For decades NCAA Division I hockey has been the proving ground for North American players who have aspirations of making the cut to play on their respective national teams. In more recent years, some of the best young international players have joined NCAA programs to take their game to the next level. Each year the NCAA’s freshman class offers us a glimpse at hockey’s future.
Last year, Darryl Watts stole the show by winning the 2018 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as a freshman. We didn’t see another freshman Patty Kaz winner in 2019, but that doesn’t mean that there weren’t some outstanding performances from freshmen players.
This is the first part of a two-part series where we will look at some of the top performances from 2018-19 freshmen in NCAA DI hockey.
Sarah Fillier | Princeton
Sarah Fillier was the engine behind Princeton’s offense this season, which ranked sixth in the nation in goals per-game (GF/GP). To say that Fillier was one of the best freshmen centers in collegiate hockey this year would be an understatement. She established herself as one of the elite young centers in the sport with her play this year, and she definitely produced like one.
She led all freshmen skaters in assists (35), primary assists (22), and points (57) in the 2018-19 season. Stats like those might lead you to believe that Fillier was a pass-first playmaker, but she also led all freshmen with 5.24 shots on goal per-game (SOG/GP). In other words, she was anything but one-dimensional when she had the puck on her stick. She beat players with her speed, her vision, and her quick release.
Princeton’s star young center had 19 multi-point games, led the Tigers in scoring, and led the nation in points per-game (Pts/GP). She also led the nation in power play assists and power play points per-game.
All season long, Fillier and fellow Tigers freshman Maggie Connors going on the power play was cause for opposing goaltenders to practice their profanity.
On the power play, Fillier had two goals and 19 assists. She had points on 60 percent of Princeton’s 35 power play goals, which was the best in the nation. Fillier quarterbacked the only power play that averaged more than one goal per game last year. Lest you think she was dependent on the power play to make her mark, Fillier also shared the lead in even strength scoring among freshmen with Alina Müller.
As if all of those numbers weren’t impressive enough, Fillier also had a 54.2 percent success rate on the faceoff dot (FO%) and showed a knack for drawing penalties with her speed and quickness. Her freshman season boxcar stats were outstanding despite the fact that she missed four games to play with Team Canada at the 2018 Four Nations tournament; she was the only collegiate freshman to crack that roster.
As you might imagine, Fillier received a lot of accolades for her first season of college hockey. There are simply too many to list, so here are some of the highlights: she was one of two freshmen who were Top-10 finalists for the Patty Kaz. the National Rookie of the Year, the USCHO Rookie of the Year, and the Ivy League Rookie and Player of the year.
Maggie Connors | Princeton
Sometimes the Hockey Gods are kind and they choose to bless us with duos that endlessly entertain us. Rising sophomores Maggie Connors and the already discussed Sarah Fillier are one such duo.
Connors’ ability to beat goalies with her quick, accurate release made her one of the most dangerous players in college hockey this year. She scored a nation-leading 10 power play goals — most of which were set up by Fillier. Connors was just shy of averaging one power play goal for every three games she played this year. Seriously, take a minute to wrap your head around that stat. However, she was no one trick pony; nine of her 17 assists were primary and she finished the season fifth among freshmen skaters in even strength scoring.
GOAL! Maggie Connors what a snipe from Sarah Fillier and No. 10 Princeton leads 1-0 pic.twitter.com/N9ZUwQPkQY— Princeton Hockey (@PWIH) November 30, 2018
Thanks in large part to her knack for finishing on the power play, Connors led all freshmen in goals (26). More impressively, Connors was second in the nation in G/GP (0.81); only 2019 Patty Kazmaier winner Loren Gabel scored goals with more frequency this year (1.05). She also led all freshmen skaters with the 162 shots she put on net. Clearly, Connors has a gift not only for getting the puck on net, but also for getting it past goaltenders.
There is a mountain of evidence that suggests that Connors could be the next great sniper in collegiate hockey. Her 16.0 Sh% as a freshman was high, but far from unsustainable considering her chemistry with Fillier. She and Fillier are two of the most electrifying rising sophomores in college hockey.
Alina Müller | Northeastern
Alina Müller’s extraordinary play at the 2018 Olympics demanded our attention. She found a way to keep that buzz going this year despite Switzerland’s underwhelming performance at the 2019 Women’s World Championship. How did she manage to do that? Well, she was more or less magic on ice in her first season at Northeastern University.
Müller finished her freshman season with a head-turning 21 goals and 30 assists in 37 games. She had 15 more points than Northeastern’s second-highest scoring skaters (Kasidy Anderson and Skylar Fontaine). The only other player to finish in the top-10 in scoring in the nation who outscored her teammates by a similar margin was RMU junior Jaycee Gebhard.
Being a consistent player is a great trait to have, but being consistently great is, well, better. The Huskies were 22-5-5 in games in which she scored a point. Fortunately for Northeastern, she was kept out of the box score just six times this year. Müller went on a 22-game scoring streak — the longest of the 2018-19 season — between Oct. 6 and Jan. 19 in which she piled up 36 points and scored five game-winning goals.
The Swiss center’s impact on the Huskies’ offense really can’t be understated. Müller led the Huskies in goals, assists, primary assists, power play points, game-winning goals, and faceoff percentage. The 54 points she piled up this year were the most scored by a Northeastern freshman in two decades.
Müller was credited with a primary point on 31.29 percent of Northeastern’s goals this year. If we include secondary assists, she had a direct hand in 38.93 percent of the Huskies’ goals. Those are both staggering ratios for a player who had to adjust to playing on the North American ice surface.
The fact that Müller started her freshman season at 20 does little to blemish what she achieved with the Huskies. In addition to being a Top-10 finalist for the Patty Kaz, she was also a First Team Hockey East All-Star and earned numerous other accolades. Her freshman season with the Huskies was truly one to remember.