On the first day of captain’s practices for the Northeastern women’s hockey team, team members showed up at storied Matthews Arena much earlier than needed. They milled about the newly laid down ice, anxiously waiting for the men’s team to finish their own first captain’s practice.
|Kendall Coyne, who led NU in scoring as a freshman, is focused on helping the Huskies reach the NCAA tournament. (Photo: Northeastern Athletics)|
Not surprisingly, Kendall Coyne (Berkshire School) was one of, if not the first, to eagerly approach the ice.
“Last year was nice, but my motto always is, ‘Be better than yesterday and play like tomorrow,’ and that’s always running through my head, to just be better than yesterday,” Coyne said.
Being better than yesterday could be a tough act for Coyne to follow. Her freshman year for the Huskies saw her leading the team in scoring with 26 goals and 19 assists, and earning the Hockey East Rookie of the Year. She saw time as the first-line center right off the bat, and scored her first collegiate goal at the end of her first regular-season game, Oct. 7 against Syracuse.
But what bothers Coyne in the beginning of September also aches her teammates. Despite a conference record (15-3-3) that earned Northeastern its first Hockey East regular-season title, the Huskies came up short in the league’s tournament semifinals on Cape Cod. They lost to fourth-seeded Providence College, 2-0. The loss ended their season, keeping the Huskies from their first NCAA tournament appearance.
“I think we took a lot from winning the Beanpot and Hockey East, but I think we took too much, because the goal was to make NCAAs and we didn’t,” Coyne said. “In the end, that really hurt. It was nice to win Hockey East, but in the end, it doesn’t mean as much if you aren’t playing and eight other teams are still playing.”
Northeastern coach Dave Flint (Merrimack, N.H.) is hoping that his team can put the sour end to last season behind it. Despite the disappointment, he saw 2011-12 as a just another step in his long-term plan for the 31-year-old program.
“Last season was a huge stepping stone for us,” the fifth-year head coach said. “I don’t think I need to use last year’s end as motivation. But I know some of my players will.”
Flint would rather his team use more positive memories from last season as motivation. He points to what motivated last season’s success.
“We won our first ever playoff game the year before (2010-11) and went to the league championship,” Flint said. “It was a big boost to win that first playoff game. That was a confidence booster for our team to know we can play against teams like Boston College and Boston University, and we carried that into last year.”
All of the Huskies’ recent successes are a part of a multiyear plan Flint has laid out for the program. He came to Northeastern from Division 3 St. Anslem in 2008, and was vocal since the beginning about his plans to change the fate of the team. The Huskies’ marked improvements over the past five years have been obvious to the league and nationally.
“I had goals when I took over the program in 2008 to get them to a certain level, and last year was the first year we really made that big jump,” Flint said.
Flint believes like this season’s Northeastern squad might best represent his long-term plan, as this senior class is his first recruiting class. He points to this class as being some of the first to change the culture of the program to a more confident one.
“I think we have done a really good job over the past four years of bringing in good hockey players who are also good kids,” Flint said. “That has helped me succeed in changing the culture of the program.”
Northeastern’s recent incoming classes are not just good kids, but they also are top-flight hockey players. Coyne is a member of the U.S. Women’s National Team and has played in the past two World Championships. Senior right winger Brittany Esposito was a part of the U22 camp for Hockey Canada this summer.
Having players with national team and camp experience helps Flint with his long-term plan.
“Those kids, when they come into a program, they know what it takes on the ice and off the ice to win and to play at that next level,” Flint said. “It elevates everybody. Just in practice, that makes everyone better. That makes everyone on the team better. That really showed last year.”
Reflecting on her experience with the Canadian team, Esposito echoes Flint’s comments: “It helped me realize that there is so much more I can do to become a better hockey player, and it also helped me realize that there is more we could be doing as a team to become better.”
For Esposito, her senior year looks to be a chance to show everything she is capable of while showing the type of character Flint values in his culture change.
“(Brittany) had two ACL surgeries and has battled through those, and is now playing with more confidence,” Flint said. “I thought she played very well last year and stepped up in some big spots for us. I think this year we’re going to see more consistency out of her, and she’s going to elevate her game to a level we haven’t seen yet.”
Two of this season’s freshmen also have that valuable national team experience. Forward Paige Savage and defenseman Jordan Hampton (Exeter, N.H.) were a part of the USA Under 18 Team. Savage spent part of her summer playing with Coyne and the U22s.
“Paige will have a major impact. She is someone who is going to step in and play right away, and we expect her to contribute,” Flint said. “Jordan is a great defenseman who is going to definitely solidify things for us in the back, and she’s going to be counted on right away.”
This senior class also will be looked upon to represent how far the program has come. Senior captains Casey Pickett (Wilmington, Mass.) and Katie MacSorley have been key contributors over the past three years, and their final season should be no different. Maggie Brennolt will act as junior captain and will be a defensive key for the Huskies.
Playing improved team defense will be important to Northeastern due to the graduation of All-American goaltender Florence Schelling. Replacing Schelling in net will be sophomore Chloe Desjardins (Brewster Academy).
“I would have liked to give Chloe some more experience last year, but when you have a goalie like Florence, and every game is so critical, it was hard to do that,” Flint said. “I recruited Chloe to be Florence’s replacement. I think she’s an exceptional goalie, and I think she’s going to do great things for us.”
But Northeastern’s success this season will most likely have much to do with the play of Coyne. Flint and her teammates agree that her talent is a game changer.
“Kendall is just a dynamic player,” Flint said. “Every time she touches the puck, she’s going to make something happen and you just hold her breath. Every time she’s on the ice, the other team’s focus is on her, which opens up a lot of opportunities for her linemates.”
If Coyne and her teammates play at the same level as Northeastern’s breakout last season, they will have no problem hanging in with the BCs and BUs, as well as women’s hockey’s storied Midwestern schools. While the sting of last year’s unexpected playoff loss will linger a bit, Esposito believes there are a lot more positives from that experience that will last far longer.
“Because of what we accomplished last year, we have that confidence coming into this year,” Esposito said. “We also have high expectations, and we want to meet those expectations and surpass them if we can.”
This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.