Princeton was facing overtime for the third time in four games. In a tense back and forth fight, it looked like it may take awhile to see who would land the final blow. The Tigers had other plans; they landed their sucker punch less than a minute into the overtime period, and after the officials confirmed the goal, knocked out the nation’s best team and put the rest of their opponents on notice.
If you didn’t already think it, these Tigers are for real.
No. 6 women’s hockey team (26–6–1, 17–4–1 ECAC) defeated No. 1 Cornell (28–2–3, 19–0–3) on Sunday 3–2 in overtime to win the program’s first ECAC title and give the Big Red their first loss to an ECAC opponent this season. This victory also secured an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament where they will face Northeastern in the first round next weekend. Sophomore defender Mariah Keopple scored the winning goal with assists from junior forwards Shannon Griffin and Sharon Frankel.
Princeton reached the ECAC final after defeating No. 7 Clarkson (25–6–6, 14–4–4) on Saturday afternoon in Ithaca 5–1. The Tigers jumped out to a 4–0 lead on top of the Golden Knights behind a three-goal second period. First-year defender Solveig Neunzert scored first for Princeton on a shot from the blue line that found its way home. Griffin scored next to double the Tiger lead, and then sophomore forward Sarah Fillier jumped in on the scoring next, taking the Princeton lead to 3–0. Then, less than a minute later, before most Tiger fans had a chance to finish celebrating Fillier’s goal, first-year defender Kate Monihan scored to extend the Princeton lead to four. After a grinding 12-round fight the week before, the Tigers came out swinging and knocked Clarkson to the ground before they even knew what hit them. Clarkson would hit back to break up senior goalie Stephanie Neatby’s shutout with less than four minutes left in the third period, but it was too late. To finish, sophomore forward Maggie Connors tacked on an empty-net goal for Princeton and forced the Golden Knights to put their goalie back in the net. This win put the Tigers in their first ECAC final in program history, after failing in their previous seven semifinal appearances.
Heading into Sunday’s game, the Tigers, with an at-large bid likely secured for the NCAA tournament were hungry for more: their first ECAC title. Unfortunately, the game could not have started much worse in an unfriendly environment, with the Big Red’s first two shots getting in the goal putting Princeton down 2–0. This time, it looked like the Tigers would be knocked out cold.
Neatby and the rest of the team never doubted themselves, and responded like a team who has been on a long journey to this point. Princeton’s first goal came at the four-minute mark in the second period when a pass from Connors found Fillier crashing towards the net where she buried the puck to cut the Cornell lead in half. Then, in the last two minutes of the second period, senior forward Carly Bullock found a loose puck in front of the Big Red net and with a backhand flipped it over Cornell’s goalie to tie the game. A once-raucous Cornell crowd was stunned, and desperately trying to will their team back into the lead.
Then, after a tense, scoreless third, the Tigers found themselves in overtime yet again. The question facing the Tigers would be whether the experience of being here before or the fatigue of playing extra minutes would win out. They gave fans the answer pretty quickly; with a face-off in the offensive zone, Frankel won the face-off to Griffin, who passed cross-ice to Keopple who fired a shot on net that got tipped and flipped over the Cornell goalie to win the game for Princeton. The Tigers stormed the ice as gloves, sticks, and helmets were everywhere when the celebration began. Officials went to the booth to review the call to make sure there was no high stick, but the Big Red fans headed for the exits, knowing their team’s fate was sealed. When the officials returned to the ice to confirm the goal, the Tigers celebrated all over again, hoisting the trophy that to this point eluded them.
Bullock, Fillier, and senior defender Claire Thompson were named to the all-tournament team and Fillier won Most Outstanding Player for the tournament. Neatby meanwhile, started both games this weekend and gave up five goals on 63 shots, good enough for a .920 save percentage. The Tigers as a team meanwhile, extracted revenge against this year’s Ivy League and ECAC regular season champion; the victory serves as a culmination of this season’s efforts, and furthers the image of Princeton as a national powerhouse in the sport.
With the ECAC Championship checked off, up next for Princeton is a trip to Boston for the NCAA Quarterfinals against No. 4 Northeastern (32–4–2, 24–3–0 Hockey East), with a chance to claim their first NCAA win in program history. The Huskies beat the University of Connecticut to win the Hockey East automatic qualifying bid 9–1 on Sunday and secure their place in the NCAA tournament. That game will be played at 1 p.m. on Saturday, March 14 in Matthews Arena.
Tonight is a chance for the Tigers to relish in the victory. They of course celebrated with some “sweep scream” from a nearby ice cream parlor, as they do after every road weekend sweep. Tomorrow, they get back to work; this season’s story is far from over.