January 4, 2017

PU Women’s Hockey Edges Quinnipiac As Koelzer Excels at Both Ends of the Ice

CAT FIGHT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Kelsey Koelzer controls the puck. Last Sunday, senior star and team captain Koelzer contributed two assists to help Princeton defeat Quinnipiac 3-2. It marked Princeton’s first win over the Bobcats since January, 2011 as it went 0-12-2 in the rivalry over the last six years. The Tigers, now 10-6-2 overall and 6-4-1 ECAC Hockey, host Dartmouth on January 6 and Harvard on January 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Returning to action after a 20-day holiday hiatus, the Princeton University women’s hockey team looked rusty as it hosted Penn State last Saturday.

Princeton fell behind 2-0 in the first period and trailed 3-1 in the second period before rallying to pull out a 5-5 tie with the Nittany Lions.

“Yesterday was a bit of a letdown for us, but we battled really hard,” said Princeton senior star and captain Kelsey Koelzer, reflecting on the Penn State game. “It was nice to battle back and pick up the tie.”

Hosting No. 8 Quinnipiac on Sunday, Princeton knew it was in for a battle.

“We knew if we gave them anything from the start, they are going to take advantage and it is going to be a big hole to dig out of,” said Koelzer, reflecting on a matchup that had seen Princeton go 0-12-2 in the last 14 meetings between the ECAC Hockey foes.

While the Tigers did fall into an early 1-0 hole against the Bobcats, they battled back to knot the game at 1-1 as freshman forward Carly Bullock found the back of the net midway through the period as Princeton took advantage of a 5-on-3 power play.

“I think we knew that there was plenty of time left, we knew that once we got used to the speed of the game and matched their speed and took it to them, we would draw more penalties,” said Koelzer, who assisted Bullock’s tally.

“Luckily we got the 5-on-3 and it was all a matter of utilizing our speed, going to the net and putting away the shots.”

In the second period, Princeton got two unanswered goals from Bullock to build a 3-1 lead.

“We knew if we kept up the speed that we might wear them down a little bit,” said Koelzer, who assisted on Bullock’s first goal of the period. “I think that was our mentality going into the second.”

Over the final 20 minutes of the contest, Princeton utilized a survival mentality to hold off the Bobcats and earn a 3-2 win, their first victory over Quinnipiac since January, 2011.

“We definitely weathered the storm there with some consecutive penalty kills,” said Koelzer, reflecting on a period which saw Princeton hold the fort in the waning moments when the Bobcats pulled their goalie for an extra attacker in addition to killing the two early penalties.

“It was all in blocking shots and taking advantage of the icings we could get.”

Koelzer was proud of how the Tigers stymied the Bobcats. “The defensive effort overall was on another level from yesterday especially,” said Koelzer.

“We recognized our breakdowns. We recognized where the opportunities were coming in terms of defense and using our neutral zone well and using our d-partners well, breaking out the puck and using our wings. It was using our defense all over the ice.”

Freshman goalie Steph Neatby played at a high level in the win, making 29 saves.

“They have some serious skill, she had some key saves at key times, especially in the third,” said Koelzer.

“It gave us confidence up front to keep pushing and keep forechecking. We knew if we gave up an odd-man rush or an opportunity, she would be back here.”

Koelzer, a first-team All-American defenseman last year, has been asked to utilize her skills at forward at times this winter to help give the Tigers a lift.

“As a whole, I did appreciate the move; I think it was a spark plug for me and the team,” said Koelzer, a 5’9 native of Horsham, Pa., who now has five goals and 14 assists this season.

“I think we have definitely picked it up since then. I think it is all getting out of your comfort zone, changing things up. You get new looks and you may have different opportunities once you are in the back end. For me, it is a bit of an adjustment but I think just having the opportunity to go up and back and maybe catch teams off guard is an advantage.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal liked the way his team picked things up after falling behind 1-0 to the Bobcats.

“It was a huge goal, the 5-on-3,” said Kampersal. “Those are the times that you have to score a goal. We got another power play goal which was huge. They don’t give up much, they are really stingy. They keep people under 20 shots for a lot of their games so we did a good job of getting the puck to the net.”

The Tigers did a good job at the defensive end in a nerve-wracking third period which saw Quinnipiac outshoot Princeton 13-8 over the last 20 minutes and score a goal with 51 seconds left in regulation.

“We were still playing to win,” said Kampersal. “We didn’t kill the penalties well up until the second period and then we started to figure out how we needed to cover. We blocked a ton of shots. We just did things that we needed to do to win. I know that Kelsey blocked three shots in a row;
(Karlie) Lund blocked a big shot. There were big plays by everybody.”

In Kampersal’s view, Koelzer is doing a lot to help the Tigers win by taking turns at forward when needed.

“It is probably a little difficult for her, we had an issue with manpower against Penn State so she had to play up front,” said Kampersal.

“Most likely she will stay in the back. We put her up on the front against RPI, Union, just on that weekend. She needed a jolt or a change of pace. She has been dominant in the back since she has been back there.”

Goalie Neatby produced a dominant performance in the win over the Bobcats.

“She is big in net physically, No. 1, and she is athletic, No. 2, so she does a good job in the back,” said Kampersal.

Bullock’s athleticism and grit at forward has made a difference for the Tigers as she now has nine goals on the season after the hat trick against the Bobcats.

“The kid is very determined and very competitive; she works hard,” said Kampersal of Bullock.

“She probably gets six-to-eight shots a game so she is getting her chances so I was glad to see them go in for her.”

With Princeton, now 10-6-2 overall and 6-4-1 ECAC Hockey, good for fourth place in the league standings, Kampersal is looking for his players to keep competing hard.

“We have a five-game ECAC stretch and they are all important,” said Kampersal, whose team hosts Dartmouth on January 6 and Harvard on January 7.

“Dartmouth beat us up there. We beat Harvard up there so they will be looking to play hard against us so it will be good battle.”

Koelzer, for her part,
believes that the win over Quinnipiac is a harbinger of good things to come for the Tigers.

“This was huge, the start of 2017, hoping to be a new season for our team,” said Koelzer.

“This is a team that the seniors have never beaten. It was a lot of pride for us especially, knowing that we have conquered Q-Pac. At this point but we have to keep it going into the next two weekends because they are just as big, both for ECAC and Ivy.”