PU Women’s Hockey Teammates Fillier, Thompson Back Together Skating for Canada at World Tourney
WORLD CLASS: Princeton University women’s hockey standouts Sarah Fillier, left, and Claire Thompson proudly wear the uniform of Team Canada as the team got ready to compete in the IIHF Women’s World Championship. Star forward Fillier, who completed her sophomore season for Princeton in 2019-20, and standout defenseman Thompson ’20 are currently skating for Canada at the Worlds in Calgary, Alberta which are slated to end on August 31. Fillier has tallied two goals so far in the tournament with Thompson chipping in three assists as Canada started Pool A action by defeating Finland 5-3 last Friday and then topping the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) 5-1 on Sunday. (Photo by Hockey Canada, provided courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)
By Justin Feil
Sarah Fillier and Claire Thompson are back to skating for a championship.
For the first time since the Princeton University women’s ice hockey team saw its 2020 season cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic after winning the program’s first ECAC Hockey title, the two will be on the same team. This time it’s Team Canada which hosts the IIHF Women’s World Championship from August 20-31 in Calgary, Alberta.
“Honestly it’s so cool,” said star forward Fillier. “To live out your dreams together with someone you’re so close with is so special. And having our 2020 season cut off short, it’s great to have another chance to play with her. It’s awesome.”
Fillier is the youngest player on Canada’s senior team at 21, but she doesn’t feel out of place. She took last year off from Princeton to train in an effort to make the senior team and emerged with one of the world roster spots for Canada out of the country’s centralized roster of 29.
“It’s huge,” said Fillier, a 5’5 native of Georgetown, Ontario, who totaled 114 points on 44 goals and 70 assists in first two seasons for the Tigers, earning AHCA second-team All-America, first-team All-ECAC, and first-team All-Ivy accolades along the way.
“Taking the year off and not being able to go back to Princeton, my priority was set on taking the year off and making this team and making worlds and getting centralized. I was happy to achieve that.”
Thompson graduated following the shortened 2020 campaign. She has since been training in a group of about 10 that includes Fillier. They have been meeting in the Toronto area before centralizing. Thompson also juggles working for an orthopedic surgeon and coaching some younger girls.
“I had made the Worlds team in 2020 also but that was unfortunately canceled due to the pandemic so it’s really exciting to play in this World Championship,” said the 5’8 Thompson, who hails from Toronto, Ontario, and tallied 87 points in her Princeton career with 31 goals and 56 assists.
“It was supposed to happen in April in Halifax and it was postponed to just a couple days before. This is the most anticipated tournament probably of my life. I’m definitely really excited to get out there and start playing some games.”
Fillier will also take this year off from Princeton as she plays in the world championships and then hopes to make the Canadian team for the 2022 Olympics that will be held in February in Beijing, China. She will be a junior when she returns to college hockey.
“She’s not going to be back until next fall,” said Princeton head coach Cara Morey.
“If she doesn’t make the Olympic team, she still wouldn’t come back until next fall. With COVID and now the centralizing, she’s going to have two years away from Princeton. And she’ll have two years when she comes back, and she’s going to be so good when she comes back and she’s that much older than everybody.”
Fillier and Thompson had the chance to train together in Toronto and work toward making the development camp and ultimately the centralized roster and World Championship team. They followed up training with development camp and some exhibition action within Canada’s program.
“Claire thinks the game in no way I’ve seen before,” said Fillier.
“I think that’s so huge at this level. She can see plays develop out of nowhere. She’ll make a move out of nowhere. She’s so ahead of everyone in making plays, and that’s such a skill to have. She can make a move and she’s fast and quick and has such a great shot, so she has all the attributes to be one of the best defenders on our team. And she definitely has the mind for it too.”
Thompson marvels at Fillier’s maturity beyond her years. “She’s been playing really well in both the practices and the two games,” said Thompson.
“I think she’s the youngest player on the team, but it definitely doesn’t seem like that at all on the ice. She’s playing with a lot of confidence and a lot of poise and I think she will be a strong contributing member of this team at the world championships.”
Making a big switch at Princeton helped Thompson land a spot on the centralized team. Recruited as center, she played both center and defense as a freshman before transitioning fully to defense for her final three seasons with the Tigers.
“She is a student of the game and she likes to outsmart her opponents and that’s more of a defensive thing,” said Morey.
“She knows what they’re going to try to do and then she’s going to bait them into doing what she really wants them to do, so her skill set and the way she thinks the game is definitely more suited for D.”
Fillier and Thompson are looking to provide strong play to Team Canada, which was disappointed to take only bronze in 2019. In the previous four world championships, they won silver, last winning gold in 2012.
“Going into any international event, Canada is always one of the favorites,” said Thompson.
“There are definitely a lot of expectations from ourselves and the public to perform at a high level. The way we manage it as a team is just focusing on our game and not getting caught up in what other teams are doing and what their game plans are. We know we have the talent and resources to succeed and we don’t need to look externally, so I think just focusing on ourselves and what we bring each and every day is how we manage the external expectations.”
The Princeton products are both ready to help Canada in any way they can. Neither knows for sure their role, and with it being their highest international experience yet, they are looking to see how exactly they can contribute best.
“Being on this team is amazing and I’m willing to take whatever role they give me, but I don’t want to lose my role and what got me to this level,” said Fillier, who has scored two goals in the tourney so far as Canada started Pool A action by defeating Finland 5-3 last Friday and the topping the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) 5-1 on Sunday.
“I’m still going to use my strengths and play to my strengths and adapt to where I am in the lineup.”
Fillier is a playmaker who can create scoring chances for others or for herself. She has a great mind for the game as well as blinding speed, which she combines with a competitive drive. It has helped push her to be better every year.
“I’m just a really motivated person,” said Fillier. “Whatever I do, I want to be the best at. I think that’s a huge contributing factor. I also think coming to Princeton, I was skilled and a good player before, but coming to Princeton, I found an environment and atmosphere and players and coaches that helped me flourish. That freshman year I really did blossom as a player, and that’s when I knew it could be possible to make this centralized roster for the 2022 Olympics.”
During her first two years at Princeton, Fillier elevated her play and leadership abilities. She was asked to understand the game better and take on a critical role early in her career. Those seasons helped to push her into position to compete for a spot on the Canadian senior team.
“When I was recruiting Sarah, you could tell that she was the best player in her age group right off the bat,” said Morey of Fillier, who served as a team captain during her sophomore campaign.
“And for Sarah it’s just going to be getting the experience at higher levels. Her first year, her rookie season, she was already outstanding. She was an All-American as a first-year player in our league, which is incredible. She plays the game on a different level than everyone else. She sees the game differently than everybody else.”
Thompson also sees the game uniquely. She can help a team as an offensive-minded defender who skates well, carries the puck well, and shoots accurately. Thompson grew over her four seasons at Princeton and has continued to raise her game while training with the Toronto group.
“I would say Princeton has prepared me quite well, about as well I could have hoped any college experience would,” said Thompson, who has picked up three assists so far at the Worlds.
“The senior level is much faster and more physical but the skills I was able to develop while at Princeton and the confidence the coaches had in me while I was there enabled me to be extremely creative when I was on the ice. They trained me very well. They gave me a lot of the basic skills necessary to be successful at this level.”
Now the two hope to be successful internationally. Princeton also had three other current players in Canada’s development camp. Maggie Connors, a junior, as well as freshmen Sarah Paul and Dominique Cormier showed well in tryouts. Two others who can’t be named by Morey because they are still in the admissions process also made the development camp. Princeton products Josefin Bouveng, who would have been an incoming freshman this year, will play for Sweden in the Olympics and Emma Kee, who skated as a freshman in 2019-20, will play for China.
“I feel really proud of all of them,” said Morey. “I think we had six or seven at national camp, between some incoming kids and some of our current players. They seem to transition really well when they go to the national program, specifically the Canadian one and it might be because we’re familiar with it so we help them know what to expect when they get there. We have really good players on our roster and we teach them to compete really hard and hopefully teach them how to play the game the right way so when they go to camp, they show really well.”
World championship players and staff came out of a mandatory five-day quarantine Monday, and squeezed in a few more practices before the championships began on Friday. Both are in a spot that they have been aiming for during their careers.
“It’s crazy because I remember leaving school early to watch the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver,” said Fillier.
“At that point, I was like 10 and I was watching Marie-Philip Poulin and a bunch of other huge names. Watching that, that was the moment when I was like, I want to go do that, I want to win Olympic gold. It’s cool that 10 years later I’m in this spot with people I watched on the TV. It’s super surreal.”
Thompson, for her part, has been working toward this just as long. And she had to make a position move and prove herself in a new spot to make the Canada senior national team.
“Making this team was always a goal of mine, especially leading into centralization and the Olympic year,” said Thompson.
“Obviously I was hopeful to make last year’s team and this year’s team to see how I stack up going forward into the Olympic year. At the end of this, I hope to make the Olympic team. It’s been a goal of mine for a long time. This opportunity is a step in the right direction for that goal.”
The two want to get their international experience off on the right foot at the world championships. They are anxious to return to playing meaningful games together, and chasing another title on an even bigger stage than the ECACH crown they took together is the next step for them after making the Canadian national team.
“I think it’s exciting,” said Fillier. “Claire and I haven’t had the opportunity to play a ton of games. But I think being able to play at the international level, this is something I’ve been waiting for for years now. I think there’s always pressure playing for Team Canada, but that just makes me more excited to go out and try to win a gold medal.”