December 5, 2013

Women's Journal: Hamlen methodically molding Merrimack

By Kat Hasenauer Cornetta

Erin Hamlen has a luxury many of us wish we had: time.

The new women’s hockey coach at Merrimack College is building Hockey East’s newest program without a looming deadline hanging over her head. The Warriors will not begin play until the 2015-16 season, giving the former University of New Hampshire and U.S. National Team goalie two years from her June 2013 hire to recruit and establish a program to contend with the league’s increasing quality.

“It’s strange, because I am a coach at a Division I program, but I’m not coaching,” said Hamlen, who previously was an associate head coach at UNH. “We’ve been given two years to (build the program), which is really unheard of.”

This is not the first time Hamlen has been brought in to build something new. Last year, she started up the women’s team at independent Division 3 University of New England in what she calls “a rush process.”

“At UNE, I had two months to build a program,” she recalls. “I was hired at the end of March, and had to build a team right away.”

The Nor’Easters went 1-10-0 in their first season, but Hamlen couldn’t ignore it when Merrimack came calling. She saw two things at the Andover, Mass., college that made the head coaching gig appealing.

“There is a general community feel here. It’s a small campus and it’s very community-oriented,” said Hamlen. “I was also drawn to how they wanted to build the program, and the support from all levels. From the athletic staff to the upper administration, they want to make sure we have everything we need to get the program going.”

“Everything they need” includes not just the renovations and additions to Lawler Arena, but the fact that the administration was OK with starting play in 2015 instead of 2014. While Hamlen is thankful for the extra time, she does get asked a certain question a lot:

“The common question I get asked is, ‘What are you doing now?’”

The answer?

“I recruit, recruit, recruit!” she said. “I am consistently on the road, going to rinks, talking to coaches. You begin to wonder how coaches recruit when actually coaching a team. But then I remember, they aren’t trying to recruit 20-25 athletes, just 4-6 every year.”

When not on the road, Hamlen and assistant coach Brent Hill (formerly of RPI) are bringing many recruits to campus, as well as attending to administrative details like budgets.

Hamlen insists that she is not looking for a cookie-cutter team – there is no set look or type of player that will dot the roster. “I like aggressive teams, and I think that comes from my upbringing as a coach. I want players who are competitive, who have high intensity and intelligence.”

A former goalie herself, she always is on the hunt for “strong goaltending” and has run the defense in her previous coaching positions. The blue line is where her eyes tend to travel when recruiting. “I’m looking for players with an intelligence to move the puck. It doesn’t mean I’m looking for all 5-10, 150 defensemen. Intelligence is really important.”

Hamlen believes she will most likely keep what she calls a “light roster” for their first season, with a mix of 2014 and 2015 graduates. She acknowledges that part of her current recruiting is for “startup players, those players who will have a bigger workload their first two years than they might have their latter years.”

Hamlen is eager to expose the college hockey world to the opportunities that her Merrimack program will provide.

“There are people from the start who have been questioning if we’re going to be competitive,” she said. “I want them to come here and understand that once they get to know us and what we have, we’re going to be competitive quickly. We are looking forward to jumping into Hockey East right away and helping make that league even more competitive.”

Player of the Week

Kelly Babstock, senior forward, Quinnipiac

Kelly Babstock wasn’t going to let her last time playing in the Nutmeg Classic go to waste. She had eight point in three games last week, with a goal and four assists Friday against RIT in the first round of tournament play, and two assists in a 3-2 edging of Yale in Saturday’s championship game. She currently leads the Bobcats with 11 goals and 19 assists, good for fourth in the nation in points per game (1.58.)

Team of the Week

Boston College

Boston College handed Cornell its first loss of the season Saturday afternoon, with a 4-1 win over the Big Red at Ithaca’s Lynah Rink. The Eagles’ top line of Taylor Wasylk (1 goal, 1 assist), Kristyn Capizzano (1 assist) and Haley Skarupa (two assists) jumped out and led the scoring charge. Corinne Boyles earned her 60th career win in the game, making 39 saves on a Cornell offense known to shoot early and often.

Game of the Week

It’s too good of a weekend to pick just one game, so here are two.

Friday night: Minnesota-Duluth at Boston University, 5pm

The 7-6-3 Minnesota-Duluth Bulldogs visit Boston in exchange for last December’s two game series in Duluth. The Bulldogs tied a stellar Wisconsin team last Friday, 2-2, before dropping a 1-0 loss on Saturday. Jenna McFarland leads the team with 16 points, but keep an eye on freshman defenseman Lara Stalder, who does a great job setting up opportunities. BU is coming off a 5-2 win over Northeastern on Tuesday night, and is eager for another opportunity to test themselves against a WCHA team after last month’s 5-0 loss to Wisconsin.

Saturday afternoon: Boston College at Harvard, 4pm

The Eagles and the Crimson meet for the first time since their March NCAA Tournament quarterfinal, which BC won 3-1. BC will try to keep use the momentum from their win over Cornell going. Being able to stop such a team which such high shot production, like Cornell, should bode well for them against Harvard, a team with a much lower shot and goal output. However, Harvard’s defense is top notch, and will have their sights set on neutralizing Wasylk, Capizzano and Skarupa’s opportunities.

Power Rankings

1) Harvard (8-1-1 overall, 7-1-1 ECAC) – Not going quietly into the winter break, the Crimson host a never-give-up New Hampshire team before their Saturday game against Boston College.

2 Boston University (12-3-1 overall, 8-0-0 Hockey East) – With Tuesday night’s win, the Terriers finished 2013 with a 20-0-0 regular season record in Hockey East games. This weekend’s date with Minnesota-Duluth will be another chance to see where they are nationally.

3) Boston College (12-4-1 overall, 7-1-0 Hockey East) – The Eagles are seeing contributions from all over their roster, and it should help against Harvard this weekend.

4) Quinnipiac (12-2-5 overall, 3-2-4 ECAC) – The Bobcats will look to end 2013 with some crutial ECAC points in home games against Union and RPI this weekend.

5) Northeastern (7-10-1 overall, 3-5-1 Hockey East) - The Huskies ended their 2013 on a down note, losing to BU 5-2 on Tuesday evening. Their first half schedule was one of the most difficult in Hockey East, and it won’t get lighter in January, with games against Harvard and BC kicking off the new year.

Twitter: @sportsgirlkat