PRINCETON, N.J. — With time expiring and the scored tied in the third period, No. 7 Mercyhurst had the puck in No. 6 Princeton’s defensive zone. Sophomore forward Stephanie Jones fired a shot that bounced off the pads of Princeton’s senior goalie, Roxanne Gaudiel, who could not corral the rebound.
Instead, Mercyhurst’s freshman forward Valerie Chouinard collected the puck just in front and to the side of the net and knocked it in at a nearly impossible angle. The Mercyhurst bench erupted, while the fans at Baker Rink fell silent. There was one tick left on the clock. After the ensuing faceoff, Mercyhurst (7-5-1) came away with a 3-2 victory over the Tigers (4-3-2).
It was Chouinard’s second goal and third point of the night, giving her 10 goals and 19 points in Mercyhurst’s first 13 games. When she was on the ice, she sliced through the Princeton defense like a hot knife through butter, and she took 10 of the Lakers’ 33 shots for the evening.
“She’s a gifted player and a great person, but the thing I think that earns so much respect from her teammates is that she’s just an insane competitor and as a coach, there’s nothing you’d rather have than a kid who competes every day,” said Mercyhurst coach Michael Sisti. “We try to get our players to go to the buzzer, and nothing was more evident than her fighting through it on will alone, finding a way with one second left.”
Princeton was fortunate to even be in the game at that point, as Mercyhurst dominated most of the action, keeping Princeton out of rhythm offensively and being so quick to the puck that the Tigers made many errors on defense. But some late heroics from Tiger sophomore forward Marykate Oakley had the game seemingly headed for overtime.
At 14:51 of the third period, Laker sophomore forward Stefanie Fraser was whistled for cross-checking. A golden opportunity for the Tigers glistened even brighter when just 42 seconds later Fraser’s teammate, junior defenseman Lindsay McArthur, joined her in the box, guilty of hooking. The Tigers, who had been ineffective on the power play all game, finally cashed in, with Oakley beating the Laker’s sophomore goaltender, Laura Hosier. But Chouinard was not finished with her business.
“To give up a 5-on-3 goal that late, against the home team,” Sisti said, “I thought our team showed great character and resiliency to kill off the second penalty and then find a way to win.”
After a scoreless first period, Mercyhurst drew first blood with a goal early in the second period. Chouinard tapped the puck from behind the net to senior captain Samantha Shirley, who squeezed the puck through a scrum of players getting by Gaudiel and trickling across the line. Princeton bounced back with less than two minutes remaining in the period when freshman forward Annie Greenwood took a feed from junior forward Laura Watt and found paydirt.
In the third period, Chouinard capitalized on some soft defensive play by the Tigers, catching a rebound from a shot by Shirley and slipping it between the pads of Gaudiel.
“I thought from the beginning we didn’t deserve to win,” said Princeton coach Jeff Kampersal. “We played for about seven minutes. When the score went 2-1 that’s when we finally started to show up and play. All year we’ve battled with teams and haven’t really been dominated by a team except for today. It was a disgraceful effort. We didn’t play any D zone, we had no toughness, we had little heart, little coaching, little anything.”
Princeton certainly had no answer for Chouinard. When asked if the Tigers keyed on her and got physical, Chouinard said, “I think they were physical with all my teammates. They are a pretty good team, and really competitive and I think tomorrow’s going to be a big game.”
“She’s young and getting better every day, and a nice thing is she absorbs whatever you give her,” Sisti said of Chouinard, the Matane, Que. native, which should give future Mercyhurst opponents pause. “She wants to be a great player, and she’s very unselfish. I think some players are gifted, but they think of themselves a little too much. Val’s a team player. She’ll do whatever we need her to do. She blocks shots, she plays great in the D zone – again just an amazing competitor.”
Mercyhurst and Princeton play a rematch on Saturday at 3 p.m.