The women’s ice hockey team is off to a great start this year with a record of 6-1-1 a month into its season. With each game, the Tigers have been honing their play and on-ice chemistry. The team, while younger than last year's, displays great depth and passion for the game, which bodes well for the season ahead.
Last year, the Tigers finished sixth in the ECAC with a record of 14-13-4. The team's sentiments suggest that they could have done better. Senior captain and winger Brianna Leahy said, “We lost a few games that we really should have won. This year, we’re trying to make sure we win the games that we’re supposed to and to capitalize on the games where we can take control.”
Based on their performance so far, it seems that they will be able to do just this. The Tigers were able to take on RIT, a formidable opponent, and turn an at first hopeless-looking game into a win last Friday. An important element of their success is that this is the first time in four years that every member of the team, except for the freshmen, has worked with the new coaching staff. Assistant coaches Cara Morey and Lee-J Mirasolo joined the program in 2011. “This is the first time that the entire team is on the same page in terms of coaching,” Leahy said.
There is also a new team dynamic that has allowed new leaders to step up to the plate. “It’s really fun to be out there,” Leahy said. “This year, everyone is incorporated, and there isn’t a hierarchy like there used to be. It’s helping people find their own role to contribute to the team.” With only four seniors, younger players feel that their input matters more. “There are more leaders on the team,” Leahy said. “We have players leading in many different ways, from the top to the bottom.”
In addition to stepping up in an interpersonal sense, some players are also finding themselves in new positions on the ice, but this does not seem to be affecting the team significantly. “We can throw any three people on forward, and we’ll be OK. Players are really stepping up when we need them to,” Leahy said. Furthermore, there are three goalies instead of two, which has helped to keep the goaltenders well-rested, but has also increased the competition among them to see playing time. On the whole, the depth of the team has made it hard to decide who to keep off the ice. This competition, however, has helped the team to push itself harder in every practice.
This year, the team is comprised of 12 forwards and seven defensemen. According to sophomore Molly Contini, the Tigers’ greatest strength is the team’s internal competitiveness and passion. “Competitiveness is huge. There are four very solid lines, and everyone is competing with each other to get a spot. It’s a young team, but everyone just loves hockey.”
Furthermore, the Tigers also feel that they are more aware of their opponents this year and what to expect. After a great playoff series against Cornell last year, Princeton hopes to be a stronger contender in the Ivy League. “We want to be the team that other teams are trying to give a good run for their money,” Contini said. “We don’t have just one star player. Everyone is a threat on the ice. Everyone can score, including our defense.”
Contini believes this year’s team has a lot of talent, but to reach its potential, it needs to work on being tougher at the start and on being more consistent. “We have to maintain good energy throughout the entire game,” she said, “but with our greater cohesiveness, I think it will be easier for us to overcome these obstacles.”
The toughest opponents the Tigers will face in conference will be Quinippiac University and Harvard; out of conference, the University of Minnesota and Boston College will be tough battles. The Ivy League is arguably the deepest in the ECAC. “Consistency is going to be huge because any team could win on any night,” Contini said. Harvard is known for having a good number of “big name” players, who often intimidate opposing teams. “We have to believe that we can hang with anyone. We have to go in believing that we can win every game. We have to give everyone respect, but we can’t be intimidated by anyone either,” Contini said.
Up until Christmas break, the Tigers will face a number of formidable opponents —Quinnipiac, Minnesota and Harvard in particular. However, after overcoming RIT, there is no doubt that the Tigers will capitalize on every opportunity to come out on top. “Last weekend, we dug ourselves into a hole in the first period, which was tough, but nobody had a doubt in their mind that we wouldn’t come back,” Leahy said.
“There are some teams that have more talent, but we will never lose because of a lack of passion or hard work. We’re a grind-it-out kind of team. We’re the team that no one wants to play,” Contini said.