Women's Hockey: Junior-led women seek playoff return
After opening the season with two road wins, the women’s ice hockey team will kick off conference play this weekend. Ranked seventh in the preseason coaches’ poll, the Tigers (2-0 overall) will face their first ECAC competition this weekend when they host Dartmouth on Friday night and Harvard the following afternoon for their home openers.
With goals of a more successful postseason than last year’s, Princeton will need to have strong performances in conference play to set up a deep playoff run.
“This year we definitely hope to improve our postseason play, as we were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round last year, but that is something that will come through our improvements in play during the season,” senior forward and captain Kelly Cooke said. “Before that, we’re hoping to be a tougher team — physically tougher and tougher to play against for the teams in our league. We want to be a team that our opponents hate playing against at all times.”
Though the team graduated six players in the spring, the Tigers welcome six new freshmen to the roster this season. The freshmen are regarded by their teammates as good students and good hockey players who are eager to learn.
Three-year starting goalie Rachel Weber ’12 was one of the six graduates, leaving a large space to fill. In the two opening games this season, freshman Kim Newell stepped up to make 66 saves against only four goals in her first weekend of college play.
“Our freshmen are a very hardworking bunch,” junior forward Sally Butler said. “Kim Newell has done a very good job in net. She is a talented and confident goaltender, and her play has been a big part of our success.”
Princeton brings back last season’s top three scorers, however. Butler led the team with 15 goals and 11 assists last year, while classmate Denna Laing contributed 11 goals and 11 assists. Sophomore defender Ali Pankowski, who emerged to assist 10 scores last season, will also be back on the ice, as is junior forward Olivia Mucha, who had 10 points in 12 games before a shoulder injury ended her season. Overall, 73 percent of the 2011-12 team’s scoring returns to help create more goals this year.
Last year, the Tigers finished seventh in the ECAC with an even conference record of 10-10-2. After a tough start to the season, the team built positive momentum around the holidays with a 4-1-3 run, but its season came to a close after two losses to Harvard in the quarterfinals of the conference tournament.
Already this year, Prince -ton has looked ready to compete. In two preseason exhibition games, the Tigers defeated the Toronto Jr. Aeros 4-1 and took down Brown 4-2. Last weekend, Princeton opened the regular season with wins at Rochester Institute of Technology and Robert Morris.
RIT, the reigning Division 3 champion, was promoted to Division 1 this year, but it was not a match for the Tigers, who won their season opener 2-1 off of two power-play goals. At Robert Morris, Princeton recorded a 6-3 victory. Six different players have scored for the Tigers so far, and six have contributed assists.
“Our team attacking style is probably more gritty than anything else,” Cooke said. “We work hard down low and around the net in order to create opportunities for ourselves and put away any rebounds the opposing goalies leave lying around. We will be looking for every player to contribute goal-wise this year and so far we’re off to a good start.”
Princeton realizes it has room for improvement in many areas — including winning possession of loose pucks — to compete with the league’s top teams, including No. 2 Cornell and No. 4 Clarkson. But if early games are any indication, the Tigers have plenty of players who can score.
“One of our strengths so far this season has been offensive output, led last weekend by four-point efforts from seniors Kelly Cooke and Corey Stearns,” Butler said. “It looks like we have strong offensive potential on all three lines, which will be key to success this year.”
Head coach Jeff Kampersal ’92 returns to lead the team for a 16th season. Last winter, he was named the coach for the 2012-13 U.S. Women’s National Under-18 team. His assistants, Cara Morey and Lee-J Mirasolo, are both back for their second season.
“Our assistant coaches put us through speed and spin workouts each week, as well as our off-season lifts,” Cooke said. “After a month and a half of preseason, we should definitely be one of the most well-conditioned teams in our league, which is something we need with such a short bench.”
The team has a long road ahead, with 22 conference games and five additional nonconference games against Ohio State, Connecticut and Penn State. But before looking that far down the road, the team has two important games this weekend against Harvard and Dartmouth.
“These games are always big. Both teams are very talented and will test every part of our game,” Butler said.
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