While many of their classmates enjoyed Thanksgiving’s turkey and trimmings, the women’s ice hockey team (6-6-1 overall, 4-3 Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference) was on campus facing two of the best teams in the country — Quinnipiac University(13-0-2, 6-0-1 ECAC) and the University of Minnesota (14-1-2, 9-1-2 Big Ten). These two teams tested the Tigers’ confidence and their systems to the utmost. While Princeton did not walk away with a win, the Tigers improved from hanging with two of the nation’s best college programs.
On Tuesday, the Tigers fell to No. 4 Quinnipiac by a score of 2-0. Princeton was intimidated both by Quinnipiac’s high ranking as well as the fact that it had defeated Clarkson University — the defending national champion — earlier in the season.
“We didn’t play terribly, but we came into the first period scared. We sat back on our heels and let some things slide just because we were worried about having to face a team that’s so good,” junior forward Jaimie McDonnell said.
There was a marked difference in how Princeton played the second and third periods compared to the first. The Tigers played their systems and gave Quinnipiac fewer scoring opportunities. “Our confidence was a big game changer. We went out at first not playing our best hockey, but we were still hanging with them. In the locker room there was a lot of positivity, which helped us to turn the game around,” McDonnell said.
Of the 22 shots the Tigers had on Quinnipiac, 19 of them were taken in the second and third periods. Quinnipiac is an aggressive and disciplined team, which does well sticking to its systems. The Bobcats also rank among the nation’s stoutest defensively.
“Most teams that play Quinnipiac get less than 10 shots off, so we feel like we can be a lot more offensive. We know that we can generate a lot of good scoring opportunities against these amazing teams which gives us a lot of confidence moving forward,” McDonnell said.
After the game against Quinnipiac, junior goalie Kim Newell passed the team MVP hat on to McDonnell.
In a similar fashion to the Quinnipiac matchup, the Tigers appeared intimidated by their weekend series against No. 2 Minnesota. The Gophers earned the NCAA national crown in both 2012 and 2013, and while they lost to Clarkson last year, they outshot the Golden Knights by about 20 shots. Furthermore, the Tigers lost to Minnesota last year by overwhelming margins of 9-1 and 6-0. However, despite their initial fear, the Tigers far outdid last year’s performance, falling by scores of 2-1 and 5-2.
“We played well, but sometimes we got a little complacent and played too much defense,” McDonnell said. “It was a game of mistakes, and we made a few more mistakes than they did. They had girls that played in the Olympics last year. If you make a mistake, one of those girls is going to turn that into a goal.”
Newell had a phenomenal weekend, totaling 89 saves in the net and playing the entirety of both games. Senior Briana Leahy, sophomore Kelsey Koelzer and McDonnell were all able to find the back of the net this weekend. The Tigers took a total of 16 shots on Minnesota on Saturday, and most of them were taken in the second and third periods. Once the Tigers were able to take a shot on goal, they were able to change the energy on the ice and on the bench.
“After that first turnover we felt that we could hang with Minnesota. I think they took us lightly at the start, and they were relying a lot more on their talent than their systems,” McDonnell said.
Minnesota boasts some elite talent, and it was inspiring for the Tigers to see their own teammates stealing the puck from world-class players.
On Sunday, Minnesota came more focused and more disciplined. However, on the whole, the Tigers felt that Minnesota relied heavily on its talent. Unfortunately though, despite Minnesota’s lackluster effort, its talent prevailed. “We had to support each other more during that game. If you make mistakes on a team with such talent, they’re going to score,” McDonnell said.
Moving forward, the Tigers feel more confident about their play and their systems. Going into the weekend, Princeton struggled with its confidence in the first period against formidable opponents. However, the Tigers proved that they could hold their own in the second and third periods. The Tigers also hope to sharpen their forecheck — the strongest part of their game — before they take on Harvard and Dartmouth away next weekend. “We have to capitalize on our strengths and really sharpen our own systems,” McDonnell said.
Reflecting on the weekend, the Tigers learned a lot about how they can improve as a team. “We learned that we have to be more disciplined with our systems,” McDonnell said. “We saw how well it worked for Quinnipiac. Quinnipiac is one of the most disciplined teams that I have ever seen, and even though they have less talent than Minnesota, I was more impressed by them. They don’t let up, and they don’t give you the time or the space to do much. I think they are the best team we have faced this season.”
Despite all of the talent and poise the Tigers faced, they were able to hold their own and learn from their opponents, which bodes well for the upcoming weekend matchup with Ivy rivals.