game, it feels right on the bench, it feels right on the shift changes and it’s a good brand of hockey,” said Kampersal, whose team has a two-game set with Quinnipiac this weekend, hosting the Bobcats on December 7 before playing them at the TD Bank Sports Center in Hamden, Conn. on December 8.
“Now we are just trying to be a little more disciplined in terms of getting the puck and doing what we have to, controlling the blue lines and controlling the neutral zones.”
Mucha, for her part, realizes that the Tigers need a little more discipline. “We are able to communicate amongst each other and between the coaches and the players about what our weaknesses are,” said Mucha.
“It seems that we recognize that not all of us are going to be perfect but we have to realize that we have our weaknesses and work on those and just listen to what the coaches are saying instead of being stubborn.”