|Marie-Philip Poulin (photo: Isabel Slepoy/BU Athletics)|
Boston University is the near-unanimous pick to claim a third straight championship in Women’s Hockey East this season.
Of course, before they can win the league, the Terriers first have to get out of their own city.
BU, the national runner-up to Wisconsin last year, was unveiled as the team to beat when Women’s Hockey East released its preseason poll on Tuesday. The Terriers received 55 points and six of a possible eight first-place votes in the poll.
“Obviously,” said BU coach Brian Durocher (Longmeadow, Mass.), during a conference call involving league coaches on Tuesday, “we’ve got a little bit of a target on our back.”
Two teams that will be taking aim from close range are Boston College and Northeastern.
BC, a Frozen Four team itself last season, was picked second, with 51 points and the other two first-place votes.
Northeastern was tabbed third (42 points) after reaching the Hockey East title game last season.
“Women’s college hockey in Boston is pretty exciting,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint (Merrimack, N.H.). “There’s great teams, with BU and BC making it to the Frozen Four last year, us making it to the (league) championship game, and Harvard’s always a power. It’s exciting.”
Rounding out the poll are Providence (39), Connecticut (30), Vermont (24), New Hampshire (21) and Maine (18). UNH and Vermont were the two teams that did not qualify for the league playoffs last season.
Save for standout defenseman Catherine Ward and a couple of productive forwards, BU brings just about everyone back from a team that went 24-7-4 overall. That group is led by a pair of Canadian national team forwards – Jenn Wakefield and Marie-Philip Poulin – who posted scoring lines of 32-22-54 and 23-24-47 respectively, last year.
Defensemen Tara Watchorn and Kasey Boucher (Lewiston, Maine), forwards Jenelle Kohanchuk and Jill Cardella, and sophomore goalie Kerrin Sperry of North Reading, Mass. (1.63 GAA, .929 save percentage) are other key members of the Terriers’ star-studded cast.
BC waved good-bye to Kelli Stack, the league’s scoring camp with 36-22-58 totals, and Molly Schaus (Natick, Mass.), a U.S. Olympic team goalie, but have most everyone else back. The Eagles’ strength could be defense, with players like Blake Bolden, Meagan Mangene, Jess Martino (Winthrop, Mass.) and Dru Burns anchoring the blueline.
“Obviously, we lose two great players,” said BC coach Katie King Crowley (Salem, N.H.), “but we’re really excited to see what the season has. We have a great core of players coming back.”
Northeastern returns a standout goalie in Florence Schelling (2.02 GAA, .930 save percentage), and a couple proven producers up front in Katie MacSorley and Rachel Llanes.
Get outside Route 128 and the biggest challenge could come from a Providence program that brings most players back from a team that won 22 games. Leading the way is standout goalie Genevieve Lacasse, who posted a 1.83 GAA and .941 save percentage.
Mike Zhe can be reached at email@example.com.