Category Archives: Women

Goodbye Letter: I Won’t Be Returning To Cover Princeton Hockey

I’m crying as I type this because it’s the hardest decision I’ve ever had to make.

After three years, I won’t be returning to cover Princeton hockey.

Since the summer of 2013, the beat has been my life. I’ve surrendered my days, nights weekends and more. But I’ve known for a while this isn’t sustainable, and I’ve been living the past two years on borrowed time.

I’ve given everything I had to this and now I have nothing left to give. This year with teaching, covering Big Ten hockey and the CWHL, I had very little time to dedicate to the blog. So as hard as it is, I know it’s the right moment to move on.

Princeton defenseman Joe Grabwoski hands Ron Fogarty the game puck
Princeton defenseman Joe Grabwoski hands Ron Fogarty the game puck

I’m really going to miss reporting. During my senior year of college, a professor asked us why we wanted to beat report, and I said it’s because I love being an expert on something. And I do. I love reporting, breaking stories, pressing for interviews, being around the team as much as possible and putting it all together to give people the best insight into the team. I love watching players grow and building relationships, witnessing it all change. Because it does change a lot. And over the last three years, I’ve changed a lot.

But this is difficult because I’m not only saying goodbye to beat reporting – a staple since freshman year of college – but I’m also saying farewell to the community and to my home for the last three years, the one that welcomed me as a scared post-grad dealing with life’s instability. I watched my life capsize several times over the past few years, but this community helped me swim below the waves until I was ready to resurface.

I started the blog in the summer of 2013 as a graduate who, for the first time in four years, didn’t have a beat anymore. With just summer RA duties in a sweltering Warren Towers, I needed something to do. I missed school. I missed reporting.

I had intermittently covered Princeton through my senior year and knew the team received little coverage. I wanted to improve my journalism skills and the team needed a reporter, so I created the blog.

It started that summer populated by a few Q&A’s with the incoming freshmen – Colton Phinney, Quin Pompi, Ryan Siiro, Garrett Skrbich, Ben Foster, Marlon Sabo and Tommy Davis. I later returned home jobless, so covering this team became my job.

I remember my first week on the beat. The fall chill hadn’t permeated the thin walls of Baker yet, leading to nice walks from the small parking garage up the to the rink. But it was tumultuous. The Tigers welcomed Ryerson and brushed aside the Rams in two exhibition games, complete with an Andrew Calof hat trick. But I still came home after the first game and cried. I missed BU hockey so much. I felt so alone.

I knew I had two choices – I could run back to Boston, where it was safe and familiar, or I could believe in myself and push forward. I knew staying at Princeton was the right thing to do.

It’s funny because that was almost three years ago when I cried at the thought of staying. And here I am now, heartbroken at the thought of leaving.

Fans pelt the ice with tennis balls after Dartmouth's first goal
Fans pelt the ice with tennis balls after Dartmouth’s first goal

I’ve been so fortunate to continue beat reporting for the past three years. It’s been hard, certainly. I’ve given everything I could to this beat – late nights of transcribing, writing, photo editing, traveling and a lot of money. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I wouldn’t give up the weekends spent shivering in the rink, or the bus rides, train travels and road trips to Harvard, Colgate, Yale, Brown, Dartmouth and Penn State. I wouldn’t give up fighting three canceled flights just to get home from Wisconsin for a Tuesday game. I wouldn’t give up staying awake until 3 a.m. to write and edit photos.

I wouldn’t trade being there for Ryan Benitez’s first collegiate appearance. Or Ron Fogarty’s first Division I win. Or the women earning their Ivy League trophy. Or watching a live stream, counting every save, when Colton Phinney broke the program’s single-season record. Or spending over 20 hours at Baker for my last Princeton game coverage, split between three women’s playoff games and the men’s last regular season contests.

I’ve been so lucky not only to see some amazing places and moments but also to meet such amazing people. The SIDs, fans, families, coaches and players have all been so great. They’ve made this so much easier than it could’ve been.

When I first started covering Princeton, I knew nothing about the team. I’d walked into Devils development camp in 2012 to interview Jack Berger and Mike Ambrosia, and back then I didn’t even know that Jack was the captain. I knew little about the team and community, despite growing up at its doorstep.

Four years later, I watched Mike become a co-captain. And I saw Jack’s younger brother, Chase, play for Penn State. I’ve gotten to cover the women’s team and meet the makers of that program’s success. Four years later, the people I knew so little about have become my family.

With college hockey, we’re lucky we see athletes come in as freshmen and grow as players and as people. It’s crazy that the players who jumpstarted my blog will graduate next year. And it’s crazy that the first player who responded to my Q&A request, the first real content on the site, was Ryan Siiro.

He’s the team captain now.

When I first spoke to Ryan and the other players, I wasn’t sure I could cover this team and be so far away from BU. But I’m so glad I stayed, because the past three years of my life have been incredible. The road trips, the crazy games, the memorable moments and the countless stories will always have a special place in my heart. (I still tell people about the night an errant puck ripped into the press box and tore down the Ivy League banner, or when a puck cut Kyle Rankin through his cage and there was a trail of blood on the ice.)

I want to thank the Princeton hockey families for their endless support with the blog and aiding with travel. But I really want to thank them for their encouragement, kind words and for always believing in me.

I want to thank the players for letting me into their home, for handling all my requests and always making themselves available for interviews. I’ve covered some good people here. These people made it easy for me to come to the rink every weekend and they made it a safe space away from the tests of being a woman sports journalist.

Ambrosia and KesselmanI would really like to thank the captains – my go-to interviews – from Jack Berger in 2014 to Mike Ambrosia and Kyle Rankin this year. Not only did they give great quotes, even after tough losses, but they were always so welcoming.

Lastly, and most importantly, I want to thank the team’s SID, Kristy, and coach, Ron. Without Kristy, none of this would have been possible. She’s one of the best, a fact I learned at my first Princeton hockey game after I gracelessly tripped on the steep stairs that led to the locker room. Kristy instantly asked if I was hurt and offered to have the trainer help.

Ron is one of the best coaches around and an even better person. Since the day he took over, Ron has emphasized the importance of relationships in building a program. They’re the most important things not only in hockey but in life.

All of these people – from the staff, to the coaching staff, to the players, fans and families – made Baker feel like home from my first game in January 2013.

I know this team is in good hands. I know this team is on its way to being a force and I’m only sorry I won’t be there to chronicle it.

Geographically, I’m not sure where life will take me. If I’m still in the area, I’ll sneak into Baker from time to time. If I’m not, I’ll still pay close attention to this program. I haven’t decided the future of the website, but it will definitely stay up and the content archives will still be accessible. There are also some stories and interactives that I’m trying to put up in the offseason.

My goal when I started covering this team was to become a better journalist. I think I’ve accomplished that. But I also hope I’ve become a better person.

So to the wonderful community: please keep in touch! And if there’s anything you ever need, please let me know. I will always consider this place my home.

It’s very hard for me to leave. But I’m excited for my next adventure, whatever that may be.

At my first Princeton senior night, Andrew Calof’s mom asked me how I did it all.

I told her it was love.

And love is what makes it so hard to say goodbye.

But as Winnie The Pooh said: “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.”

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Results: Women’s Hockey Fan Awards

The results for the women’s hockey awards, as voted on by the fans, are in. There were five categories to vote for: Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year, Defender of the Year, Unsung Hero and Moment of the Year.

Each category had three nominees. The winners, along with the nominees and percentage of votes each nominee received, are listed below:

Rookie of the Year: Karlie Lund (71.2%)
Runner ups: Kimiko Marinacci (15.4%), Stephanie Sucharda (13.5%)

Karlie Lund led the Tigers in scoring with 39 points. Lund, along with classmates Stephanie Sucharda and Kimiko Marinacci, started in every game this season. While Lund was a staple on offense, both Sucharda and Marinacci played big roles on the blue line.

Player of the Year: Kimberly Newell (75.7 percent)
Runner ups: Kelsey Koelzer (18.7%), Karlie Lund

Newell was one of the top goaltenders in the country. She finished with a career-high .937 save percentage, which is also a single-season program record. Newell backstopped the Tigers to 18 wins and earned a program-record 50th career victory this year.

Defender of the Year: Kelsey Koelzer (63.5 percent)
Runner ups: Stephanie Sucharda (25%) and Molly Strabley (11.5%)

Koelzer was one of the best offensive defenders in the country, but her defensive game also improved this year. Koelzer’s 33 points ranked second on the team.

Unsung Hero: Jaimie McDonell (38.9 percent)
Runner ups: Karen MacDonald (37%) and Cristin Shanahan (24.1%)

The alternate captain appeared in all 33 games and finished with 22 points, tied for fourth on the team. MacDonald played in 30, while the captain Shanahan appeared in every game.

Moment of the Year: Princeton wins the Ivy League championship (51.5 percent)
Runner ups: Tigers qualify for NCAA tournament (36.4%), Princeton wins program-record 21st game (12.1%)

The Tigers captured their second Ivy League title in team history and their first in a decade. Princeton was awarded the Ivy League trophy in its last regular-season game of the year, a win over Union.

Kimberly Newell Talks Goaltending

Kimberly Newell fixes her mask

Before the season ended, I caught up with goaltender Kimberly Newell for a feature story. In the interview for the feature, Newell talked a lot about her mental approach and other thoughts on goaltending. I thought Newell provided some great insights and interesting answers, so I’m running a portion of the transcript that deals explicitly with goaltending and her approach.

In it, Newell speaks of her mental improvement, her pregame preparation and the difference in shots she faced this year compared to later years.

Jashvina Shah: I don’t think you’re facing as many shots as you have in seasons past…

Kimberly Newell: “No definitely not (laughs)”

JS: Is it tougher or easier to not face as many shots as you’re used to?

KN: It really depends. There are like a range of different kinds of games that I might face. I think that one thing that has changed is in previous years I can kind of expect that every game I’ll get a lot of shots and they’ll all be relatively dangerous. But this year it depends on the teams that we’re playing, so I think that we’ve really gotten a lot stronger and sometimes we’ll play weaker teams and I won’t get that many shots. That’s a completely different game where, going into that, I need to have a very different mindset where I’m making sure that I’m staying focused for the 60 minutes because I might get a stretch of 10 minutes or so, that’s a long time to go without getting a shot. And I have to make sure that I’m still ready when that next shot [comes].

You can compare that to other games where I’m still getting a decent number of shots but maybe they’re not as dangerous because my team can shut down a lot of the more dangerous plays like the backdoors, maybe they’re clearing the front of the net better, maybe they’re not giving up as many odd-man rushes and things like that. Those games tend to be a little easier for me to play because I don’t need to worry about a lot of those very dangerous situations that I often face against the best teams, which makes my job simple. I just need to make that first save, control the rebound and I can count on my teammates to handle the back.

Then obviously there’s still a few games where we’re facing the top teams in our league and my mindset there is going into this game I’m expecting to get a lot of shots and be very busy, especially in the first period because those teams know they’re good teams and they know how to come out strong in the first few minutes and try and put the pressure on and put teams away. My focus in those games is to really be prepared. As soon as the puck drops, I’m going to be ready because I’m going to be getting all kinds of different situations and my job is to keep my team in the game so that we have a chance to later in the game [to] start to get momentum, especially in the middle of the first and through the second period. I find that once we’re given a little bit of time to adjust to the higher level of play that we actually do really well. I think that over the season, as we’ve kind of discovered this new identity almost of being a good team, we’ve gotten a lot better at not taking that first period to kind of get going against a better team. We’re coming out and we’re ready to go because we know that we can keep up with them, and so we’re not taken off guard as much. I think that kind of summarizes a lot of the different situations and different mindsets I need to have going into all those games that I might be facing.

JS: You were used to one mindset last year … and now you know you have different scenarios … was there an adjustment period for you coming into this season where you realized you’re going to have to have these different mindsets because the team is so different this year?

KN: I think that my previous experience, especially in minor hockey, helped me a lot. When I was still in minor hockey, I was playing at the Burnaby Winter club and we were a very, very good team. We only had one other team in our league that was our big rivals, the Northshore Winter Club. I think that playing on those teams helped me to learn how to play in those games where you’re not getting that many shots, so I have developed various techniques and different methods to keep myself focused. One of the things that I’ll do is during whistle when there’s a break in the play, if I feel myself getting kind of cold or whatever, I’ll always skate out and tap the boards and skate to my net. Or I’ll do a few slides or something like that to make sure that I’m keeping the blood flow and keeping myself warm.

And then after minor hockey I played major midget with the Kootenay Ice. They were the bottom of the league. So I got a lot, a lot of shots. It was really fun but I probably got more shots per game on that team than I did in like my first year here, which is kind of crazy. But I was getting like easily 45 shots. It was a lot and playing on that team really taught me to probably conserve my energy, because you can’t take 50 shots and be going all out the whole time. You have to kind of learn how to manage, basically it’s called crease management. [I learned to] manage my depth so I don’t have to move as far on certain plays where it’s not necessary. You’re cutting out a lot of excessive movement, unnecessary movement and trying to conserve energy that way. But it’s kind of a tricky balance, because sometimes you might get caught off guard if on a certain play you’re reading it as a backdoor or something like that. So you’re kind of backed off a bit, but then the situation changes and now you’re kind of caught off guard a little bit because you’re trying to conserve [energy]. But there’s a bit of a tradeoff between crease management and conserving your energy and your optimal play.

I think a year playing on that team where I got that many shots really helped me to learn how to do that, and so I think I brought some of that here at Princeton too, where obviously first couple years it was a kind of that sort of game. Not as extreme, but it was the same sort of mentality and so coming into this year with a few games a little more like back in minor hockey where I wasn’t getting very many shots, I kind of brought back some of those methods and techniques, dusted them off a little bit and reused them. And so I think that helped me a lot to deal with the different kinds of games that I’ve been facing.

JS: What area of your game do you think has improved the most over your time at Princeton?

KN: Definitely the mental side of the game. I think everyone at this level has mastered all the techniques. Goaltending’s a very technical game and there’s a set number of moves, there’s actually a couple that have been added in recent years that’ve gotten more popular, but the technical side of knowing your angles, knowing your depth and everything, figuring out your style, all the goalies can do that. What really separates goalies at this point is the mental side of the game. I think that my first year I would say that like certain things like having a routine before the game and really preparing myself for the puck drop wasn’t as developed as it is now. I think that I’ve really come to understand myself and how I get ready for games and how I have to be feeling and what I have to be thinking in order to be at peak performance.

Last year, especially this year, I’ve really had a solid routine before games, where everything is designed to prepare a certain thing. Like I’ll juggle before the games to get my hand-eye coordination going. I will visualize shots on the ice at the end of on-ice warmups, I’ll pretend there’s shots and really see the puck going into the glove and go through all the kinds of saves, like high glove, low glove, high blocker, low blocker and just really see the puck hitting me and then going into my glove or off my blocker into the corner, exactly where I want it. I think that having that solid routine has really helped me to control the mental side of the game, because every week’s different. I might be stressed out about school, whatever, or maybe nothing’s going on during the week and I’m super relaxed, but for a game you can’t be too relaxed. [I’ve learned] how to bring myself down if I’m too stressed or learning to bring myself up and get more excited for the game if I’m too relaxed. And so I start every game at the same level which is hopefully the optimal level for me to perform.

JS: Anything else that’s a part of your pregame routine?

KN: Yeah there’s a couple of things. I always tape my stick (laughs). That’s just something to make sure my equipment’s all ready. I’ll check everything, make sure there’s nothing broken or whatever. It’s like a safety thing as well as making sure that when I put my equipment on it’s completely comfortable and natural, feels like second nature when I’m wearing it. And I’ll also juggle a soccer ball with the team. We have like a little soccer juggling group or whatever so we always do that. I find that really helps me to get my legs moving. One of the things that actually, I said that the mental game was one of my biggest improvements, but another thing that I have been working on more physically is being lighter on my feet and more mobile. I find that a lot of times I tend to,

One of the things that actually, I said that the mental game was one of my biggest improvements, but another thing that I have been working on more physically is being lighter on my feet and more mobile. I find that a lot of times I tend to, actually a lot of goalies do this – this is a pretty common mistake is getting down and stuck in your butterfly a lot. It’s very easy to go down early on shots and then get stuck there and not be able to move for rebounds and stuff. And it’s also very energy consuming. That’s one of the focuses where I’m trying to stay on my feet as much as much as possible because you’re faster and more mobile on your feet than on your knees. It’s kind of weird because juggling soccer balls helps me to do that because it helps me with my foot-eye coordination I guess you would call it, but it gets me like on toes and it gets my legs moving. When you’re in your stance, you want to be able to bounce on the balls of your feet. If you can do that, you’ll be able to stand tall in your stance … you can be very mobile and move around quickly in your net. And then after that I do the rest of the warmups with the team and stuff. But I also, in addition to juggling, I also have a little racquetball, actually I don’t know if it’s a racquetball but it’s like a little bouncy ball and this is a pretty common thing that a lot of goalies do, you just bounce it against the wall somewhere and you catch it in your glove hand or your blocker hand and you just work on getting your upper body kind of in the right position, making sure your shoulders are rolled forward and your weight’s forward and your hands are in front of you, you can see it when you catch the puck and stuff. And [I] just working on the motion of catching.

I feel like doing that and the visualization on the ice, the purpose of that is to go through the motions and basically, because sometimes when you practice you don’t get all kinds of different shots, you get like a small sample shots. Like they’ll often go low blocker or something, but you’re not working high glove. So when you go into a game, you find out that your glove is dropped in your stance without you noticing. And so when the shot goes high glove, you can’t get to it because your glove’s too low. So going through these routines helps you to make sure that your gloves are in the right position so that you can make the high glove save and the low glove save, etc etc. It basically builds up confidence that these saves are, I don’t know how to say this, but like they’re strong. Because sometimes you can see in warmups you now goalies are letting in lots of goals in their high glove actually this is funny a lot of the NHL games that I watch … I don’t remember who it was, but they let in a couple goals high glove and it ended up being a goal high glove during the game that won the game for them. But things like that are really important too.

JS: Any additional preparation that you do to study shooters for games?

KN: Well we watch the video but my view on this is that for goaltending, we’ll divide different attacks up. So there’ll be like the backdoor situation, there’ll be like the point shot with screens or tip situations. There’ll be the odd-man rush situation, there’ll be like a walk off the wall situation, there’ll be behind the net situations. And it’s like yes, certain teams will have certain characteristics. Like I know going in against Dartmouth they have a couple girls who love taking hard shots. They like keeping the puck and they like shooting it. So I know that I can be more aggressive and keep my hands up because I know they like shooting the puck high. Or going in against Clarkson, I know they like to have girls in front of the net and they like to screen me and they like to get point shots and they’re big. But I think at the end of the day, all these situations are the same and it doesn’t really matter like who the players are, I’m going to deal with it the same way I know how. It’s like there’s a 2-on-1 situation, I’m going to play that 2-on-1 situation like okay I know there’s a shot through it and I just need to read that player in the moment and not be thinking oh she’s their best player, she’s probably going to shoot it or something or I know this team likes to move the puck around so I think she’s going to pass it. Because then you start to cheat, and when you start to cheat, if they do something different, you can’t readjust. So it’s just basically knowing how to play situations and then reacting in the moment. I think that’s the best way to approach different teams.”

(Note: The questions asked are paraphrased in the transcript and responses have been very minimally edited.)

Princeton Falls To Minnesota In NCAA Quarterfinals

Princeton comes close to scoring, second periodPrinceton fell to Minnesota 6-2 in the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday. The Tigers finished the season with a 22-9-2 record – the most wins in program history. The NCAA tournament appearance was just the second in program history.

“I told the team after the end of the game that I’m really proud of them,” Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal told reporters after the game. “We had an awesome season, an emotional season, and our kids battled all year long.”

Senior Jaimie McDonell struck first, scoring 29 seconds into the game.

“You dream about it,” McDonell said. “You visualize a goal on the first shift, but to make that a reality was a big start. Unfortunately, we didn’t continue that, but we set the tone and did our best.”

But Princeton’s lead didn’t last long, as Hannah Brandt tied the game four minutes later on the power play. Amanda Kessel followed with a shorthanded goal 1:14 minutes later to give Minnesota the lead for good. Kessel added a power play goal to give Minnesota the 3-1 lead after the first.

Sarah Potomak and Dani Cameranesi scored in the second period. Kessel followed with her third goal to put the Gophers ahead 6-1 after the second.

“Their first two lines are really good,” Kampersal said. “We did come out hard. The first five minutes we always try to focus on winning that opening throw out and getting the puck in deep, and we did that with pressure. We got a goal there.

“If you’ve ever seen that [Saturday Night Live] sketch with Bruce Dickinson and the cowbell sketch, we both put our equipment on the same way, but when they put theirs on, they were scoring goals and having opportunities. We had 27 or 28 shots on goal. We had good ideas on how we wanted to set things up, but when they got their chances, they produced goals.”

Molly Contini scored in the last minute of regulation to cut the Gopher lead to 6-2. Contini finished with two points, while Karen MacDonald, Fiona McKenna and Kelsey Koelzer added assists.

The Gophers dominated possession, outshooting the Tigers 43-27. Goaltender Kimberly Newell topped her record-breaking career with 37 saves in the loss. Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille made 25 saves while Kessell finished with four points. Kelsey Cline, Lee Stecklein, Hannah Brandt and Sarah Potomak each netted two points.

“Even in the third period we played hard until the final whistle blew,” Kampersal said. “So I’m just really proud of our group, lad by Jaimie. [She’s] just a heart and soul player and was indicative of our kids playing hard all year long.”

Stephanie Sucharda Is A Freshman Force For Princeton’s Blue Line

Stephanie Sucharda

Every time freshman defender Steph Sucharda texts associate head coach Cara Morey asking to work on something, Morey drives to Baker Rink to work with Sucharda.

One of the aspects Sucharda and Morey have worked on the most is footwork.

“That’s been amazing,” Sucharda said. “We’ve also worked on shooting a lot and having the confidence to shoot the puck. In practice all the time [head coach] Jeff [Kampersal] and Cara will be yelling at me to shoot the puck more.

“Confidence was sometimes an issue for me so they’ve done a really good job of encouraging me to get the shot off, which is has been really helpful for my game.”

Despite her freshman status, Sucharda has become one of the staples of Princeton’s defense, helping the team reach a program-record 22 wins. Sucharda has played in all 32 games this year.

“She is a great player, she’s very cerebral, she makes really good first passes,” Kampersal said. “I think some of her best hockey’s been of late, like that Game 1 [against] St. Lawrence was phenomenal. Then when Kelsey [Koelzer] went down in Game 3, she stepped up.”

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Depending on her school schedule, Sucharda likes to spend extra time practicing on aspects like her footwork, something. If it’s a break week, she can get an extra two hours on the ice.

“You work on your game and the small things that you individually need to work on because the pratices are more team stuff for sure,” Sucharda said. “So when I’m able to go on with just Cara that’s when I think I make a lot of imrpoements.”

Sucharda is second amongst Princeton freshmen and Princeton defenders in scoring. Her 17 points are sixth amongst freshmen defenders nationally.

“I think she sees the ice really well,” Sucharda’s defensive partner Molly Strabley said. “Coming from the back she makes a lot of great passes and then she knows when to carry the puck as well.”

While Sucharda is known for her breakout passes and controlling the game, the defender has worked on being patient this year and making the right passes.

“At the start of the year I would try to force the play right away. Because I just wanted to pass to my teammates. … Good things happen when it’s on their sticks. But sometimes that would mean that I’m passing it to them in bad situations. So figuring it out that I can slwo the game down and then hit them with a pass to put them in a better situation definitely helped me improve my game,” Sucharda said.

“I’m not the fastest kid out there so I usually like to slow the game down, play it at my level and see the whole ice. And I really like playing here because my teammates are so great at getting open for passes so when I slow the game down they’ll be able to find an open spot [and] I can hit them with the puck.”

Entering the season, Princeton knew they would need Sucharda to step up for a thin defensive core. She’s played with junior Molly Strabley to become one of the team’s dominant defensive pairs.

“She’s been so helpful in giving me little tips and stuff and encouraging me on the bench,” Sucharda said.

Sucharda said her biggest improvement this season has been confidence as she’s transitioned into a big role with the team. The confidence has helped her carry the puck, take more shots and make the right passes.

“She’s really good, she’s a Canadian U18 player,” Kampersal said. “I think that in order for her to get better strength, just being physically stronger maybe a little meaner will help her out. But she’s on the all-rookie team, she’s met all our expectations. We thought she was going to be good coming in here and she was, so we’re really happy that she’s a Tiger.”

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Princeton Travels To Minnesota For NCAA Quarterfinals

Princeton comes close to scoring, second periodPrinceton will travel to Minnesota for the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday, its first appearance in the NCAA tournament since 2006. This will be the Tigers’ 11th meeting with the Gophers and the first this season.

After falling to St. Lawrence in the ECAC Quarterfinals, the Tigers earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament as the sixth seed.

“We’re first of all grateful for the opportunity and we’re excited,” Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal said. “So for me personally, it happened 10 years ago so there’s a little familiarity of how it works.”

The Gophers and Tigers have played the last two years, with Minnesota sweeping the series at Baker 2-1 and 5-2. In the season before that, the Gophers won 6-0 and 9-1 at Minnesota.

“The fact that we’ve played Minnesota the last two years helps as well,” Kampersal said. “So two years ago we didn’t fare well out there but we got the experience of playing in front of 2500 people, [a] packed house and we’re looking forward to that again.”

The Gophers have two of the nation’s top scorers in Dani Cameranesi, who has 67 points, and Hannah Brandt, who has 59. The Gophers average 4.73 goals per game, second in the country. Amanda Kessel, who has 242 points over 124 games, also returned to the Gophers late this season.

“They have a really deep and talented experienced roster,” Princeton captain Cristin Shanahan said. “They’ve won two national championships in the time that I’ve been here in my past four years.”

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The Gophers earned the third seed after a 32-4-1 season which ended in a WCHA championship loss. Of Minnesota’s four losses, three were against Wisconsin.

“They got Kessel back late in the semester here so it solidifies an already packed lineup. They’re just really strong,” Kampersal said. “I’ve had the good fortune of coaching those kids for just two weeks or a week at a time with USA Hockey and they can really play.

“They’re well coached so just basically the speed and the skill of it. They don’t make many mistakes like mishandling the puck. The power play is 43.1 percent, so it’s pretty potent so we have to stay out of the box. That’ll give us the best chance to win.”

In practice this week, the Tigers have worked on staying up to game speed after not playing last weekend. The coaching staff kept the practices engaging and focused on angling.

“We’ve done a couple of drills like that because some of their players are very crafty with their sticks and can pull a puck around you so just making sure that that’s on point,” Shanahan said. “A lot of the focus on the defensive end has been on rushes because they do counterattack so quickly and we’re trying to do the same too.”

This has been a successful year for the Tigers, who have a program-record 22 wins. Princeton also strung together a 12-game winning streak in the middle of the season and captured the Ivy League title.

“I think it’s been an adjustment because in past years we haven’t really been used to being one of the top teams and it’s hard to go into a game not being an underdog,” junior Molly Strabley said. “And when you have to play like you should win and you’re going to win, that’s a big adjustment. I think we’ve been getting used to that throughout the year.”

The Tigers have improved offensively this year, scoring 3.12 goals per game. At the lead of the offense is Minnesota native Karlie Lund, who has 39 points. Kelsey Koelzer is one of the best defenders in the country and has 32 points.

“They’re a good group. They have a lot of similarities as the ’06 team that won the last time,” Kampersal said. “They just really like to compete and based on just the feeling of practice, it didn’t feel like heading into St. Lawrence that the season was close to being over. In years past sometimes you can sense that. But this group has dealt with a lot. … They have a lot of heart and competitiveness and it’s a good group. They want to play until the very last day of the season.”

The Gophers have the nation’s best power play but the Tigers have the third-best penalty kill. Princeton has killed off 92 percent of opponent power plays.

The Gophers allow 1.24 goals per game, while Princeton allows 1.72 goals per game. Both backstops have played well this year, with Minnesota’s Amanda Leveille and Princeton’s Kimberly Newell each holding a .941 save percentage.

“I think more than anything it’s a lot of fun because it’s nice to finally kind of have a reward for the past four years,” Shanahan said. “Our seniors, our first year we got absolutely nothing out of it. We didn’t even make playoffs. Now we get this awesome opportunity to go play, to maybe be the first Princeton women’s team to win a tournament game.

“It’s s much fun and it’s awesome. We can’t wait to keep it going.”

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The Waiting Game

Cristin Shanahan and Elizabeth Otten

It took three one-goal games, some comebacks and a Game 3 overtime, but St. Lawrence defeated Princeton in the ECAC Quarterfinals. The loss, which happened at historic Baker Rink, knocked the Tigers out of the ECAC tournament.

“That was that was pretty awful,” captain Cristin Shanahan said. “I would have to say obviously that was not the way that we wanted our playoff series to go. It was a very hard-fought battle. St. Lawrence is always a really tough opponent for us.”

The Saints took a 1-0 game one, but the Tigers scored two goals late for a 4-3 win in Game 2. In Game 3, the Tigers were down again, but a late goal from Molly Contini sent the game in overtime.

“[The] St. Lawrence series was an awesome series,” Princeton coach Jeff Kampersal said. “When I watched some of the other games in the weekend I thought it was a little dry, but our games were really exciting. [There were] a lot of emotions, a lot of joy and pain. We were on the short end of it but we played pretty well.”

While Princeton was out of the ECAC tournament, the Tigers weren’t sure if their season was over. After the loss, the Tigers were seventh in the PairWise – just on the NCAA tournament bubble. But to get in, Princeton needed all the top seeds to win their respective conference tournaments.

The WCHA and ECAC finals featured four teams all ahead of Princeton in the PairWise. But the wild card was the Hockey East title, which featured Boston University and Boston College. With BU on the outside looking in, Princeton needed a BC win.

“We obviously would’ve liked [Game 3] to go another way, but a lot of people were pretty optimistic even after the game,” Shanahan said. “We were like, no matter what happens, we still had a great season.”

With three conference finals the Sunday after Princeton’s Game 3 loss to St. Lawrence, the Tigers had to wait a week.

“The days leading up to Sunday, our heartbeats were through the roof,” Shanahan said.

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With midterms also looming, the Tigers had to study and wait for their season fate. But on Sunday afternoon, the top seeds did win. And BC beattBU 5-0 to cement Princeton’s spot in the NCAA tournament.

“[After the loss] we probably thought that it was over,” Kampersal said. “But then looking at the numbers later on, we thought that if the favorites would win the next weekend we’d have a chance at it. Everybody, all the favorites helped us out and gave us the chance that I feel that we deserved.”

And on Sunday night, the NCAA selection committee formally called Princeton’s name for the tournament.

“All day Sunday none of us I think got any studying done because we were so excited,” Shanahan said. “Then Sunday night, I know personally I couldn’t sleep all night because I was still so happy. And I think a lot of other players were that happy too.”

While waiting for their fate, the Tigers continued practices as normal after taking a couple days off after the series loss.

“Our first practice back, the coaches tried to make it a little fun because we were still down in the dumps about [the loss],” Shanahan said. “But they picked it up. Ee had a couple good practices and then we had the Sunday off just like always and we found out and then this week’s been full on at it.”

After discovering they would play No. 3 seed Minnesota, the Tigers have focused on combatting the Gophers’ attack in practice. While the Tigers finished the season seventh in the PairWise, the NCAA selection committee gave Princeton the sixth seed. Sarah Fraser, the chair of the NCAA women’s hockey selection committee, told BC Interruption the committee felt Princeton’s strength of schedule was stronger than Northeastern’s – hence the higher seed.

It’s the first time since 2006 the Tigers have made the NCAA tournament, and just the second time in program history. This season Princeton recorded a program-record 22 wins.

“All year has been an emotional year,” Kampersal said. “It’s been kind of like a Friday Night Lights year just with different real-life issues going on,” head coach Jeff Kampersal said.  “But the kids have dealt with it well.”

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