October 10, 2011

From NEHJ: BU's Wakefield turns snub into sniping

by Mike Zhe

BU players including Jenn Wakefield (9) celebrate a goal in their NCAA semifinal against Cornell last year. (photo: David DeNoma)

When Jenn Wakefield is in the offensive zone, whether she’s handling the puck or crashing the net, she’s almost always in control.

At 5-foot-9, with an explosive stride and rocket right-handed shot, the Boston University senior is someone who demands attention every time her team has the puck. In three years of college hockey, she’s collected 91 goals and 149 points.

That said, the biggest disappointment of her young career stemmed from something she had little control over.

The biggest names in the college game spent the bulk of the 2009-10 season playing for U.S. and Canadian national teams with an eye on the Vancouver Olympics. Wakefield, who grew up in Pickering, Ont., outside of Toronto, and starred for two seasons at New Hampshire, was just coming off a separated shoulder that had sidelined her for two months when she broke her hand three weeks before Team Canada’s final cuts.

On selection day, the Canadian players gathered in the locker room, and the coaches called players in one by one to explain their status. Wakefield was told she had just missed making the Olympic team, and would serve as an alternate.

Another bad break.

“It’s always been such a big goal of mine to make the Olympic team,” she said. “To get cut in that way was so devastating because so much of it was out of my control.”

Nearly two years later, life is good again for Wakefield. For one, we’re nearly halfway through the Olympic cycle, which means Wakefield and other hopefuls are casting an eye on the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Second, she’s the captain of arguably the most talented women’s college hockey team in the nation. Instead of chasing a gold medal, she’ll try to help BU take the final step it couldn’t a year ago, when it lost to Wisconsin in the NCAA championship game.

“We know,” said Wakefield, “that we’re going to have a bull’s-eye on our back.”

No doubt about that. The Terriers were anointed the team to be in the Hockey East preseason poll, and enter the season ranked No. 2 nationally, behind Wisconsin. There are a few missing pieces, but most of the players responsible for last year’s charge to the title game are back.

“I don’t see (Wakefield’s) role changing drastically,” said BU coach Brian Durocher (Longmeadow, Mass.). “That’s someone who’s now been a three-year fantastic player in our league and has a year of experience with the (Canadian) national team.

“She had 32 goals last year. That’s a career for most people – maybe two careers.”

Only five players in Division 1 scored more goals than Wakefield last year. This year, with another strong supporting cast and the extra defensive attention she’s sure to receive, she may be asked to do more distributing.

“We’ve talked with her to make sure she’s using her teammates, that not everything has to be aimed at the top corner,” said Durocher. “She could end up with 10 or 15 more points even if she ends up with two or three less goals.”

Wakefield’s migration to Comm. Ave is part of an unprecedented influx of talent to the city, at least in the women’s game.

In addition to Wakefield, BU lured Canadian Olympic stars Marie-Philip Poulin and Catherine Ward prior to last season. BC has developed a pair of U.S. Olympic players in recently-graduated forward Kelli Stack and goalie Molly Schaus.

Not to be outdone, the crown jewel of Northeastern’s incoming freshman class is Kendall Coyne of the Berkshire School, who was the youngest player on the U.S. team that won gold at the Women’s World Championship in April.

“Women’s college hockey in Boston is pretty exciting,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint (Merrimack, N.H.). “There are great teams, with BU and BC making it to the Frozen Four last year, us making it to the championship game. Harvard’s always a power.

“Boston has a lot to offer and (players) are seeing what a great place it is.”

As BU’s captain this year, Wakefield plans to incorporate things she’s picked up from two of the captains she played for: Hayley Wickenheiser, the four-time Canadian Olympian; and U.S. Olympic defenseman Kacey Bellamy (Westfield, Mass.), whom she played with at UNH.

“(Wickenheiser) is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever had an opportunity to play with,” said Wakefield. “She gets the job done and stands up for what’s right. (Bellamy) is just a great leader on and off the ice. She interacted with every player on the team and took into account every point of view.”

She draws further inspiration from players like Tessa Bonhomme, who was one of the final cuts on Canada’s 2006 Olympic team. Bonhomme took her disappointment back to Ohio State, tore things up as a junior and senior, and earned a spot on Canada’s gold medal-winning Olympic squad in 2010.

The middle of three sisters who grew up rooting for the Buffalo Sabres, Wakefield chose UNH, initially, because she liked the campus and it offered the physical education major she wanted. She said she doesn’t regret the two years she spent there, but said she eventually realized it wasn’t the right fit.

Enter BU. Wakefield had played on Canada’s Under-22 team with Jenelle Kohanchuk and Tara Watchorn, She wanted to stay in the region and play on a Hockey East team. She decided to transfer shortly after her sophomore year ended, before her Olympic team heartbreak.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better school to transfer into,” she said.

The disappointment of two winters ago is fading into the past. What’s ahead of Wakefield now looks brighter than ever.

This article originally appeared in the October 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal. Mike Zhe can be reached at mzhe@hockeyjournal.com.