Princeton's Denna Laing draws parallels between politics, hockey
by Mike Zhe/Staff Writer
For Princeton forward Denna Laing, one of the aspects of her passion she most enjoys is seeing how all the little things done outside the public eye come together when the spotlights get turned on.
There’s the preparation … the attention to detail … doing the same things over and over.
In hockey, sure. But in a political campaign, too.
Eighteen days after Princeton opens its new season with a game at RIT on Oct. 19, Americans will go to the polls to elect their next president. Paying particular interest to that will be Laing, a junior and one of the Tigers’ top returning players, who spent the summer working in Republican candidate Mitt Romney’s campaign headquarters in Boston.
A politics major, Laing applied for an internship with Romney for President, interviewing for the position by phone and ultimately landing it. Though not permitted to talk publicly about things like policy or operations, she was involved in aspects of the campaign such as voter outreach and setting up events.
And the parallels between her summer job and her favorite sport? There’s no shortage.
“We did so many little things for one event,” she said. “It was the same as in hockey — all the little things matter. All the little things you do in the preseason lead up to the games. Just like politics. Every piece of paperwork, every phone call made a difference in what we were trying to do.”
This season, she and her teammates are hoping the preparation and attention to detail they’ve shown in the offseason and preseason will be enough to net some big victories in November — and beyond.
The Tigers were as middle-of-the-pack as a team could get last season, finishing 10-10-2 in ECAC Hockey (12-15-4 overall) and dropping two close games to second-seeded Harvard in the tournament quarterfinals. Laing, whose 11 goals and 22 points were second on the team to Sally Butler, is a big reason the Tigers think they can move up.
“Denna’s an absolute thoroughbred hockey player,” Princeton coach Jeff Kampersal said. “A great skater, and tough. She’ll go through people and she’s quick enough to go around people.”
As the ECAC opens a new season, the question’s the same as in recent years: Who, if anyone, is the best bet to go through Cornell, the team that’s won the past three regular-season titles and is ranked No. 3 nationally?
Harvard and St. Lawrence are the trendy picks. The Crimson were tabbed for second in the preseason coaches’ poll and scooped up the three first-place votes that didn’t go to Cornell. St. Lawrence has lots back from the team that stunned Cornell in last season’s final and reached the NCAA tournament.
“We understand that last year is last year and this year is this year,” St. Lawrence coach Chris Wells said. “But there are many players returning that had a great experience last season and they want that to continue.”
Depth — or the lack of it — is what did Princeton in a year ago. The Tigers played the majority of the year with just 15 skaters after the injury bug hit, and where it was felt most was offensively, where the team averaged just 2.06 goals a game and was anemic (12.6 percent) on the power play.
“We played hard, we defended pretty well, but our goal output was low,” Kampersal said. “That’s our biggest worry going into the season, how much offense we can create.”
That’s where Laing figures in. With good size at 5-foot-9, strong skating ability and a quick shot, she’ll be asked to improve on her scoring numbers from last season, along with fellow senior Butler (15-11-26) and junior Olivia Mucha, who missed most of last season after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury. If those three players can’t increase their production, it could be a doomed campaign.
Then there’s the other type of campaign, one Laing’s been intrigued by since her days as a prep school student at Noble and Greenough School outside of Boston, a girls hockey power that won a pair of New England championships during her tenure there.
“I had a great history teacher who taught and politics and ethics course,” she said. “From there, I definitely fell in love with the subject of politics.”
Tom Resor, who coached Laing for five years at Nobles and also served as her college counselor, saw a tenacity that extended from the ice to the classroom, where she was never shy to voice an opinion.
“I guess I’d call it being an active learner,” Resor said. “She loved discussion classes. Her teachers would talk about her having strong opinions. Not that she was trying to stand out. That’s just her nature. Some kids sit back. Denna’s a doer.”
Laing’s course load this semester includes classes on both American politics and public opinion, and the topic of her junior paper is on politics and the media. And, of course, there was the internship.
During the summer, that meant waking up at 5 a.m. to avoid the Boston traffic and get in a workout, before taking the 8:30 a.m. train into Boston. At the end of the day, she’d take the train out and drive to a local rink to get in a skate before heading home and preparing to do it all over again the next day.
“The summer was a lot of fun,” she said. “It was a long day.”
The question for her and the Tigers is whether they can make 2012-13 a longer season.
“I think a lot of people definitely underestimate us,” she said. “We’re working as hard as anybody else and we’re excited for the season to get going. It’s definitely a motivator to see yourself in the middle of the (preseason rankings). You always want to do better than people think.”
That’s as true in hockey as it is in politics.
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.