March 1, 2017

PU Women’s Hockey Shows Heart and Soul, Overcoming Quinnipiac in ECACH Quarters

JUMPING FOR JOY: Princeton University women’s hockey player Carly Bullock celebrates after scoring a goal for Princeton last Friday against Quinnipiac in Game 1 of the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals. After falling 3-2 in triple overtime on Friday, Princeton bounced back to win 2-0 on Saturday and 2-1 on Sunday to prevail in the best-of-three series. The eighth-ranked Tigers, now 20-9-3, head to the ECACH Final Four where they will host and play third-ranked Clarkson (27-4-5) in the semis on March 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University women’s hockey team had split the first two games against Quinnipiac in the best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series last weekend, Molly Contini was brimming with confidence heading into the decisive third game on Sunday.

“We were able to win pretty convincingly yesterday,” said Princeton senior forward and assistant captain Contini, reflecting on a 2-0 win on Saturday that came after a 3-2 triple overtime loss in the opening game on Friday.

“We woke up today and we knew we were the better team. We just needed to come in and work hard and we would get the win.”

Contini displayed some good work early in the decisive game, tallying a power play goal 15:06 into the contest to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“It was crazy, I thought Kelsey Koelzer’s shot was going to bounce in,” recalled Contini.

“It was a long one from the red line; she beat the defenseman and took the defense with her. I just tried to get in front of the net, the puck came out and I tried to put it in far side.”

Just over two minutes later, Contini assisted on a goal by Sylvia Wallin as Princeton went ahead 2-0.

“That was huge; they are such a tight-checking team and a good skating team,” said Contini, a 5’8 native of Arthur, Ontario who now has 94 points in her college career on 47 goals and 47 assists.

“If you have the momentum you really have to take advantage of it or else you don’t know when you are going to get a chance again. We really wanted to make sure that we capitalized when we had them on their heels a little.”

In the second period, eighth-ranked Princeton was on its heels, weathering a storm from the No. 10 Bobcats, who outshot the Tigers 11-3 in the period but couldn’t find the back of the net. In the third period, Princeton got back in rhythm as the teams each had 12 shots over the last 20 minutes with the Tigers holding on to win 2-1 and advance to the ECACH semis.

“I think there were a lot of good blocked shots; we had a lot of chip outs,” said Contini.

“Steph Neatby (freshman goalie) was huge for us. I think good teams find a way to win and we found a way to get through that period and it was a little more even in the third period. I think we picked it up.”

For Contini, picking up the win over the Bobcats in her Baker Rink finale will stand as an indelible memory.

“I wouldn’t have it any other way; it has been four years for us seniors,” said Contini.

“From freshman year, we didn’t even make playoffs and then we were sixth and then last year with the NCAA tournament. We have just kept building every year. It is really special to finish it out on a good note at Baker.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal liked the way his team started building momentum midway through the first period.

“Actually the first five minutes weren’t necessarily that great tonight,” said Kampersal.

“But probably around the 11 minute mark, we got the surge back. To get those two goals was huge.”

The Tigers made a huge statement in rebounding from the disappointing loss in the series opener which saw Princeton squander a 2-0 lead.

“To have that tough loss on Friday and come back and almost shut them out twice was pretty awesome,” said Kampersal, whose team improved to 20-9-3 and will play host and third-ranked Clarkson (27-4-5) in the ECACH semis on March 4 with the winner advancing to the title game the next day against the victor of the Cornell/St. Lawrence semifinal.

“They have a lot of guts, heart and soul; there were so many blocked shots that happened out there, there were little chips off the wall and things like that. They made enough plays to win the game and Neatby is awesome in net when it breaks down. She is really good back there.”

Neatby, for her part, was inspired by the way her teammates repeatedly dropped to the ice to thwart Bobcat shot attempts.

“It was amazing, I loved every minute of it,” said the 6’0 Neatby, who made 29 saves in the win.

“My teammates were blocking shots left and right. I really didn’t have that much work in the first period. It was crazy, they were diving all over the place, playing their hearts out. It was awesome.”

Like Kampersal, Neatby is proud of the heart the Tigers exhibited this weekend.

“I think it was pretty tough for us all, we showed good resilience,” added Neatby.

“In my mind, we played technically four games so it was pretty intense. I think we just showed that we can do anything.”

In Kampersal’s view, his group of seniors, which has been dubbed the “Magnificent 7,” and includes Cassidy Tucker, Morgan Sly, Audrey Potts, Fiona McKenna, Kelsey Koelzer, Molly Strabley, and Contini, made the difference in the hard-fought battle with the Bobcats.

“It is indicative of having the seven seniors on the team that can urge the rest of them on,” said Kampersal, reflecting on advancing past the quarterfinals of the ECAC playoffs for the first time since 2005-06.

“They lost one of their seniors. We had a greater number of seniors and that paid off for us.”

That force of will could prove pivotal as Princeton looks to upset powerhouse Clarkson, which went 2-0 against the Tigers in regular season meetings this winter, posting a 4-2 win on November 5 and a  3-1 victory on February 11.

“We are definitely going to be ready for them; I thought we played a really good game both times,” said Kampersal.

“I think we were one goal with an empty net in each game. Hopefully we go in there and play strong. It will be a good experience for our players for sure. People were coming in last year saying where are the Ivies at in that Final 4 tournament. We are here and we are coming.”

Contini, for her part, believes that the Tigers are coming into the game with a lot of confidence.

“They are are a very disciplined team, they have some very good players,” said Contini.

“We have played them two games really closely. We probably could have beaten them on the road so I think we are excited to get another crack at them and hopefully be able to handle them. It is one game, that is different for us so we are just going to work hard and anything can happen.”

The team’s group of seniors is excited for the chance to extend their careers deep into March.

“I think we are all on the same page; we just want to keep this going as long as possible,” said Contini.

“None of us are really ready to say goodbye. We are just focusing on one game at a time and hopefully we will keep this going for a couple of more weeks.”