The Boston University women’s hockey team has made significant strides on the college hockey landscape over the past three years, and Jill Cardella has been an instrumental piece.
She was a freshman left wing on the first line as the Terriers secured their first Hockey East championship in March 2010. During the program’s first Frozen Four in 2011, she was in the same spot as the Terriers beat two of the sport’s finest programs, Mercyhurst College and Cornell University, to meet the University of Wisconsin in the national title game. Her junior year, she centered the top line as BU made an unexpected run through the Hockey East tournament to the NCAA quarterfinals.
Those experiences with a growing program have shaped the type of hockey player and co-captain Cardella has become in her senior year — one who will do anything to help her team compete with long-established powerhouses.
“She’s one of our most flexible players,” said Terriers head coach Brian Durocher (Longmeadow, Mass.). “She’ll play wherever the team needs her. I have had her play left and right wing and center, and she has the knowledge and care for the team’s goals to step in wherever.
“If I needed her on the third line, she would play it no problem. She will do whatever the team needs her to.”
The Rochester, N.Y., native and alumna of Stowe, Vermont’s North American Hockey Academy believes so much in the team first philosophy that she won’t discuss her personal goals for her senior year. “My personal goals don’t matter. We want to win as a team as much as possible,” she said, “and I’ll do whatever we need to do to do that.”
No matter what position she plays, Cardella has demonstrated a knack for setting up goals. Cardella led Hockey East freshmen in 2009-10 with 15 assists. Her junior year, she amassed 10 helpers.
But her help setting up plays is not just measured in the official assist count. Her passing ability is valued in both zones. “She can also play well in the defensive zone,” Durocher said.
This season, Durocher has paired Cardella with another natural passer, junior Marie-Philip Poulin. In the first four games of the regular season, the two joined freshman Sarah Lefort for a trio that amassed a combined 19 points.
“I think both Poulin and myself are the pass-first type. We aren’t as good at taking shots,” Cardella said. “Sarah is more of a shooter. I think she feels a little bad about scoring all the goals, but it’s OK. It’s great playing with her, and it’s been working out.”
Durocher admitted pairing the experienced Cardella and Poulin with Lefort has its benefits beyond the scoresheet. “Sarah is a great scorer, and it was an instance of finding two players who are great passers in Jill and Poulin to help her out. But I think there is a little mentoring going on there as well.”
Lefort and Cardella’s offensive chemistry is a lot like the connection Cardella established with last year’s captain, Jenn Wakefield. Cardella played much of last season centering a line with Wakefield, and the two sizzled in four postseason games. Durocher credits Cardella for being a playmaker regardless of where she is on the line chart. “She is the kind of person who pulls the strings for the entire team.”
That quality made Cardella an obvious pick for a captain’s role this season. Just like on the ice this season, she has partnered with co-captain Poulin to lead the Terriers. “I think we both are good leaders. (Poulin) leads by example, and is a very hard worker,” Cardella said. “I try to be a little more vocal than she is. I try to be motivational. But Poulin’s hard work inspires everyone. It gives me that extra goal to keep working.”
Motivation from teammates such as Poulin definitely helps in offseason workouts, which have helped Cardella make major improvements in fitness and stamina from season to season.
“After my freshman year, I went home for the summer, but for at least a part of every summer after, I’ve stayed in Boston and have trained here,” Cardella said. “I would work out at 7 a.m. and have time on the ice with our trainer. There were always teammates with me. It’s a lot more motivating when you have a teammate out there with you at 7 in the morning in the summer. It makes me work harder.”
Cardella understands that hard work is one constant that has helped the BU program grow so quickly over its eight years of existence. It was effort that propelled the Terriers to their Hockey East titles in 2010 and 2012.
“They were completely different teams,” Cardella recalled. “In 2010, we had what seemed to be a million ties and were the underdog all season. It was a surprise when we won the Hockey East tournament.
“Last year, we were struggling a little bit due to injuries, and a lot more was expected of us. We had more talent on the team, but we had a lot more challenges. We had to overcome a lot and rely on hard work to win that title.”
Beyond hard work, Cardella understands that her team needs to be a cohesive unit to be successful. She has taken a page out of a former teammate’s leadership playbook to reach that goal.
“I think she learned a lot from when Holly Lorms was captain during her sophomore year,” Durocher said. “You see it in the way she’s a captain. Holly was the first to put something concrete together in terms of team bonding and defining what BU hockey is. All of these things were impactful on how we are as a team, and Jill saw that and has continued it.”
Be it breakfasts with the freshmen or preseason weekend retreats, Cardella is trying to establish a team that can prevail through a grinding schedule and check off some more firsts for the program.
“We want to win Hockey East again, and we want to win a Beanpot. This team hasn’t won a Beanpot since we became a varsity team, so that is a big goal of ours,” Cardella said. “We also want to get back to the Frozen Four and win a national championship.”
This article originally appeared in the November 2012 issue of New England Hockey Journal.