Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Feeding Frenzy

Sarah Fillier is one of three players in Division I women's hockey who has more assists than games played.

Well, there's probably someone who played two games and has three assists and all. TigerBlog is talking about players who have played enough games to be included among national leaders.

Fillier is third in Division I in total assists with 30, trailing Clarkson's Elizabeth Giguere (35) and Boston University's Jesse Compher (34).

At the same time, Giguere has played 30 games, while Compher has played in 29. Fillier? She has her 30 assists in just 21 games.

In other words, Fillier leads Division I in assists per game (1.43) and does so by a large margin, with Compher next at 1.17. Fillier could go without an assist in each of Princeton's last four regular season games and still be averaging 1.2 heading into the ECAC playoffs.

On the men's side, Max Veronneau is 17th in Division I in total assists with 21, which also doesn't tell his full story. Veronneau has 21 assists in 23 games,and his .913 assists per game are fourth in Division I.

The Princeton records for career assists are 118 on the men's side (John Messuri, 1985-89) and 122 on the women's side (Kathy Issel, 1991-95). Veronneau is second all-time for the men with 89, and he will almost surely finish his career there (he'd have to average 3.7 for the final six regular season games and two ECAC playoff games to get to 118; should Princeton make a run in the postseason, that number would go down slightly but it's not realistic to think he'll get 29 more).

As for Fillier, she does figure to make a real run at Issel in her four years.

Often times in hockey, goals end up as the result of scrambles in front of the net, with the actual finish itself not the part of the play that is most impressive. The ability to see the ice, though, and put the puck on someone's stick in the right place at the right time is rare.

Pete Carril, Princeton's Hall of Fame men's basketball coach, used to talk about how he needed players who could "see it." TB can still remember pretty much word for word when Carril barked at a freshman in practice once after a bad pass:
"Can't see it? I had a guy once who couldn't see it. Couldn't do much with him. Had to get rid of him."

TB won't say who the player was, other than that he became a three-time All-Ivy League selection, including a first-team selection.

Carril's point is that the best players are the ones whose eyes can see everything going on during the play - before the play actually - and make the right pass at the right moment. If you read "A Sense Of Where You Are," John McPhee's first book, the one that chronicled Bill Bradley as a player at Princeton, you know that he wrote about Bradley's peripheral vision, which was unusually strong.

TigerBlog's favorite part of watching either Princeton hockey team is seeing how Fillier and Veronneau can, well, see it. They pass the puck differently, and it's a direct result of their on-ice vision.

Through the years, TB has seen great Princeton players whose biggest strength was their vision. Diana Matheson from women's soccer leaps to mind. So does Nate Walton in basketball.

And current head men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson, who was an incredible passer when he played here. Henderson was so quick and precise in his passes that the defense hardly even knew he'd thrown one before it was in a teammate's hands for another easy layup. There haven't been more aesthetic moments in all the years of watching Princeton basketball for TB than watching Henderson throw one-handed bounce passes.

These days, Princeton is fortunate to have more than its share of great feeders. In addition to the two hockey players, there's also freshman men's basketball player Jaelin Llewellyn, who has already shown that he clearly sees it. So does Carlie Littlefield on the women's team. Juliana Tornetta in field hockey is the same kind of player.

And of course, this week is opening weekend for lacrosse season. Princeton has had legendary, Hall-of-Fame feeders here in the 30 years that TB has been watching the team play, such as Kevin Lowe (already in the Hall of Fame), Ryan Boyle (will be there soon), Jon Hess (also should be there) and Tom Schreiber (the best passing middie ever and a Hall of Fame lock too).

This weekend's game at Monmouth (Saturday at 1) starts the junior year of the best feeder TB has ever seen in lacrosse, Michael Sowers. And that's with a full understanding of just how great Lowe, Boyle and Hess were when they played here.

Sowers is already fifth all-time at Princeton in assists (and in fact has more than Schreiber had for his career). Sowers led Division I last year in assists per game and set the Princeton single-season record for a season with 56, and he is on pace to shatter Lowe's records for assists and points at Princeton.

Sowers is a bit like Henderson was in basketball. His passes are quick and aesthetic, and they often result in layups.

The best passes, by the way, are simple. They're not the wild behind-the-back, no-look ones, though those are great to watch. No, the simple ones are the best. They're the ones that demoralize a defense and leave everyone watching to think "wait, did you see that? I missed it."

Princeton has had more than its share of those kinds of players through the years, and up through the present.

No comments: