This weekend, Princeton women’s hockey will open its season at home against Syracuse (0–7) in a two-game series on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon. The Tigers will be looking to get off to a great start this season before they have to play their first conference game on Oct. 29 against Quinnipiac at home. Expectations are high for Princeton this season, as it is currently ranked No. 6 in the USCHO.com rankings behind ECAC rivals No. 4 Clarkson and No. 5 Cornell and was picked to finish second in the ECAC preseason poll behind Clarkson and tied with Cornell. Notably, the Tigers received more first-place votes (five) than the Golden Knights (three) and the Big Red (four). Princeton will face Cornell in Ithaca on Nov. 2 at 3 p.m.
Two notable returners for Princeton are sophomore forward Sarah Fillier and senior defenseman Claire Thompson. Fillier and Thompson were both selected to the ECAC Hockey Preseason All-League team and named to the Team Canada roster for a pair of exhibition games against the United States on Nov. 8 and 10. Both were instrumental to the Tigers’ NCAA-leading power play. Fillier is looking to continue off of an excellent debut at Princeton, where last season she was named second-team All-American, first-team All-ECAC, first-team All-Ivy League and the NCAA’s leading scorer with 57 points (22 goals, 35 assists). Furthermore, Fillier was the American Hockey Coaches Association National Rookie of the Year and a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given to the top player in NCAA Division I women’s ice hockey.
Thompson picked up several individual awards as well as a finalist for the ECAC’s Best Defenseman of the Year and was named to the first-team All-ECAC and first-team All-Ivy League. Thompson led the ECAC’s defensive player n in scoring with 23 points (nine goals, 14 assists). Of her nine goals, four were game-winning and four of her assists also led to game-winning goals.
Fillier and Thompson are two of the Tigers helping return more than 75 percent of their scoring from last season. Along with them look for sophomore Maggie Connors and senior Carly Bullock, linemates with Fillier and two of Princeton’s top-five scorers from last season. In goal, the Tigers will turn to junior Rachel McQuigge and senior Stephanie Neatby who were both crucial in Princeton’s 20-game unbeaten streak last season. Both also had save percentages of nearly 93 percent, win percentages over 60 percent, and goals allowed against averages fewer than 2.
This season also brought change for the Tigers on their coaching staff with the addition of Mel Ruzzi and Courtney Birchard-Kessel as assistant coaches to head coach Cara Morey. Ruzzi has coached for 15 years at the collegiate level, including at Yale and Harvard. Birchard-Kessel brings an international pedigree to the Princeton coaching staff having been the head coach of the Toronto Furies in the Canadian Women’s Hockey League last season. Both have been involved with their respective national development programs, Ruzzi with the United States and Birchard-Kessel with Canada.
Syracuse’s record should not be seen as reflective of the team’s talent, as it has faced teams that are all ranked in the USCHO.com poll or receiving votes (Clarkson, Boston College, Northeastern, Colgate). The game in Princeton will be the Orange’s first true road game of the year. Syracuse won its conference last season and made its first appearance in the NCAA tournament. This year it was picked to be third in the College Hockey America conference.