The women’s hockey team returned to Baker Rink for the first time in a month with back-to-back wins against Connecticut.
In Thursday’s game, the Tigers (9-6-2 overall, 6-4-1 ECAC) dusted themselves off after a shaky first period to beat the Huskies (4-12-2, 1-4-1 Hockey East) 4-1. UConn scored first off of a rebound during a power play but was unable to find the net again, as sophomore goalie Kimberly Newell had a total of 22 saves. After the first period, the Tigers came out with more intensity to tie up the game in the second period and scored three more times in the third. Taking advantage of the passive penalty kill style of their opponent, the Tigers scored three of their four points on power plays.
“There definitely was a small period of adjustment for us in the first period,” freshman forward Kelsey Koelzer said. “We were a bit sluggish, not as sharp as we needed to be, but once we got back to our good habits and stuck to our systems we took over the game.”
Koelzer puts her money where her mouth is when it comes to taking over games — as a freshman, she had her best game of the season and helped her team get three of its four points with two goals and an assist.
“I was just really excited to get back into games and start the 2014 season with speed and strength,” Koelzer said. “I think the break helped me get into a better mindset and get back to the basics that have helped me so much in the past. I think what clicked for me was using my speed and recognizing my role on the ice.”
UConn took advantage of the learning experience of Thursday’s game and came out on Friday with guns blazing for a much tighter matchup. Neither team managed to score in regulation time. Newell held off the Huskies with 15 saves, while UConn goalie Elaine Chuli frustrated Princeton’s offense with 33 saves.
“The second game was much more intense than the first game,” Koelzer said. “UConn was more physical and began to pick up on some of our systems. It was important that we stuck to the game plan and wore them down with our speed and endurance.”
Junior forward Brianna Leahy also noticed an improvement on the part of the Huskies’ defense. She explained that they defended more successfully against Princeton’s plays and that Chuli held her own against Princeton’s attempts on goal.
However, Leahy proved herself against UConn’s defense by clinching the win for Princeton with a big goal over the goalie’s shoulder in the first minute of overtime play.
“It’s always fun to score, but OT winners are the ones you’ll always remember.” Leahy said.
In both games, the Tigers demonstrated their ability to step up their play to close games and finish strong. Consistent defense and strong saves also helped the Tigers come out on top of these two matchups.
“We, as a team, are very good at gaining momentum throughout the game and putting increased pressure on the other team as they start to tire,” Newell said. “I would attribute this to the great conditioning that enables us to turn it up a notch in the third when the other team runs out of steam.”
The Tigers hope to ride this momentum into their return to conference play, with three big games on tap. The team will head to Connecticut to play Quinnipiac in their return to conference play on Tuesday at 7 p.m.
“Starting Sunday morning, we were back at the rink for practice,” Newell said. “Right now, we are focused on continuing to work hard at the things that have made us successful as a team and to be prepared for the battles up ahead.”