To some degree, Marie-Philip Poulin has been the face of Boston University hockey for the past three years, and the team has gone as she’s gone.
The Terriers finished first in Hockey East and reached the NCAA Championship game in both 2011 and 2013. When she was injured during the 2011-12 season and missed a good number of teams, BU struggled and didn’t catch fire to win the league tourney until she came back.
So it made sense that there would be some adjustment in her absence this season as she prepares for the Olympics with the Canadian national team. A season without top scorer Poulin was compounded by the graduation of Jenelle Kohanchuk and Isabel Menard, the team’s second and third point getters. Also graduating were Jill Cardella, Poulin’s co-captain, and steady defenseman Kathryn Miller. When Shannon Doyle was lost from the blue line for the season due to injury, it looked like BU would have to lower expectations for the season.
“We might have had to set our standards a little bit differently with the loss of some great players, but I got the sort of feeling from listening to some of the kids on my team and watching how they carried themselves that I think they wanted to sort of prove that they were still a good team and there was still talent here,” coach Brian Durocher said. “I think of the [Sarah] Leforts or the [Louise] Warrens or the [Kayla] Tutinos and the [Kaleigh] Fratkins in particular who have played with some great players we lost. Maybe they’re carrying just a little bit of an extra edge or a chip on their shoulder. They want to still be a real good Boston University team.”
Although not picked by most to defend their Hockey East crown, the Terriers nonetheless head into the break atop the standings with a perfect 8-0-0 mark in conference play.
“We have such a great group of girls on the team who are so competitive, and we have such great team chemistry,” Warren, this year’s captain, said. “People are stepping up every year no matter what. This year, we’ve had a lot of our girls who didn’t necessarily have to produce as much in the past. It’s a great mixture of chemistry and the will to win.”
Count Warren as one who has raised her game.
“I call her one of the best college hockey players not many people know,” Durocher said. “For two years, she did a great job on this team, but was kind of the forechecker and the strong kid on the wall, the playmaker, and not really a finisher. Last year, she started to come into her own as a finisher, capitalized on some opportunities. This year, she’s kind of riding the wave of confidence again, that, ‘Hey, I can finish at this level.’”
That confidence was boosted by participating in Hockey Canada’s national camp over the summer.
“For a bunch of different reasons, she’d never been there,” Durocher said. “She didn’t play on the under-18 squad. She didn’t play on Team Ontario because she was a New England prep school kid and got alienated there. I think she gained a lot of confidence by not only being invited there, but being one of the few kids they left for kind of a super series with the Olympians. She’s really a well-conditioned athlete who is just finally getting her just due and putting things together in probably a more relaxed fashion.”
Warren started the season playing left wing on BU’s second line, as she had last year.
“I played center my whole life until I came to BU,” Warren said. “Then I got switched to the left wing, which I love.”
That is likely where she would have remained had first-line center Tutino not suffered an injury.
“We knew that Louise could play center; she had played center prior to coming here,” Durocher said. “[Lefort and Warren] were really, even as left wingers, were kind of dominating their lines and gave us two really solid lines. I tried to keep them that way, but then once we had the injury, we had to make a move.”
The move was to slide Warren in at the center spot on the top line with Lefort and freshman Samantha Sutherland as her wings, beginning with a game at Northeastern on Dec. 3.
“I played a little on Sarah’s line at a Hockey Canada camp, and we worked really well together, so it seemed like we picked up where we left off,” Warren said.
The duo scored all five goals in a 5-2 defeat of the Huskies, including a hat trick for Lefort.
Warren came up with perhaps the biggest tally. After BU seemingly had command of the game with a two-goal lead, Northeastern stormed back and had all of the momentum as it went on a power play in the third period with the game tied, 2-2.
“That play, we were short-handed, so I honestly was just trying to keep the puck for as long as possible to burn off some time,” Warren said. “I got pretty deep in their zone and I just threw it on net and it just squeaked by short side. I was lucky to get that one. We needed that momentum change.”
Lefort and Warren continued their offensive surge in a series sweep of Minnesota-Duluth over the weekend.
“Last year, we played them and tied two games,” Warren said. “It’s funny, two games we only scored a total of two goals. This year, I think there was a total of 17 goals between the two [teams]. It was a different kind of weekend. Our team, we’d come off of a few losses a few weeks earlier against Harvard and Wisconsin. The girls all just really stepped up and put their best foot forward. It was a great weekend for us.”
Lefort and Warren combined for seven goals and five assists in 6-5 and 4-2 wins over the Bulldogs. On the heels of four-point games by each in the Northeastern game, such production from the line is promising for the future.
“The good news is we found something; the bad news is we won’t have [Tutino] back,” Durocher said. “She’s going to be gone for the year with a knee injury that’s going to require surgery here just at the new year, right after exams and maybe after a little break. So we’re going to have to fight through a little more adversity.”
Sutherland has been a nice complement as the right wing on the top line.
“If Sam has an area that she’d like to be, it’s probably a notch faster, but from the top of the circles down, she’s very intelligent,” Durocher said. “She’s got a real good pair of hands. She shoots the puck well and has a good idea of where she’s going with it. So far, she hasn’t been intimidated by playing with top players. Sometimes, that can be the kiss of death, because they try too hard. They always want to pass the puck and not do some of their own stuff. She’s a nice combination of confidence to carry the puck when necessary, she knows when to move it, she has a good sense for reading where the play is going to be. For a kid who’s not the biggest kid in the world, she’s competitive and she’s feisty around the net and along the wall.”
Now that it has its top line clicking, BU will look to improve on its conversion rate on the power play. It has scored on 11.1 percent of its chances.
“Our power play, we’ve moved the puck around reasonably well, I think sometimes we’re looking for something too perfect and we’ve just got to do the little things,” Durocher said. “Probably our second group has had better success than our first. I think they keep it simple. They get pucks to the net. They get bodies in front. They get rebounds, tips, deflections, screens, and we’ve got to get a little more of that maybe out of our first group.”
At 14-3-1 overall, BU is in contention nationally, sitting fifth in the PairWise Rankings. The Terriers fate in the NCAA picture, as well as in Hockey East, will be determined in large part by their games versus Boston College. The top two teams in the league have yet to play each other, and haven’t met in more than a year.
“Just the way the schedule goes, the three games and a Beanpot game will be against BC in the second half of the year,” Durocher said.
The Eagles are just a game back in the Hockey East standings, but they are currently outside of the top eight needed to have an at-large selection to the NCAA tournament, so they’ll be looking to make up ground against BU.
“A few of us have gotten over to BC and been able to watch a few of their games,” Warren said. “We’re really looking forward to [playing BC]. No matter when we play them, it’s always an exciting game, an exciting series.”
The first matchup with their rival comes on Jan. 8, four days after the Terriers open 2014 by hosting Dartmouth.
“This team can’t afford to look too far down the road,” Durocher said. “We’ve talked all year about fighting hard in front of our net, and I think that’s been our calling card for most of the year so far. I think the last couple of years, we may have played just a little too much Edmonton Oilers of the ’80s with Gretzky and the group there because we had a little more talent. But this year’s group has really rallied around fighting by the net, and if we can do that every shift and every period, we’ll take our chances when we get out there.”