Lacking the Firepower that Helped 2020 Team Dominate, PU Women’s Hockey to be Feisty As It Gets Back on Ice
SHARPSHOOTER: Princeton University women’s hockey player Maggie Connors fires a shot in a 2019 game. Junior forward Connors figures to be the go-to-goal scorer for Princeton as it gets back in action after its 2020-21 campaign was canceled due to COVID-19 concerns. The Tigers will head north to start the season, playing at Yale on October 29 and at Brown on October 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
When the Princeton University women’s hockey team was last in action in March 2020, it rode a high-powered offense for its first ECAC Hockey championship and was poised for a big run in the NCAA tournament.
Princeton averaged 3.7 goals a game that winter and set a program record for wins as it went 26-6-1, only to see the season abruptly halted due to the pandemic. Subsequently, the 2020-21 campaign was canceled due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
With the Tigers returning to the ice this weekend with games at Yale (2-0) on October 29 and at Brown (0-1-1) on October 30, it will bringing a gritty mindset.
“It is a very different team and we have to have a different personality; we are going to have a little bit of a different style of play,” said Princeton head coach Cara Morey.
“We probably don’t have that potent high-end offense without Sarah [Fillier], Carly [Bullock], and Claire [Thompson] who were scoring goals for us. We might have to be a little more disciplined and focus on the d-zone a little bit more. The games might be lower scoring. We are just going to have to know that we might have to have a different identity.”
While the Tigers may not be scoring as many goals, its players are thrilled to be back in action.
“Everyone is so happy to be back and so excited,” said Morey.
“Grateful is one of our core values, but it really resonates right now. They appreciate things for sure on a different level.”
That appreciation has been reflected in a commitment to conditioning.
“The fitness testing in the preseason was the best we have ever seen so now we have to figure out if that will translate to the ice and the games,” said Morey.
“They look in really good shape, so the question is going to be like hockey shape. Game shape is totally different. They are definitely ready to go but we scrimmaged against Riveters and you could tell that they hadn’t played a lot of five on five in the last 18 months. We have a pretty young team.”
Morey is really good year from junior forward Maggie Connors, who tallied 22 goals and 25 assists in the 2019-20 campaign.
“Maggie looks great, she is just so fast, so dynamic and so offensively threatening,” said Morey.
“I do think she almost overplayed a little at the beginning because she feels this sense of responsibility to really step up in the role. She is going to find her way, we have moved her around a bit, giving her different people.”
Senior captains Sharon Frankel (nine goals, 16 assists) and Shannon Griffin (6 goals, 6 assists) along with junior Kayla Fillier (one goal, two assists), and senior Sarah Verbeek will be providing a veteran presence at forward.
“Sharon and Shannon are great, they look like veterans,” said Morey.
“Frankel is Frankel, you always know what you are going to get from her, nothing less than 100 percent effort. The kid just goes and goes. Griffin has maturity in her game. She is scrappy but she knows when to go, she knows where to go. We have Kayla who just provides awesome leadership, she is so quiet but everyone looks to her for that calming leadership presence. Sarah is back after being out two years. She is a really strong power forward and is doing what we need her to do.”
A quartet of freshmen, Sarah Paul, Mia Coene, Grace Kuipers, and Ellie Marcovsky, figure to make a big contribution.
“Sarah is elite, her shot is better than anyone’s I have seen,” said Morey.
“It is so hard and so accurate, her release is lightning quick. Her shot is heavy, even if it hits the goalie it is going to go in, she is just so strong. Mia is looking awesome, she is just a 200-foot player. She works all over the ice, she is a little bit like Frankel that way but a bigger version. Grace has a lot of offensive instincts. Ellie, who we got from Robert Morris, is just a sneaky little player.”
On defense, junior Mariah Keopple (five goals, 11 assists), sophomore Stef Wallace (two goals, four assists), and junior Solveig Neunzert (two goals, seven assists) should provide some good work this winter.
“Mariah looks great, she is so fit, she knows the game and she manages the puck well,” said Morey.
“Stef looks awesome, she can carry the puck from end to end and people seem to bounce off her. Solveig was in Germany and she was playing a little there so the transition has been a lot easier for her than the others.”
Freshman defenseman Dominique Cormier appears to be making a smooth transition to the college level.
“Dom is going to be excellent,” said Morey. “She has got really great instincts, she was with Team Canada, We are expecting her to step up and fill big minutes.”
At goaltender, senior Rachel McQuigge (1.51 goals against average, .933 save percentage in 2019-20), junior Cassie Reale (1.00 GAA, .933 save pct.) and freshman Jennifer Olnowich have the ability to step up between the pipes.
“All three have done a great job this preseason,” said Morey. “Cassie worked her butt off all summer and came in ready to go. Rachel has got the most experience for sure. Jen was surprisingly good again Riveters. We hadn’t seen her in two years because of COVID. We have confidence in all three that they can play. I don’t know that they will but it is good to know that they can.”
Morey is confident that her team will give a good effort every night.
“They are great, they are just so eager to play,” said Morey. “We are going to design our game plan to this group and their skills and strengths. They are going to be a fast, feisty, hardworking team.”
With other teams having started their season, Morey knows her players can’t be too feisty as they return to action this weekend.
“Everybody else is already playing so we are kind of getting antsy,” said Morey.
“Controlling your emotions and excitement is going to be one of the big factors. We want that to feed into it and be excited but we have got to stay in control.”