Keeping Up Her Hot Play in Final Weekend at Baker Rink, Senior Star Connors Helps PU Women’s Hockey to Sweep
SENIOR SURGE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Maggie Connors looks for the puck in a game earlier this season. Senior star forward Connors enjoyed a big final regular season weekend at Hobey Baker Rink, tallying two assists in a 3-2 overtime win over Union on Friday to help Princeton clinch a spot in the upcoming ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, and contributing an assist as the Tigers topped Rensselaer 4-3 in overtime a day later. Princeton, which has now posted five straight wins to improve to 14-11-1 overall and 10-10 ECACH, plays at Clarkson on February 17 and at St. Lawrence on February 18 to wrap up regular season play. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
For Maggie Connors, taking the ice last weekend for her final regular season action at Hobey Baker Rink with the Princeton University women’s hockey team was a long time coming.
“I took a gap year, I feel like it was never going to arrive,” said Princeton senior forward Connors, a 5’6 native of St. John’s, Newfoundland, and Labrador, Canada.
“The fact that I came here in 2018, it feels like I have been here forever. That doesn’t make me want to leave in any way. It definitely feels like I have gone through it for a while.”
As Princeton started the Senior Weekend by hosting Union Friday evening, it looked like the Tigers were never going to score as they trailed 1-0 after two periods despite outshooting the Dutchwomen 29-7.
“Credit to their goalie [Sophie Matsoukas], she played well and we peppered her,” said Connors who generated eight shots on goal in the first two periods and pounded her stick against her helmet in frustration at one point when one of her shots was turned away. “I think we could have had some better quality chances. We talked about getting in front of her more, they were getting all of the rebounds.”
Early in the third period, Connors helped Princeton cash in on a chance, picking up an assist on a power play goal by fellow senior Kayla Fillier.
“On that power play, I shot for the far pad on a one timer,” said Connors. “I thought Annie [Kuehl] was going to put it in and then Kayla was able to do it.”
Minutes later, Connors picked up a second assist on a 2-on-1 rush as she slotted the puck to Fillier, who banged it home for her second goal of the contest.
“I was going for Sarah [Fillier] because they were on Kayla but right before I passed it the girl faded away to Sarah and Kayla was wide open,” said Connors. “They are both really smart, they are both in the right spot. I was going to hit one them and Kayla was there.”
Union responded by scoring a late goal to force overtime but Princeton prevailed 3-2 as freshman Emerson O’Leary scored a power play goal midway through the five-minute extra session.
“I would take our team in overtime but they were good,” said Connors, reflecting on the win which clinched a spot in the upcoming ECACH quarterfinals for the Tigers. “They pushed, they had a few chances and Jen [Olnowich] came up big. We have some strategies and we talk a lot about them in practice. We go over three on three and what is best for us. We were lucky enough that we got a power play.”
A day later, Connors chipped in an assist as Princeton edged Rensselaer 4-3 in overtime, improving to 14-11-1 overall and 10-10 ECAC Hockey and posting its fifth straight win.
Connors has played a key role in Princeton’s late surge, having tallied five goals and six assists in the winning streak, getting named as the ECACH Co-Forward of the Week earlier this month.
“It is nice to be where I am. Individually, I am on a roll compared to the first half,” said Connors, who now has 26 points on 13 goals and 13 assists this season and 138 points in her career on 74 goals and 64 assists.
“That doesn’t come without linemates. Lines have been shifting and playing with Sarah and Emma Kee or both of them, they make it really easy. On a lot of my goals, I am able to just shoot it and have a lane because they create it for me.”
Reuniting on the same line with Sarah Fillier, who took a two-year hiatus from Princeton to play for the Canadian women’s national team and win a gold medal at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing.
“We had to find our stride again after being separated for two years and her accomplishing incredible things,” said Connors. “Playing with her, she makes it so easy. She sends no-look throws to me and I can just tell where she is on the ice. I have been playing with her for so long. She makes it easy, that is for sure.”
Princeton has found its stride collectively after posting an 11-2 win over Quinnipiac on January 29.
“It was one of the strangest games I have ever played so I don’t exactly know how we can build on it,” said Connors. “I think the biggest thing is, one, it showed us that we can compete with any team in the country and, two, we have the ability to score. It is like we know how to score and it is going to come if you keep trying. Three, it gave us confidence in the second half. I would rather have it now than in the early half. I think confidence is huge.”
Princeton head coach Cara Morey cites her huge senior group with having a huge impact on the program.
“It has changed a little bit because of COVID, they are definitely a special class,” said Morey of the class which includes Mariah Keopple, Solveig Neunzert, and Chloe Harvey in addition to Connors and Kayla Fillier. “They are a bunch of hockey kids and the last four-five years have been awesome with them.”
Morey acknowledged that the Tigers didn’t have an awesome start against Union.
“There is so much grabbing and clutching and hooking; it is like man on man and they are just kind of pulling at everybody,” said Morey. “It was frustrating for our players. It is hard when the first couple don’t go in and you hit a crossbar here or there. Then your emotions start to take over.”
The Tigers overcame that frustration by cashing in on power plays.
“It was just keep going, just stay calm,” said Morey. “It was great because I think we got three power play goals tonight, which was great because our power play hadn’t necessarily been clicking.”
Morey was excited to see two of her seniors, Fillier and Connors, click in the win over Union.
“Kayla was awesome, she does what she needs to do,” said Morey. “She has always got her stick in the right place so that was great. Maggie does what Maggie does.
She is speed, she is crafty. She was great.”
In reflecting on Princeton’s great effort against Quinnipiac, Morey believes that outburst stemmed from the team’s resilience as it fought through a five-game losing streak in January.
“That Quinnipiac game was an outlier; I think we have been outplaying most teams all year long and then it is just a matter of whether that puck goes in the net or it doesn’t,” said Morey. “It has been tricky to coach because you can’t make a ton of adjustments when you are out-chancing teams 5-10 chances every game. You can’t make it go into the net. It is building a lot of character down there in the locker room and I like the fact that they are still fighting.”
With the Tigers playing at Clarkson on February 17 and at St. Lawrence on February 18 to wrap up regular season action, Morey believes her squad’s late surge will make it a dangerous foe in the postseason.
“Our hope is that we are really hot as we head into playoffs,” said Morey. “I think that people are generally scared of the Tigers in the playoffs and I think this year is going to be like the rest.”
Connors, for her part, believes that Princeton is in a good groove as it heads into the ECACH quarterfinals.
“I would take our team in the playoffs, I think we are obviously dangerous,” said Connors. “That is what we talk about, no matter if they are first or if they are unranked, whoever it is, as long as we play hard with effort and attitude, we don’t want anyone to come out and think we are easy to play against. You look at our season, it is tough to understand but we are on a roll. You just focus on the game before and what kind of things can you learn going into the next game. I am excited for playoffs.”