February 28, 2024

Fillier Saving Her Best for Last for PU Women’s Hockey, Starring as Tigers Top Dartmouth in ECACH Playoff Opener

GOING OUT WITH A BANG: Princeton University women’s hockey player Sarah Fillier, right, races up the ice in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star forward and team captain Fillier tallied three goals and an assist to help seventh-seeded Princeton top 10th-seeded Dartmouth 5-1 in a single-elimination contest in the opening round of the ECAC Hockey tournament. The Tigers, now 14-10-6 overall, will play at second-seeded Clarkson (29-3-2) in a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series starting on March 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Playing in her last game at Hobey Baker Rink for the Princeton University women’s hockey team last Saturday afternoon, Sarah Fillier didn’t waste any time showing that her home finale was going to be one to remember.

With seventh-seeded Princeton hosting 10th-seeded Dartmouth in a single-elimination contest in the opening round of the ECAC Hockey tournament, senior star and team captain Fillier tallied a goal and and an assist to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.

“When you are relied on to contribute and you get on the board early, you can take a deep breath but not let your foot off the gas,” said Fillier. “It feels good and feels nice for things to click early. We knew that we had to keep it going for the full 60.”

Fillier kept going, tallying a goal in the second and adding another tally with 2:25 left in the game to give her a hat trick as Princeton cruised to a 5-1 win. The Tigers, now 14-10-6 overall, will play at second-seeded Clarkson (29-3-2) in a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series starting on March 1.

“I just wanted to leave everything out here; I spent six years here, it has been my home,” said Fillier, a 5’5 native of Georgetown, Ontario, who spent two years away from Princeton playing for Canada women’s national team where she helped it win an Olympic gold medal in 2022 and a pair of International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) World Championships. “This rink has seen me grow so much as a player and as a person.”

Fillier’s last goal at Baker Rink, a thrilling solo breakaway, brought the fans to their feet.

“There were not many times this year that I have gone end to end, it was kind of like freshman Sarah coming back for a second,” said a grinning Fillier. “I just saw some space and thought, ‘Why not go for it?’ and I somehow it got through the goalie.”

Fillier and her classmates brought a sense of urgency to the game, knowing that the end of their time in a Princeton uniform is fast approaching.

“It didn’t really hit me until we were doing the starting lineup before the game and realizing that this was the last time that we would be going out there from our locker room,” said Fillier. “There was a lot of emotion from the start — we have a big senior class. Our seniors lead this team. Dartmouth is a hungry team too. We had a tough time with them up in New Hampshire (a 1-1 tie on January 12), we knew they were going to come out fighting.”

Coming into the contest, Fillier sensed that the Tigers were primed to rise to the occasion.

“We had a great week of practice, maybe one of our best weeks all year,” said Fillier.“I think we are just jelling as a team. We are leaving the individual stuff outside of our locker room and really just buying in as the Tigers. That is a really good sign. It is all coming together at the perfect time.”

Looking ahead to the matchup with Clarkson, Fillier believes that Princeton can raise its game in the postseason as it has done in the past.

“Even last year was a good testament to that,” said Fillier, referring to a ECACH quarterfinal series last year against No. 3 Colgate which saw the underdog Tigers nearly topple the Raiders. “We had a tough end to the season but we upset Colgate in the opener and came really close in that third game.”

Over the last few weeks of the season, Fillier has been coming on strong, tallying nine goals in her last four games.

“I feel like there were so many times this year, I was fighting the puck, it happens to everyone,” said Fillier, who now has 41 points this season on 28 goals and 13 assists. “I want to be able to contribute for our team and help us win games. For things to go in, it is just nice. It is just hard work.”

Fillier has made a great contribution to the Tigers in her career as she now has 192 points (91 goals, 101 assists), fourth all-time in program history behind Katherine Issel (218 points), Mollie Marcoux (216 points), and Kelly O’Dell (207 points).

“It means a lot, if you look around the history of this rink,” said Fillier. “Our program started in 1975 way before the NCAA tournament happened. To see the names that came through there — the Mollie Marcouxes, the Katherine Issels — put up insane points, just to be in that kind of group and that conversation is special. Even to be up here in the window at the rink with these other international and NHL players is cool to see.”

Princeton head coach Cara Morey loved seeing Fillier starring in her Baker Rink finale.

“She popped off, that was one of her best games,” said Morey. “It was all over — she was playing both sides of the puck instead of just offensively. She was great. She realizes it is coming to an end, six years is a long time. I am assuming she just wants to make the most of it.”

Morey credits Fillier with making a great impact in her time at Princeton.

“She was a program changer for us,” said Morey. “She was probably the biggest recruit in the world at the time so her picking Princeton was a huge statement because we weren’t a program that was perennially in the top 10. She elevated us when she came, we won the Ivy championship and then the ECAC championship. She helped us big time.”

The Tigers collectively came up with a big effort in skating past Dartmouth.

“They were really excited to play, there was nerves,” said Morey. “This is brand-new, we had never done the play-in. There was definitely nerves on our side because we tied them last time. You could tell that we were ready and they were excited. Going into the third period historically we have let up so we talked about this is your last 20 minutes here at Baker. Our seniors really stepped up.”

One of those seniors, forward Emma Kee, stepped up with a highlight goal as she got loose on a breakaway midway through the second period and roofed the puck into the back of the net.

“Emma does that all of the time in practice so when she had it, I was like please do it, please do it,” said Morey. “I might have jumped higher than anybody when she put that in.”

At the defensive end, the Tigers gave the Big Green a tough time, stifling them for most of the game.

“We did a good job keeping them to a few chances,” said Morey. “It is hard because I was a defender, so I want us to play perfectly. I have to remember that we can’t be perfect. I only see the chances that we give up instead of realizing that we only gave up 18 shots. That is not a ton so we did a great job.”

Looking ahead to the series at Clarkson, Morey likes her team’s chances as it battled the Golden Knights hard in regular season meetings, falling by one goal in each game.

“That is the best matchup for us because it was 1-0 and 1-0 and one was overtime,” said Morey. “If you are going to have to play a top four team in our league, which is probably a top five team in the country, I think we are ready. We have a whole week to get prepared. We are going to have to scour the film and figure out how we can create a little more offense against them. It is going to be very hard to score on Clarkson. It is going to be a low scoring series if I were to predict.”

Fillier, for her part, is prepared to leave it all on the ice as she tries to extend her Princeton career as long as possible.

“I was put in a leadership role really early, I learned from some really phenomenal people like Stephanie Sucharda, Claire Thompson, Mackenzie Ebel, Carly Bullock, and the list goes on and on,” said Fillier, who became a team captain in her sophomore season. “Just getting pushed into that position early, it was learning to grow up really early. Spending two years with the national team absorbing everything could and coming back here, it feels very full circle for it to happen this way. It is a nice way to end it off.”