With the Hockey East women's playoffs set, the top three teams in the league are clear cut: Boston University, Boston College and Northeastern. But getting through to next week’s league championship in Hyannis may prove tougher than it has in a few years.
This is the first year of the league's playoff structure that sees every single team make the playoffs, meaning that UConn, with a 1-19-1 league record, will face the league champion Terriers Saturday afternoon in the quarterfinals. BU played UConn this past weekend, where they swept with scores of 7-5 and 4-2. UConn is playing better than their record implies - they put up five goals on BU by the second period of Saturday's matchup before BU came storming back thanks to the prowess of Jenelle Kohanchuk's three points. But if there is a time when BU traditionally can nip the little lapses in the bud, it's Hockey East tournament time.
Second-seeded Boston College will face a seventh-seeded Maine team who has struggled with penalties throughout the season. The Black Bears have played frustrated at times over the past month, especially during a two game weekend at Vermont February 9th and 10th. They lead the league in penalty minutes and greatly struggle on the penalty kill.
But the Eagles have substantially increased their penalty minutes as well, averaging roughly an additional penalty per game now – up from 7.0 to 8.3 – than they were in mid-January. It may not seem like a huge amount in comparison to the high numbers of penalties a team like Maine is averaging, but it is playing a major factor in their game. When they lost to Northeastern in the Beanpot Championship game two weeks ago, BC head coach Katie King Crowley (Salem, N.H.) pointed to the penalties as being the difference maker, especially when they went down by two skaters.
"It's tough when you have to kill off a five on three or a four on three," she said. "It's hard, because you're asking them to kill off a five on three and score at the same time."
In the four games following their Beanpot loss, the Eagles have tightened up their play in the 60-90 seconds following their penalty kill - which was where Northeastern took advantage of them in the Beanpot - but it's one of the only iffy spots for their squad going into the playoffs.
Third-ranked Northeastern used their Beanpot championship as a reset button for their entire team, and it shows. Chloe Desjardins is back in net after an injury that threatened her availability for the remainder of the season, and is playing the type of game that head coach Dave Flint expected from her when he recruited her to be the heir to Florence Schelling.
“I feel a lot better, and it’s easier to move,” said Desjardins of her recovery.
Desjardins’ goaltending style is not exactly traditional, but it is working right now. They face a difficult test against a sixth-seeded University of Vermont team that has gained some much-needed confidence throughout the season. They tied Boston College last Saturday, holding the Eagles to just one goal. Roxanne Douville made 53 saves in the tie, a week after fellow starter Kelci Lanthier made 42 saves in a 2-1 loss to BU. The goaltending is there for the Catamounts and the Huskies, making this quarterfinal matchup one for the goaltending fanatics.
The tossup among the four Hockey East quarterfinal matchups will be fourth-seeded New Hampshire against fifth seeded Providence. When the two teams met earlier this month in a weekend series, New Hampshire edged Providence 6-4 before skating to a 3-3 tie the following day. Brooke Simpson (Boxborough, Mass.) could be the game changer for Providence in this series. The sophomore center had a two goal and an assist on that weekend, and had an assist as the Friars challenged Northeastern in a 4-3 loss last weekend. She has been finding a way to break through when the remainder of her team is stymied by an opposing defense.
If New Hampshire wishes to advance, freshman Alexis Crossley will be key for the Wildcats. She tallied four assists against Providence in that weekend series, and scored a goal and an assist this past weekend against Maine.
Player of the Week
Erica Uden Johansson, Quinnipiac
Uden Johansson continues to be a steady part of Quinnipiac's offense. She scored both game-winning goals for the Bobcats last weekend, including a shorthanded game-winner against Yale. Her four-point weekend broke a two game scoreless streak and a three-game goalless streak. She has 11 goals and 13 assists on the season heading into the ECAC playoffs.
Game of the Week
Harvard vs. Dartmouth
Friday 4pm, Saturday 2pm, Sunday 2pm (if necessary)
Harvard heads into the ECAC playoffs as the No. 3 seed, after running into some difficulties against St. Lawrence (tie) and Clarkson (loss) last week. Sixth-seeded Dartmouth has shown they can play with the league’s top teams - they skated to a 0-0 tie with league champion Cornell February 16th, and exploded for a 7-2 win over St. Lawrence last weekend. The Big Green have three solid scoring lines heading into the playoffs, while Harvard’s usually potent offense is being better defended against than it was earlier in the season.
1) Boston College (25-5-3 overall, 17-2-2 Hockey
East) - Melissa Bizzari (Stowe, Vermont) does not nearly
get as much attention as some of her Eagles counterparts, but she
has demonstrated her ability to be a playmaker over the last two
months of the season. She scored two goals Sunday afternoon against
the University of Vermont, and has been a threat any time the puck
gets on her stick. She has shown great awareness and hustle -
something that will be key for Boston College as they take on
increasingly more difficult defenses as the postseason
2) Boston University (23-5-3 overall, 18-2-1 Hockey East) - Lost in some of the celebration of winning their second ever Hockey East regular season title was that Isabel Menard picked up her 100th career assist during the Terriers' 7-5 win Saturday against UConn. Menard had two assists on Saturday and added another Sunday afternoon. "I like to look at my other linemates to put the puck in, maybe too much," she admitted recently.
3) Harvard (21- 5- 3 overall, 17- 3- 2 ECAC) - Keep an eye on freshman center Mary Parker (Milton, Mass.) She showed great versatility and vision during the Beanpot tournament, and has continued a high level of play since. She centered the line that scored the Crimson's only goal in Saturday's 3-1 loss to Clarkson, and then netted two goals of her own Tuesday evening against Yale. Parker is stepping up as defenses do their best to stop offensive mainstays Jillian Dempsey and Lyndsey Fry.
4) Northeastern (21-10-2 overall, 13-7-1 Hockey
East) - Kendall Coyne hit her 100th career point last
week. Coyne has been allowed to concentrate on offense now that
several defensemen have returned from injury. Coyne also mentions
that the mood on the Huskies bench has improved, and that is
helping them come into their own as a team. "We just stay positive
on the bench, no matter what."
5) Quinnipiac (19-10- 4 overall, 13- 6- 3 ECAC) - The Bobcats got the last home seed (fourth) in the ECAC women's quarterfinals, where they will host fifth seeded St. Lawrence Friday, Saturday and Sunday. St. Lawrence skated to a 1-1 tie with Quinnipiac just two weekends ago, a game where they kept Uden Johansson, Kelly Babstock and Nicole Kosta off the score sheet. The Bobcats will need to find a way to keep those three from being shut down again if they want to advance.