Discovering her stride: Sarah Fillier’s path to projected high decide in 2024 PWHL draft

Sarah Fillier carried the puck from one finish of the ice to the opposite, stickhandling by means of two Quinnipiac College defenders earlier than scoring bar-down.

It was early December 2018 and a then-18-year-old Fillier had lately returned to Princeton College from the 4 Nations Cup, the place she scored a aim in her first call-up to the Canadian senior nationwide ladies’s staff.

She spent that point rooming along with her idol, Marie-Philip Poulin. She watched how Poulin carried herself on and off the ice, and the way she’s at all times striving to get higher it doesn’t matter what she’s completed.

The primary couple months of school hockey had been an adjustment for Fillier, who wanted to get used to a unique fashion of play in opposition to older gamers. However after coming back from her stint with Staff Canada, Princeton head coach Cara Morey remembers feeling like one thing inside Fillier let go in that sport in opposition to Quinnipiac.

“This can be a scary participant,” Morey remembers pondering on the bench that evening. Fillier scored twice in that 4-1 Princeton win.

“You possibly can simply see the boldness construct in her,” Morey stated. “As a coach, it was a very thrilling second since you knew she discovered her stride, basically.”

WATCH | Taking part in in PWHL could be ‘a dream come true’ for Fillier:

Going No. 1 in PWHL draft ‘could be a dream come true’ for Sarah Fillier

The 23-year-old ahead from Georgetown, Ont., says she’s watched nearly each sport and is happy to hitch the league subsequent season.

Greater than 5 years and an Olympic gold medal later, 23-year-old Fillier is more likely to hear her identify referred to as first total on this June’s PWHL draft.

The staff that drafts her is getting a generational participant, a sport changer who can see the ice and discover methods to attain like few others can.

She’ll begin her professional profession recent off a season with Princeton the place she led the nation in objectives per sport (1.03). Earlier than that, she was Canada’s finest participant on the 2023 world championship, incomes match MVP honours with 11 factors in seven video games.

“Not solely are they getting the most effective younger participant on this planet, however they’re getting somebody who cares deeply about her household and her associates and her teammates,” Morey stated.

It has been a path that is included some bumps within the highway, from returning to the faculty sport after two seasons away to studying the right way to be a frontrunner beneath a brilliant highlight.

Prodigious hockey thoughts

Fillier was round 14 years previous the primary time Morey noticed her play at a provincial match with the Halton Twisters, after folks stored telling her she needed to see a proficient teenager from Georgetown, Ont., a neighborhood about 50 kilometres west of Toronto.

Fillier wasn’t the largest participant on the ice, however she was bodily dominant. Her palms, pace and shot had been on a unique degree.

“You possibly can simply inform she noticed the sport otherwise than everyone else,” Morey stated.

Morey stated Fillier noticed the potential in Princeton’s program. Morey additionally recruited Fillier’s twin sister, Kayla, who Morey describes as probably the greatest hockey minds she’s ever coached.

A woman smiles as she walks past display cases filled with hockey memorabilia.
Fillier walks by means of the ladies’s hockey exhibit on the Hockey Corridor of Fame in 2023. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press)

With each dwelling away from house for the primary time, being collectively helped the transition off the ice.

“She’s positively my position mannequin, which she in all probability would not know, and I am actually proud to be her sister,” Fillier stated.

After her breakout sport in opposition to Quinnipiac in 2018, Fillier went on to attain 57 factors in 29 video games en path to serving to Princeton to an Ivy League championship.

That first 12 months, Morey remembers Fillier generally holding again in drills, not desirous to steal the highlight.

“I bear in mind saying, Sarah, you must at all times be the most effective participant on the ice in each rep, in each drill as a result of that is how you are going to attain your greatness,” Morey stated.

“It’s important to study to be OK being the best participant on this planet as a result of that is who you might be. And it was actually emotional for her as a result of it isn’t her character.”

The following season, she helped lead Princeton to this system’s first Jap Faculty Athletic Convention (ECAC) title.

After which, the pandemic occurred.

An Olympic dream

With play within the Ivy League shut down in 2020-21, Fillier opted to take time away and chase her Olympic dream.

“I simply bear in mind my dad and mom form of coming into my room at some point and saying, if the Olympics is your dream, take the 12 months off and we’ll help you,” Fillier stated.

She spent the subsequent season in a fitness center and rink in Toronto’s Leaside neighbourhood, sporting masks and social distancing as she educated with nationwide staff members like Natalie Spooner, Jamie Lee Rattray and Brianne Jenner.

“It was positively good for me as a result of, once more, nobody was there watching,” Fillier stated. “There was no highlight. There have been no expectations, no stress.”

A woman in a Team Canada jersey smiles with an Olympic gold medal around her neck. She's holding the Canadian flag behind her.
Fillier celebrates along with her gold medal on the Beijing Olympics in 2022. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Pictures)

Like she did with Poulin two years earlier, Fillier soaked in all the pieces from the gamers round her. Jenner, particularly, turned a job mannequin. Fillier watched her present up day-after-day in search of methods to get higher.

After the pandemic cancelled the world championship twice, Fillier bought the prospect to play at her first match in a bubble in Calgary in August 2021. After her season coaching in Toronto, Fillier was comfy along with her teammates and the extent of play.

It confirmed on the ice, the place Fillier was a part of a standout line with Spooner and Mèlodie Daoust. The trio put up a mixed 27 factors in seven video games en path to Canada’s first world championship since 2012. 

On the Olympics a number of months later, Fillier shined on a dominant Staff Canada that gained Olympic gold in Beijing.

Headlines referred to as Fillier “the subsequent one,” a celebrity within the making. When she returned to Princeton within the fall of 2022 after two seasons away, expectations had been excessive.

Studying the right way to lead

“When she got here again, I feel the idea from everyone was simply, that is going to be simple,” Morey stated.

“She’s going to stroll in and be handed [the Patty Kazmaier Award — annually given to women’s college hockey’s best player] and lead Princeton to a nationwide title. And it was a very difficult 12 months and it did not occur like that. She was getting triple teamed.”

After the Olympics, everybody on the ice knew who Fillier was.

She needed to discover ways to play a unique approach, the right way to lead because the staff’s captain with everybody’s eyes on her, even when it felt uncomfortable at instances.

A hockey player takes a shot on the ice.
Fillier recorded a 30-goal season in her ultimate marketing campaign with Princeton. (Shelley M. Szwast/Princeton Athletics)

“I feel that going by means of final season actually made her form of mirror on the right way to develop into a frontrunner, the right way to handle expectations when the entire world is speaking about you and you are feeling like possibly you are beneath performing,” Morey stated.

A psychology main, Fillier thought so much about confidence and the position of self-affirmation. It led her to the subject of the thesis she’s writing now. She’s tracked about 250 feminine Division 1 hockey gamers to attempt to perceive how self-affirmation impacts their efficiency on the ice.

The long run face of a franchise

In her ultimate season with Princeton, Fillier put up a 30-goal season. Usually a centre, she spent the final half of the season taking part in on the wing, a place she’d by no means performed earlier than, as she tries to develop into extra of a “Swiss Military knife on the ice.”

“It’s important to proceed to attempt to discover worth so as to add to your sport,” Fillier stated. “Now I am comfy there and hopefully I can match form of anyplace in our Canadian lineup to assist our program win a gold medal.”

She’ll have the prospect to do this beginning on April 4, when Canada begins its quest to reclaim the world championship, after shedding to the People on house soil final 12 months.

A female hockey player wearing a Princeton jersey carries the puck on the ice.
Fillier is writing her thesis on the position of self-affirmation in feminine faculty hockey gamers’ on-ice efficiency. (Shelley M. Szwast/Princeton Athletics)

After worlds, Fillier can have her sights set on June’s PWHL draft. Fillier watched as many video games as she might this season and is a fan of the league’s physicality.

Taking part in with the most effective gamers on this planet, Morey thinks Fillier will be capable to thrive in the identical approach she did in her first two years in Princeton and in her debut with Canada: by counting on veteran leaders and rising into turning into the face of a franchise.

“These expectations concerning the draft are form of outdoors noise for me proper now,” Fillier stated concerning the prospect of being taken first total.

“However it will be a dream come true. I imply, I’ve grown up watching NHL drafts and form of seeing these moments for these guys. It’s going to be actually cool to expertise the draft regardless of the place I am going, and simply to see ladies’s hockey get proven extra.”

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