Northeastern coach Joy Woog’s master plan for the inaugural Hockey East season is to emulate the growth of a successful team from the 2001-02 ECAC East season.
No, it’s not last year’s Huskies, who started the year with 10 straight wins and finished 27-7-1. Rather, Woog wants to be like last year’s Providence team — a young squad that might struggle at the outset, but still emerge as the team to beat come March.
With freshmen making up half of her 24-player roster, Woog isn’t expecting another school record 27-win season. But that won’t necessarily prevent the Huskies from delivering a successful season.
“We’re not at that [high] level, and we know that — it’s going take experience and game time,” Woog said. “Providence, they went through this process last year. They had so many young players and by the end of the year, they come on strong.”
Woog knows all too well how Providence rose to the top at the conclusion of last season. Northeastern beat the Friars three times during last year’s regular season by a combined score of 14-6. But when the two teams met a fourth time in the ECAC East Final, Providence scored a shocking 1-0 victory. That defeat not only denied the Huskies the league title, but possibly a Frozen Four berth as well.
So it comes as no surprise that Northeastern stands behind Providence in the first Hockey East preseason poll. Woog calls the Huskies’ second-place preseason ranking higher than she herself would have placed them. But she wants to be the team that makes the Cinderella run in the end.
“As a coach I’m not worried about winning today, but winning in March,” Woog said.
In the meantime though, Northeastern is more than capable of stealing a win from anyone in the country in spite of its youth. Like Erika Silva before her, second team All-American junior Chanda Gunn maintained the Huskies’ tradition of great goaltending. Gunn led the nation with a .950 save percentage and finished second nationally with a 1.37 GAA. Woog fondly remembers how Gunn caught everyone by surprise last season.
“No one knew what she was capable of,” Woog said. “They all thought, ‘Erika Silva is gone. Now we can beat Northeastern.’ No one knew about this little unknown, Chanda Gunn, who was sitting on the bench backing up Silva for the entire year.”
There’s a tight bond between Woog and Gunn, as Gunn is the only junior left on the Husky roster. Gunn was a freshman during the 2000-01 Husky season, in which Woog took over the program just weeks before the season’s beginning after Heather Linstad’s departure to Connecticut.
Gunn, in more ways than one, is in a class by herself.
While Northeastern’s scoring defense was tops in the country, its scoring offense ranked just 12th, even with All-American Brooke Whitney. Now that the 2002 Kazmaier winner has moved on, Woog expects that returning players, especially the seniors, will fill that gap right away.
“Instead of saying, ‘Brooke’ll score, Brooke’ll score,’ they’ll say, I’ve got to score,” she said. “So I think you’ll see a lot of people stepping up.”
Whitney’s graduation won’t stop anyone from expecting a Brooke to score for Northeastern, because the Huskies still have a prolific scorer in Brooke White on their roster. White, a speedy player who made the U.S. roster for the Four Nations Cup, tied for the national lead with 34 assists last season, and scored 18 goals herself. While White has never been the team’s most prolific goal-scorer, her skating skills make her immediately noticeable against any opponent.
Between Gunn, the two Brookes and senior defenseman Kim Greene, Woog had a tougher job of any other coach in the East of nominating two Patty Kazmaier candidates last season. Greene finished atop the conference in scoring among defenseman, and earned a spot at the U.S. National Festival in the summer.
With 12 freshmen on the roster, Northeastern will need big contributions from its younger players to ultimately have a successful season. Among those expected to step up right away are defenseman Rachel Bertram, who Woog called a hard-nosed, physical player, one seasoned by years of playing against boys in California. On the offensive end, Wisconsin native Cyndy Kenyon has already earned a spot on the second line.
Among the Northeastern traditions that will be infused into the players is the Beanpot. The local tournament hasn’t been kind to the Huskies, as Harvard beat them each of the past four years in overtime. So while Woog would ultimately like to win in March, a pair of wins in February would mean a lot as well. She relishes the underdog position.
“You have to build that into them, that tradition,” she said. “Only a few of us have been around that long [for the four losses]. We have to let those 12 freshmen know how important it is, what that Beanpot means.”
But judging by the character of her players, Woog does not expect motivation to be a problem with this team.
“I think we’re young, but as those young players get more and more confidence, we’re going to be tougher to beat,” she said.