May 25, 2014

Frozen out, but full of potential for 2015

By Arielle Aronson

Northeastern's Kendall Coyne saw gold slip out of her reach in Sochi. Back home, New England teams were shut out of the Frozen Four for the first time in three years. (Martin Rose/Getty Images)

It seemed in early March that 2014 would be yet another promising year for New England women in the NCAA tournament. Boston College and Harvard earned at-large bids into the national tournament, and Boston University clinched a spot by winning the Hockey East tournament.

But any hopes of a New England title were quickly dashed when all three teams lost in the single-elimination quarterfinals. Thus, this season marked the third time in the 14-year history of the NCAA women’s hockey tournament that no New England team made it to the Frozen Four. New England teams also missed the Frozen Four in 2009 and in 2010.

This year’s lack of a New England presence in the Frozen Four reflects both the strength of the opponents each team faced and testifies to the toll injuries and Olympic sabbaticals took on each team.

Entering the tournament, No. 6 Boston College looked like it had the best chance to make it to the Frozen Four. The Eagles were one of the best teams in the nation through much of the season. Although an injury kept leading scorer Haley Skarupa out for a chunk of games in the middle of the year, and Team USA borrowed rising junior Alex Carpenter (North Reading, Mass.) for the season, BC’s scoring offense finished as the best in Hockey East and fourth-best in the nation. They tied a program record for wins in a season (27) and dropped just two of their last 20 games entering NCAAs.

But the Eagles started to cool off late in the year, and after to a loss in the Hockey East championship, BC fell out of home-ice contention for the national tournament and had to travel to eventual-champion Clarkson for a quarterfinal game.

The matchup was a close one. The Golden Knights held a 1-0 lead after the first period, but the Eagles nearly tied the game in the second period on a one-timer off the stick of senior forward Melissa Bizzari. Clarkson netminder Erica Howe made a terrific save, however, and the Golden Knights added insult to injury by scoring soon after to go up 2-0. Clarkson made it a 3-0 game 23 seconds into the third period, and BC could not recover. Despite a late-period goal from sophomore Dana Trivigno, the Eagles’ season ended with a 3-1 loss.

“Clarkson is obviously a very good team, especially to finish the way they did,” said BC coach Katie King-Crowley (Salem, N.H.). “But I thought our kids played really well and in the end, probably the last five to 10 minutes of the game was probably our best 10 minutes. We threw everything at them in the end there and just came up short.”

No. 5 Harvard played a similarly tight quarterfinal game against Wisconsin, which scored in both the first and second period to open the third period with a 2-0 lead. Harvard goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer kept her team within a pair of goals by making 31 saves on 33 shots in two periods, but Harvard failed to score until 16:37 in the third period and lost, 2-1.

Still, the 2013-14 Harvard campaign was impressive considering the Crimson lost three players (rising senior Lyndsey Fry and rising juniors Michelle Picard (Taunton, Mass.) and Josephine Pucci) and head coach Katey Stone (assistant coach Maura Crowell stepped in as the interim head coach for the season) to the U.S. Olympic team. While all of the best NCAA tournament teams dealt with Olympic departures, Harvard sent the highest number of active team members (four) to Sochi. Despite those absences, Harvard’s 23-7-4 record this season was nearly identical to last season’s 24-7-3 mark.

“I think that you have to give a ton of credit to Maura Crowell over there at Harvard because with Katey (Stone; Watertown, Conn.) leaving and Maura stepping in as a lead role and her staff, they had a fantastic regular season,” said Boston University coach Brian Durocher (Longmeadow, Mass.). “They had a lot of games with four and five defensemen, eight and nine forwards due to injury and defections through the Olympics. Without a doubt, that’s a team that could have been five or seven games difference, but thanks to a real good job by the coaches, I think the kids banded together to save things and create a great year.”

Durocher’s BU team suffered from injuries and a key Olympic departure as well. Although the Terriers knew for years that Marie-Philip Poulin — who matriculated at BU with a gold medal from Team Canada already on her résumé — would miss the 2013-14 season for her second Olympics, they did not expect to lose veteran leaders Shannon Doyle and Kayla Tutino for the season due to injury. But thanks to an inspired run in the Hockey East playoffs, a young Terriers team qualified for a fifth consecutive NCAA tournament. As the bottom seed in the tournament, however, BU had the difficult task of facing the No. 1 Minnesota Gophers in the quarterfinals.

The game was a rematch of last year’s NCAA championship in which Minnesota beat BU to complete a perfect 41-0-0 season. Minnesota was slightly more human this year with rising senior Amanda Kessel, who scored 101 points last season, away with Team USA. But the two-time defending champion Gophers still entered the game with a 36-1-1 record, and although BU played them close through two periods, Minnesota scored three times in the third period to end BU’s season in 5-1 fashion.

Durocher hopes added experience and a greater focus on discipline will help the Terriers play further into March next year.

“I think that when we get in against the elite teams, we have to be a little better team defensively and we have to be a little better with team discipline,” Durocher said. “We took too many penalties this year, put ourselves behind the eight-ball, and you’re killing penalties, it’s usually not when you’re scoring goals.

“I hope that next year with a healthy Shannon Doyle and a healthy Kayla Tutino and (Poulin) coming back, you all of the sudden have a good core of experienced players and you have a little more depth.”

Although no New England teams qualified for the 2014 Frozen Four, the year was a memorable one for any Eastern team, since Clarkson’s national championship victory marked the first time a team other than Minnesota, Minnesota-Duluth or Wisconsin won the Division 1 title. Plus, with another year of elite experience and some talented Olympians returning to their NCAA squads, plenty of New England teams look to have a strong chance to return to the Frozen Four next year.

“The mix of teams this year was good,” Crowley said. “It’s good that a team from out East won the NCAA tournament. I wouldn’t be surprised if there are a couple of New England teams back at the Frozen Four next year. I know BU is going to be really good. (Team USA’s) Kendall (Coyne) goes back to Northeastern, so we have a lot of impact players that are coming back to our teams that I think will help get some teams back there.”

This article originally appeared in the April edition of the New England Hockey Journal. Click here to access the FREE digital edition.