Kimberly Newell didn’t know that she was close to passing 50 wins, a program record. It wasn’t until Feb. 13, the night Princeton posted an overtime win against St. Lawrence, that Newell realized she won her 50th game.
She found out on Twitter.
“I didn’t know that at all. I saw that on Twitter and it was so funny because they said winningest. I was like is that even a word,” Newell said, laughing.
“It was pretty exciting and I shared it with my parents and they sent it to all my family members. I think it’s something that’s really cool and something that’s going to stick around and be in Princeton history for a little bit, but hopefully there’s another goalie that breaks it. That means that Princeton’s doing well.
“I think it is nice to get some acknowledgment especially when you start out your career on not a successful team. So I think it’s been really cool to see the progression throughout the years and how we’ve improved.”
According to Merriam-Webster, “winningest” is a word. And it’s the best one to describe Newell’s final season, where she’s amassed 17 of her 51 wins. The senior has started 24 games for the Tigers this year, helping Princeton to a 21-6-2 record.
“She’s a student of the game,” Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal said at the midseason break. “She’s always trying to learn, she’s always trying to improve, she’s very meticulous in terms of her preparation. If she goes through a game and thinks back [she] maybe takes notes of plays that happened or situations that she did well or could’ve done better. I think she uses that information to improve upon the next time.”
Along with a career high in wins this season, Newell also holds a .943 save percentage – her career best and fifth in the country.
“She takes care of herself, she’s really good in the weight room and [she has] good, powerful explosive movement and that comes from the weight room,” Kampersal said. “She has the ability to make first saves but the ability to get across the crease and make second saves. Her physicality, I should say her athleticism in net, her height and then this year her mental toughness are the key things or the key reasons that she’s been great.”
Mobility is important to Newell, who said she’s worked on being lighter on her feet.
“I find that a lot of times I tend to, actually a lot of goalies do this. [A] a pretty common mistake is getting down and stuck in your butterfly a lot,” Newell said. “It’s very easy to go down early on shots and then get stuck there and not be able to move for rebounds. It’s also very energy consuming. And so that’s one of the focuses, where I’m trying to stay on my feet as much as much as possible because you’re faster and more mobile on your feet than on your knees.”
As the backstop, Newell may be the key to Princeton’s defense and its success. But this season she’s benefitted from an improved Tiger team in front – meaning Newell has faced a career-low in shots this year. She has just 625 saves this year on 663 shots, compared to 816 saves on 882 shots last season.
“In previous years, I could kind of expect that every game I’ll get a lot of shots and they’ll all be relatively dangerous,” Newell said. “But this year it depends on the teams that we’re playing.”
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Newell said there are three types of games this season she has to prepare for – games where she won’t face many shots, games where she faces more shots but not many dangerous ones, and games where she handles a lot of shots.
To adapt to each situation’s challenges, Newell has reached back to her days of youth hockey – where she played on two different clubs.
“I kind of brought back some of those methods and techniques, dusted them off a little bit and reused them,” Newell said. “I think that helped me a lot to deal with the different kinds of games that I’ve been facing.”
One of her experiences came from the Burnaby Winter Club, a winning team where she didn’t face many shots. The lapse between seeing shots taught Newell how to stay focused.
“One of the things that I’ll do is during a whistle when there’s a break in the play, if I feel myself getting kind of cold or whatever, I’ll always skate out and tap the boards and skate to my net,” Newell said. “Or I’ll do a few slides or something like that to make sure that I’m keeping the blood flow and keeping myself warm.”
Newell then played for the Kootenay Ice, a team last in its league. The goaltender said she probably faced around 45 shots per game, so she learned to manage her crease better.
“[I learned to] manage my depth so I don’t have to move as far on certain plays where it’s not necessary,” Newell said. “You’re cutting out a lot of excessive movement, unnecessary movement, and trying to conserve energy that way.
“But it’s kind of a tricky balance because sometimes you might get caught off guard if on a certain play you’re reading it as a backdoor or something like that. And so you’re kind of backed off a bit, but then the situation changes and now you’re kind of caught off guard a little bit because you’re trying to conserve. But there’s a bit of a tradeoff between crease management and conserving your energy and your optimal play.”
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While Newell’s techniques haven’t changed, her mental preparation has. During her four years at Princeton, Newell has developed an in-depth, pregame routine designed for optimal performance.
“I think that I’ve really come to understand myself and how I get ready for games and how I have to be feeling and what I have to be thinking in order to be at peak performance,” Newell said.
Before the game, Newell juggles to warm up her hand-eye coordination. She also juggles soccer balls with hear teammates to warm up her feet. Then to adjust her upper-body position, Newell tosses a bouncy ball at a wall and catches it.
And at the end of on-ice warmups, Newell visualizes saves and the puck hitting her glove.
“The purpose of that is to go through the motions. … Sometimes when you practice, you don’t get all kinds of different shots, you get a small sample [of] shots,” Newell said. “They’ll often go low blocker or something. But you’re not working high glove. So when you go into a game, you find out that your glove is dropped in your stance without you noticing. And so when the shot goes high glove, you can’t get to it because your glove’s too low.
“So going through these routines helps you to make sure that your gloves are in the right position so that you can make the high glove save and the low glove save.”
Newell’s on and off-ice preparation has helped Princeton not only to home ice in the ECAC playoffs, but also to an Ivy League title – the program’s first since 2006.
“I thought las year when we lost it, I don’t know why, but I thought that was our one chance and it was gone,” Newell said. “It was really heartbreaking, especially for the seniors that year. But it was hard to imagine that we would have another run at it this year, to be quite honest. I didn’t think we, especially myself, expected to have such a strong team and obviously it’s been great that it’s turned out this way.
The Tigers locked up the Ivy League title with a win at Cornell on Feb. 6.
“I think that not having that expectation almost helped in a way, because you’re just fighting every day to win the next game,” Newell said. “You’re not focusing on those big goals. I think when you’re focusing on the process, it really helps you to reach those goals in the end.”