PU Women’s Hockey Edges Quinnipiac in Epic Series, Fillier Gets OT Goal as Tigers Make ECACH Semis
OVERJOYED: Princeton University women’s hockey players Sarah Fillier, right, and Maggie Connors celebrate after the Tigers scored last Friday in the opening game of their best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series against visiting Quinnipiac. The matchup turned into an epic battle as Princeton won the first game 5-1 before falling 3-2 in overtime on Saturday. A day later, sophomore Fillier scored the winning goal as Princeton pulled out a thrilling 3-2 victory in double overtime to win the series. Sixth-ranked Princeton, now 24-6-1 overall, will head to the ECACH Final 4 next weekend in Ithaca, N.Y. where it faces No. 7 Clarkson (25-5-6) in the semis on March 7 with the victor advancing to the title game a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Sarah Fillier sensed that Princeton University women’s hockey team was in for a tough fight as it hosted Quinnipiac in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey quarterfinal series last weekend at Hobey Baker Rink.
“We knew we were going to get their best game,” said sophomore forward Fillier.
“They are ranked 10th in the country. Arguably we play in the best league in the nation and we knew it was going to be a battle.”
The battle with the Bobcats turned into a war as sixth-ranked Princeton won the opener 5-1 on Friday but then fell 3-2 in overtime on Saturday as Quinnipiac forced a decisive game three on Sunday.
In the finale, Princeton built a 2-0 lead in the third period and was on the verge of victory before a feisty Quinnipiac squad responded with a pair of late goals to force overtime for a second straight day.
Princeton, though, was undaunted despite squandering the lead. “We are built for this, we strive with our fitness testing and lifts through the season,” said Fillier.
“We were ready for this game. We were prepared and we had confidence in that preparation. We just wanted to get back on the ice.”
In the first overtime, the Tigers outshot the Bobcats 16-5 and while neither team scored, Fillier sensed that the tide was turning in Princeton’s favor
“We definitely felt the momentum, we were bearing down,” said Fillier.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty goal that was going to go in. We were going to have to battle and force pucks deep.”
The epic battle ended in the second overtime when Fillier tallied the winning goal as she tipped in a rebound off a shot from senior star Carly Bullock 8:36 into the period.
“It was a 3-on-1 and I just wanted to get a pass early o try to get their goalie to have to move and get their defense to readjust,” said Fillier, recalling the sequence that led to the decisive tally.
“I wouldn’t want anyone else with the puck in the slot than Carly Bullock. I was happy she took that shot and luckily the goalie might have been tired and it came right to my stick.”
While Fillier was thrilled to get the game-winner, she was happier for the team than herself as she sent the the Tigers into the ECACH Final Four this weekend in Ithaca, N.Y. Sixth-ranked Princeton, now 24-6-1 overall, will face No. 7 Clarkson (25-5-6) in the semis on March 7 with the victor advancing to the title game a day later.
“It was exciting, just to get that one for the team and just end it for all of us,” said Fillier, a 5’5 native of Georgetown, Ontario who now has a team-high 54 points on 20 goals and 34 assists.
“It is just a team win. You can see when we score, everyone comes together and we are all hugging. It is also a huge thanks to our fans, they really kept us going.”
Fillier got things going for Princeton, tallying on a top corner blast with 6:27 left in the second period to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
“I just wanted to get a shot on net, I knew the goalie wasn’t looking too hot on the last few shots we took on her,” recalled Fillier.
“I tried to get it through. I knew there were two defenders and Maggie [Connors] was coming behind me. I thought they would anticipate me dropping it to her so I just put it on net and luckily it found the corner.”
Early in the third period Princeton went up 2-0 as Fillier picked up an assist on power play goal by senior defenseman Claire Thompson but that lead evaporated when the Bobcats scored two unanswered goals, coming at 3:50 and 1:27 left in regulation.
“It is a lot different playing with a lead and we were confident in that,” said Fillier.
“We were trying to stick to our systems. Unfortunately their second goal went off of one of our bodies.”
By sticking it out and ultimately coming through, Fillier believes Princeton will be steeled for a deep postseason run.
“We have definitely come together through this adversity,” asserted Fillier.
“We took a harder path than we hoped for and wanted to take. We got a lot out of this for our team and our culture.”
Princeton head coach Cara Morey concurred, believing that surviving the hard fight will benefit the Tigers.
“I am almost speechless, I can’t believe that we went through that,” said Morey.
“I think it is going to help us as we go on this path. We needed a lot of grit, a lot of mental toughness, and a lot of conditioning. I am still in shock, that was a battle.”
Morey was shocked that Princeton didn’t close the deal in regulation.
“I thought we were going to win it when it was 2-0, I thought we had it for sure,” said Morey.
“Even when it was 2-1, it was, it’s OK guys. We do have a lot of young players who are logging a lot of minutes right now and it’s hard to keep those emotions.”
Heading into OT, Morey looked to give her players an emotional lift.
“You just say this is our time, believe in your conditioning and believe in your preparation,” said Morey.
“We look like we just get stronger as the games go on. I feel like we have had really good third periods this whole series.”
With Quinnipiac goalie Abbie Ives making some point-blank stops, Morey’s confidence started to waver in first OT.
“I think we had like 16 shots on net, their goalie was outstanding,” said Morey.
“Some of those saves she made in overtime, it was oh my god. That was the only time that I started to wonder. It makes you nervous as a coach when you create all these chances and the goalie is coming up hot like that. She was unbelievable.”
When Princeton’s big three of Fillier, Maggie Connors, and Bullock got loose on their odd-man rush in the second overtime, Morey sensed that they would cash in on that chance.
“With Sarah, Maggie and Bully on that 3-on-1, you think if this doesn’t go in, we are not going to win,” said Morey.
“I didn’t think Sarah would move the puck that early. I love that she moved the puck so early to draw the defender away and then you want Bully to have that puck when it is crucial. Actually when it happened and Bully had the puck I thought we are winning. Then when I heard the sound of the save, I thought are you kidding me and then they started cheering. I was oh my gosh, there must have been a rebound.”
Giving junior Rachel McQuigge her first start in goal since February 15 after going with senior Steph Neatby in the first two games of the series, Morey was hoping that depth at that position would help Princeton win.
“We thought this is really taxing; we have two great goaltenders so we have the luxury of playing both,” said Morey of McQuigge, who ended up with 36 saves in the win.
“I was shocked at how well Quinnipiac’s goalie played because she must have been exhausted. For us, it was really just strategy. If we have two goalies who can go, why play a goalie three times in a row. Neatby played great, Quigs played great. It was really physiological.”
While Princeton proved it was up to the physical challenge of the grueling series, Morey believes that the character the Tigers displayed will mean just as much going forward.
“We developed a lot of grit and mental toughness going through that and coming out on top,” said Morey.
“Obviously they are going to have belief and they are going to know that the game doesn’t end until the game ends. They are going to keep going and going. I think the intangibles in the mental game there. It is going to help us in the end.”
Having defeated Clarkson 2-1 on November 22 before falling 2-1 to the Golden Knights on February 15, Morey knows her team will need to draw on those intangibles to make it to the title game against the victor of the other semi between No. 1 Cornell and No. 10 Harvard.
“I think it is going to be similar to these games, Clarkson plays similarly to Quinnipiac,” said Morey.
“They are really stifling on defense; they play a trap. It is hard for us to create speed through the neutral zone so we are going to have to come up with a strategy to help break that. It is stick to our game and try to let shine what we do well.”
Fillier, for her part, is ready for another hard-fought contest. “We love a good ECAC battle, we owe them one for the last game we had,” said Fillier.
“It is resting up now and getting everyone’s bodies right for this weekend. They are a good team. We have some video on them. We will just prepare and go in with confidence.”