November 16, 2022

With Olympian Fillier Finding a Rhythm in her Return, PU Women’s Hockey Posts Weekend Sweep of Syracuse

RETURN ENGAGEMENT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sarah Fillier controls the puck in recent action. Junior forward Fillier starred as Princeton swept a two-game set against Syracuse last weekend. She tallied a goal and an assist as the Tigers prevailed 4-2 on Friday and then added an assist in a 1-0 Princeton win a day later. Fillier, who is returning to Princeton after a two-year hiatus which saw her help the Canadian national women’s team win two world championships and an Olympic gold medal, is leading Princeton in scoring with six points on three goals and three assists. The Tigers, now 3-3 overall and 1-3 ECAC Hockey, host St. Lawrence on November 18 and Clarkson on November 19. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Sarah Fillier took a two-year hiatus from the Princeton University women’s hockey team to join the Canadian women’s national team and emerged as an international star in the process.

High-scoring forward Fillier helped Canada win the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships in 2021 and 2022 as well as the gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Olympics. At the Olympics, Fillier tallied eight goals to rank second among all players in the tournament, and had 11 points to stand sixth.

For Fillier, earning Olympic gold proved to be a highlight of her time away from Princeton.

“A lot has happened; I think winning Olympic gold is a highlight for sure,” said Fillier, a 5’5 native of Georgetown, Ontario. “That is what I grew up dreaming about. Every decision I made in hockey and the decision to come to Princeton was with that in mind. For it to come true and happen, was the coolest experience of my life.”

It is cool for junior Fillier to be back at Princeton to resume her college career.

“It has been exciting, it has been a long wait to come back,” said Fillier. “I have been waiting to come back. To be back on campus and in school and playing with the girls has been a lot of fun.”

Playing with twin sister Kayla, who is in her senior year at Princeton, has been particularly fun for Fillier.

“It has been great, if COVID didn’t happen and I was away at the Olympics, we would have never had the chance to play together for her senior year,” said Fillier. “It is nice. We grew up playing hockey together. To see her grow as a player and a person and watch her develop from a fan’s point of view, it is just really cool to see her live her dream out.”

Living out her dreams on the world stage had helped Fillier grow as player.

“I think I am a completely different player, training and playing with national team players for two years, girls that are 10 years older with a lot of national experience, I brought a lot of strength to my game and a lot more speed,” said Fillier. “At the international level, if you are not quick and explosive, you really have no time to make plays or make any good decisions. I think those two are the biggest things for me — strength and speed.”

Fillier’s strength and speed has been put to the test this winter as Princeton’s foes have been customarily throwing two or three defenders at her.

“It  gives me a bit of a flashback to midget hockey in Canada,” said Fillier. “People would post players on me to try to get under my skin a bit and whenever I have the puck, throw a lot of pressure and bodies. I think back and this is happening six or seven years later. I have some experience with it so hopefully that works out.

Last weekend as Princeton hosted Syracuse for a two-game set, things worked out for Fillier. She tallied a goal and an assist as the Tigers prevailed 4-2 on Friday and then added an assist in a 1-0 Princeton win a day later.

“For me, it is just trying to adapt my game to be effective at the college level, it is still a work in progress but it is nice to see some success,” said Fillier, who has been playing on a line with freshmen Katherine Khramtsov and Issy Wunder.

“There have been a lot of conversations with Cara [Princeton head coach Morey] about how to adapt my game. I need to slow down a bit, I need to work open being solid defensively. My line is playing a lot of minutes so it is just about conserving energy and making smart reads. The college game is really so much different from international. Personally I expect a little bit more of myself but hopefully with some more experience with my linemates and a bit more work on my game myself, we can get a bit more offense.”

While Fillier is not currently on a line with Maggie Connors, who she played with a lot in her first two seasons with Princeton, she is enjoying being reunited with her.

“Maggie is an exciting player to watch; if you watch her goal against Syracuse, it is definitely a highlight reel, Top 10 goal,” said Fillier. “That is what you can expect from Maggie every weekend. It has been great, we have a ton of chemistry. I think we can always go back to that as linemates.”

While it is exciting to have Fillier back on the squad, Princeton head coach Morey acknowledges that her star forward has been adjusting to all the attention she is getting from opponents.

“She has been getting points for us the whole time,” said Morey of Fillier, who is Princeton’s leading scorer with six points on three goals and three assists and had totaled 114 points on 44 goals and 70 assists in her first two college seasons. “It is just whatever people’s expectations are. She is still over a point a game even though our team hasn’t been scoring as much. She is double and triple-teamed every night.”

Starting the set against Syracuse by scoring three goals in the first period on Friday gave the Tigers a shot in the arm.

“We needed that, we knew the dam was going to break at some point,” said Morey. “They were all really nice goals too, it wasn’t anything flukey.”

Going on to get the weekend sweep was a nice step forward for the squad, which is now 3-3 overall and 1-3 ECAC Hockey.

“We started our season probably harder than anyone else in the country with three top-10 teams in our first four games,” said Morey. “It is going to help us in the end, but it never feels good when you are 1-3 to start your season. They needed to play some good hockey and come out with a couple of wins.”

Morey acknowledges it will take a while for the Tigers to get fully in synch.

“We are getting there, I think we are still a couple of months away from being where we want to be,” said Morey. “There are so many young players right up front right now. I think it is going to be the second semester where you see the team that we know we have.”

With Princeton hosting St. Lawrence on November 18 and Clarkson on November 19, Morey knows her team will be getting tested once again.

“We are still focusing on us a lot because we need to do what we do well,” said Morey. “Our league is the best league in the country, so it so going to be crazy. It is going to be two really hard games again. Clarkson is a top-10 team in the country so there is our fourth one in eight games. St. Lawrence is always one of the most difficult teams, they play so hard. They are unpredictable so that is what is tricky as a coach.”

In Fillier’s view, sweeping Syracuse should help the Tigers do well as they get back into ECACH action.

“This weekend was what we needed, walking away with two wins,” said Fillier. “We wanted just to be able to build confidence out of these games. Getting everyone on our roster in and playing and gaining some experience is a perfect shift into Clarkson and St. Lawrence. I think we need to build on all of the positive things that we did this weekend. It is just continuing to build that offensive chemistry and bearing down on scoring chances.”