Having won 11 of its last 13 games, including back-to-back blowout victories to end the season, women’s hockey boasts a resume that includes 17 conference victories, a winning percentage of over .800, and two victories over top-five opponents. The team’s success throughout the season earned the Tigers the second seed in the postseason tournament, with a first-round date against 10th-ranked Quinnipiac, and potentially two other top-10 teams lying in wait.
Welcome to the ECAC Conference.
The sixth-ranked Tigers battled their way through one of the nation’s most impressive conferences, amassing two more wins than last year’s epic regular season. Knocking on the door of a single-season wins record (one more will break the mark set by the 2015 squad), Princeton once again did enough to earn themselves a home playoff series. Like last year, expectations are high as the team heads into what head coach Cara Morey calls “the second season.” Should the Tigers make it past the best of three quarterfinals, they will be two games away from an ECAC postseason championship.
Go on to win that and maybe, just maybe, the Tigers will be in line to host their first ever NCAA Tournament game.
First, though, the Tigers need to take care of business against Quinnipiac this weekend. They face a Bobcat team that finished just three wins short of the Tigers’ overall mark, and recently hammered nine goals in a single game to close out the season. Talking about the opponent, coach Morey noted, “There are not a lot of opponents in our league I’m excited to play; Quinnipiac is certainly one of those. They are stifling on defense and have some dynamic forwards. It’s just gonna be a tough contest.”
After a slight pause, Morey added, with a smile, “It’s gonna be a really great game; I wish we had somebody different.” Her expression, however, said otherwise — for a Tiger team that wants to prove it belongs in the NCAA’s elite, this is a chance to take a big step forward.
It won’t be easy — the Bobcats are hungry for redemption. They left their mark in Princeton’s record books in 2017, when they defeated the Tigers 3–2 in triple OT of game one in the ECAC Quarterfinals, the longest game in Tiger history. Since then, however, Princeton has dominated them, snuffing that 2017 team by winning the next two in the series, and then winning five of the six meetings since. For the Bobcats, this weekend serves as their chance to break into the upper echelon of the NCAA.
“I think going through that loss in triple overtime, we’ve seen everything that this weekend can bring,” noted senior Carly Bullock. “We know that Qunnipiac is going to bring their best hockey, and we cannot take a period or even a shift off.”
For the Tigers, this week has emphasized the mindset of that “second season.” With 28 games under their belt, most of the focus has been devoted to off-the-ice preparation. Morey noted that, at this stage of the season, “Bodies are breaking down; we have to stay healthy and get players to focus on treating [their] bodies right.”
The Tigers have already been impacted this season by crippling injuries, having to absorb the loss of senior forward MacKenzie Ebel since November. Beyond maintaining their physical strength, they have mentally prepared for what is essentially a sudden-death season (technically, Princeton can afford one loss this weekend). A sports psychologist visited the team earlier in the week, while the more experienced players have passed on their prior knowledge of postseason play to their younger teammates.
“We know to trust our training and preparation and stick to what has worked for us all season long,” said senior captain Claire Thompson.
For the past few weeks, the Tigers’ calling card has been their defense. In its final eight games, Princeton gave up more than one goal only once. Its lockdown D — comprised mostly of underclass students — is anchored by two solid goaltenders, senior Stephanie Neatby and junior Rachel McQuigge; with the possibility of three consecutive games, having two players who could mind the net is an incredible advantage this time of year.
Against the Bobcats, the goalies split the games, each giving up two goals in net. The Bobcat offense, however, has turned up the intensity in the final quarter of the season, setting up what should be a battle of strength versus strength. Student Coach Julia Edgar ’21 has been crucial in tracking the Tigers’ statistics to ensure they will have their best line combinations for the weekend match against Quinnipiac University.
One thing is for certain — the series is shaping up to be a battle between two great hockey teams. According to Morey, “fans should be excited to see a fast, aggressive style of game that has some offensive punch.”
Beyond that, the intensity of the “second season” is something that can’t be replicated in the regular season, regardless of the opponent.
According to Bullock, “This time, it’s do or die.”