The Northeastern women's hockey team enters tomorrow's Eastern College Athletic Conference quarterfinal game having finished the regular season 25-5-5. Few teams have been able to contend with a Husky defense that has already recorded four shutouts on the season.
One of those few, however, is Princeton, who will not be intimidated when it travels north for Saturday's first-round playoff contest in Boston.
What a difference a week has made for the Tigers (11-15-2 overall, 8-13-1 ECAC). Last Saturday evening, Princeton was coming off a 3-1 loss at Harvard – the Tigers' seventh defeat in nine games – and the team's playoff hopes hinged on its regular season finale at Northeastern. Playing with urgency for the first time all year, Princeton pushed the Huskies to their limit, eventually emerging with a well-earned 3-3 tie.
The Tigers will enter the game as heavy underdogs, as Northeastern boasts a 7-0-1 record this season following a loss or tie. The Huskies, who finished ECAC play 17-2-3 this season – good for second place – are expected to challenge New Hampshire for the league title.
There are a few factors, however, that could give Princeton confidence as the Tigers attempt to shock the hockey world.
In a single-elimination playoff game, magnificent goaltending can sometimes carry a marginally talented team to victory. Princeton has somebody capable of posting a shutout on any night against any team in senior goaltender Tammy Orlow. In last Sunday's tie, she stopped an astounding 44 shots. If she can provide another performance like that, the Tigers will certainly have a chance this weekend.
In addition to stopping the Huskies, however, Princeton will have to score in order to win. Fortunately, the Tigers have already proven that they are up to the task. On Nov. 16, Princeton scored five goals against Northeastern. Although the Huskies prevailed, it is still the most goals they have allowed against an ECAC opponent all season. The Tigers will almost certainly be outshot by Northeastern as they were in both regular-season games, so they must be opportunistic in order to stay close.
Head coach Jeff Kampersal '92 acknowledged one Northeastern weapon for which Princeton has no answer. Hillary Witt, an Olympic candidate who registered 30 goals and 23 assists to lead the Huskies with 53 points this season, has proven to be more than the Tigers can handle this year. She recorded a hat trick in the teams' initial meeting and added another goal in the second game against Princeton. Nevertheless, if the Tigers can play as a team and get off to a good start, Kampersal believes that victory is not out of the question.
"It's just a mental thing for us – being ready to play," Kampersal said. "We came out the first two periods (last Sunday) and really made things happen."
Princeton has shown this year that it is capable of competing with Northeastern. In order to defeat Witt and the Huskies, however, the Tigers will have to play their best game of the season. Last weekend, a moral victory was enough to keep Princeton's season alive. This time, however, only an actual win will suffice.