We begin another year of women’s college hockey coverage with the last New England team left standing at the close of last season: Boston University.
The national championship runners-up find themselves in a situation not unique among their peers in elite women’s college hockey: trying to build a competitive team in the light of Olympic departures. The team that edged BU for the national title, Minnesota, finds themselves without their leading scorer, Amanda Kessel. Fellow Frozen Four team Boston College finds themselves in the same boat with the Olympic Team participation of their leading scorer, Alex Carpenter (Reading, Mass.)
But with BU, the situation is a tad different. They lost their leading scorer, Marie-Philip Poulin, to the Canadian Olympic Team, but they lost a lot more in graduation than their peers in the western part of the country and down Commonwealth Avenue. If the Terriers want to make it to a third Frozen Four in four years, head coach Brian Durocher is going to need some underclassmen to step up.
“We lost some really talented kids, and you don’t necessarily just replace those,” said Durocher, prior to the start of practices.
Durocher points to this year’s sophomore class as a group who may find their own scoring touches thanks to increased opportunities.
“Looking at our sophomore class, people like Dakota Woodworth and Jordan Juron didn’t always have the same opportunities as the others,” the coach said. “They weren’t a part of the power play. But now they will have that opportunity and we will be able to see what they can do.”
Fellow sophomore Sarah Lefort, who finished last season with 43 points (24 goals, 19 assists) will still be a main focus of the Terriers’ offense, but her challenge this year will be to find chemistry with different linemates. She spent most of last year playing on a top line with Poulin and the team’s second leading scorer, Jenelle Kohanchuk.
The loss of their top three scorers in Poulin, Kohanchuk and Isabel Menard also means that the team’s defense will need to be stronger, because the goal support may not be there right away. “People are going to have to step up, and we’re going to have to get used to having to win more games 2-1, 3-2,” explained Durocher.
Defensively, the Terriers were hit not by a graduation, but by an injury: leading defenseman Shannon Doyle will miss the entire season due to surgery (torn labrum). Durocher anticipated being able to lean on his defense a bit more this season, but Doyle’s injury changed that. Still, the defense is full of experienced returners – one will just need to step up to be the leader. “We have a solid core coming back, and we have a pretty decent player in Sarah Steele coming in,” said Durocher.
Where BU remains strong is at goaltender. Kerrin Sperry (North Reading, Mass.) returns for her senior season and will look to close out a career that already includes two national championship game appearances. She also will begin to groom her successor – which will be a familiar face: freshman Victoria Hanson (Stoughton, Mass.), who succeeded her at Groton’s Lawrence Academy.
“We have a unique situation in that Hanson and Sperry were freshman and senior at Lawrence Academy, and now they are freshman and senior here at BU,” explained Durocher. “We look to Kerrin to be our leader in the cage, and Hanson is going to be a very hard-working, competitive kid.”
Despite the Olympic absences, injuries and graduations, the Terriers are still going to be a team in the mix both in Hockey East and nationally. The road to success may be filled with a few more bumps, but Durocher remains optimistic.
“To me, this (year) is more of a clean slate. We have to focus on what we can do on the short view picture.”
Player of the Week
Emma Woods, freshman forward, Quinnipiac
It would be easy to fret about the future of the Bobcats offensive corps, given Kelly Babstock’s senior status, but Woods might be here to take the scoring torch. She scored her first two collegiate goals in a span of the last five minutes of the third period, including the game-winner, to lift Quinnipiac over St. Cloud State, 3-1, on Saturday. The win was the first time the Bobcats defeated a WCHA team since 2001. She finished her two-game weekend with a plus-3 rating and earned Rookie of the Week honors in the ECAC.
Game of the Week
Mercyhurst at Providence, Saturday and Sunday afternoon
Though it is early in the season, both Mercyhurst and Providence will be looking for wins in their non-league weekend series at the newly-renovated Schneider Arena. Mercyhurst is a surprising 1-2 on the season, having lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Ohio State on Saturday. Providence lost a shocker to Union in their season opener last Friday, falling 5-2, but rebounded the next night to get a 6-2 win. On a team full of experienced returners, freshman Cassidy Carels fit right in last weekend, scoring two goals Saturday. It could be fun to watch her develop on a line with Brooke Simpson (Boxboro, Mass.) and Beth Hanrahan.
1. Boston College (1-0-0 overall, 1-0-0 Hockey East)
In the first Hockey East matchup of the year, the Eagles picked up where they left off last season, defeating the University of Maine, 5-1. Haley Skarupa looks to be back at full strength, scoring two goals and adding an assist in the Sunday win. BC hosts St. Lawrence for a two game series Friday and Saturday.
2. Northeastern (1-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East)
The Huskies dropped a 4-1 shocker to Syracuse Friday evening, but rebounded with a 5-4 edging of RIT Saturday afternoon. Northeastern is too talented on offense to let that continue, and should enter a weekend away series extra motivated. They take on surprising Union (who has one of their best records in years thus far, even though ECAC followers had them picked for last in the league) and hard nosed RPI in a trip to Upstate New York.
3. Boston University (0-0-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East)
The Terriers had a week off in-between their overtime exhibition win against Western Ontario and their start to the regular season, which is key for a team who has a few question marks on offense and defense. They will be tested in away series the next two weekends: this weekend against RPI and Union, and next in a two game series at Robert Morris.
4. New Hampshire (2-2-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East)
This is rather high for the Wildcats, but they’ve already been battle tested. They have already played more games than anyone else in Hockey East (four.) Their scoring in the second and third periods has been superb, but through four games, they’ve only scored once in the first. Keep an eye on who starts in net for UNH this weekend against Maine: Vilma Vaattovaara has won both of her starts in net so far, and has made 65 saves.
5. Quinnipiac (1-0-1 overall, 0-0-0 ECAC)
The Bobcats went West and found success, tying and defeating the WCHA’s St. Cloud State. Their goaltending looks to be in good hands with strong play from goaltender Chelsea Laden, the ECAC’s Goalie of the Week thanks to a 19 save shutout in Friday’s tie. Quinnipiac hosts Penn State for a two game series in Connecticut this weekend.
6. Providence (1-1-0 overall, 0-0-0 Hockey East)
Many of the Hockey East coaches were especially high on the Friars coming into the season, given their very high number of returners. But shaky play versus Union made it look like maybe the team’s familiarity wasn’t going to be the edge others thought. The Friars rebounded, and this weekend’s series against Mercyhurst (detailed above) should be a major sign of what exactly this team can do.