MINNEAPOLIS — In one of the strongest seasons ever for women’s college hockey in New England, Boston University emerged as the last one standing to face a University of Minnesota team being billed as the greatest team of all time.
The Terriers (28-6-3) entered the national finale on a 10-game winning streak, before falling, 6-3, in the national championship game to the 41-0-0 Gophers. For a team that struggled in early February, the drive to the Frozen Four was a tad unexpected, but just another indicator of how far the 8-year-old program has come.
BU was in danger of letting its season derail after a disappointing Beanpot tournament, where it dropped both games. “We didn’t come out of that Beanpot funk until we won 6-0 against UNH,” said head coach Brian Durocher (Longmeadow, Mass.) the day before the national championship game. “Our team, for about four games, was down. Our seniors have never won it — and they’ve won a lot of championships. It was really tough to watch the Poulins, the Menards, the Kohanchuks misfire and mishandle the puck. They’re some really special players, and even they were allergic to it.
“To see them now in the right frame of mind, that’s all you can ask for.”
Their right frame of mind was evident in the increasing contributions by players beyond their Canadian all-star first line of Jenelle Kohanchuk, Marie-Philip Poulin and Sarah Lefort. More players stepped in to take shots on net and play defense, allowing the Terriers to feel comfortable running three lines in important circumstances. Earlier this season, when a game was in doubt, the coaching staff would rotate the first two lines to give BU the most firing power. Late in the season, BU was able to send out underclassmen such as freshmen Rebecca Russo (Shelton, Conn.) and Jordan Juron to create quality opportunities.
One of those not-so-typical goal scorers got on the scoresheet to help the Terriers dispatch Mercyhurst, 4-1, in the Frozen Four semifinals. Defenseman Kathryn Miller scored a goal three minutes into the third period to increase BU’s confidence not just in its ability to win, but ability to score beyond the big names.
“With all the kids on the back line, they keep things simple, but they get their shots on net and they put pressure on people,” explained Durocher. “Someone who’s not up the ice very often, Kathryn Miller, sneaks up there and gets a big goal in the third period. That’s a key part of our team, and to have six or seven individuals who have got good numbers is awful nice.”
“In the third, when Miller scored her goal, that was a turning point,” said goaltender Kerrin Sperry (North Reading, Mass.). “Miller doesn’t score a ton of goals. She’s a hard-working defenseman, and I rely on her a lot, and she got down there and scored a goal, which pumped everyone up.”
Others who stepped up to spur on BU’s playoff run included Shannon Stoneburgh and Louise Warren, who made themselves known by their headstrongness in the Terriers’ transition game, one of the elements of play where they were able to outduel every team they matched up with — including Minnesota.
“Our transitions were a phenomenal part of our game plan,” said Kohanchuk after the Mercyhurst semifinal. “We worked with each other and communicated and took advantage of that.”
Warren and Stoneburgh not only poked, pressured and prodded mid-ice, but also they set up key goals in the postseason. Warren had a five-point effort, including two goals, in the NCAA quarterfinal against Clarkson, a game the Terriers won, 5-3.
Stoneburgh came up huge in the national championship game, diving in to protect the goal line when Sperry was screened or caught up by a rush of Minnesota forwards. She also made the initial shot on Lefort’s first-period goal on Gophers goaltender Noora Raty in the championship game.
“I’d be surprised if she’s not our most improved player in the eyes of the players and the staff at the end of the year,” Durocher said. “All of a sudden she’s really got her game together and she uses her size, her reach, and pucks have gone in the net. She’s not a classic offensive defensemen, but when things are going right, good things happen, and she’s had a marvelous year.”
Both BU and Boston College (27-7-3) showed a never-say-die attitude and effort as they faced the Gophers, a team that was on an incredible 47-game winning streak heading into the Frozen Four.
BC got an outstanding effort by senior goaltender Corrine Boyles in its semifinal against Minnesota. Boyles made 36 saves in the 4-3 overtime loss, but stepped up to steal many Gopher chances.
phenomenal,” said Eagles head coach Katie King Crowley
(Salem, N.H.). “She made the saves that we needed her to make.”
Despite the kudos, Boyles gave her teammates much of the credit. “It was a tough go, but I’m still really proud of the team,” said Boyles. “Everybody played great in front of me, and there are certainly no regrets coming out of that.”
Blake Bolden and Emily Field also demonstrated a tremendous amount of fight in the post-season. Senior captain Bolden turned in two of the strongest defensive performances of her career in BC’s quarterfinal game against crosstown rival Harvard and the semifinal tilt. Her forecheck was strong, and she disrupted many opportunities between Minnesota’s high-scoring top line.
“She probably played her best game right here, tonight,” said King Crowley after the semifinal.
Field (Littleton, Mass.) had a number of top-notch shots toward Raty in the semifinal’s first few minutes, and notched the game’s first goal. She ended the semifinal second on the team with five shots, and finished the season with 125 shots.
“She just brings energy to the ice every day, whether it is in practice or in a game,” said King Crowley. “You could see that today. She was fired up for this game, and you could tell.”
BU also went into the championship matchup with Minnesota fired up and never conceded defeat even as the game seemed to be out of hand in the waning minutes of the third period. The Terriers brought the game within two goals and continued to make promising plays even after Amanda Kessel scored an empty-netter with 49 seconds remaining.
“I do not know many teams who would be down 4-1 to an undefeated team after the second period and come back,” said captain Jill Cardella. “Even Karleigh Fratkin blocked a shot with 20 seconds left when we were down three goals, so I think that tells the whole story.”
Even though neither BC or BU wasn’t able to put a stop to Minnesota’s record making season, Durocher believes that the Western part of the women’s hockey landscape will not have a stronghold on the national championship for too much longer. “There is something to be said for these big schools (out West) with a lot of resources and a lot of opportunity. We’re hoping we can break that streak and there are others out East who can put up a good challenge too.”
This article originally appeared in the April 2013 issue of New England Hockey Journal.