PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Women’s hockey may not be known for blistering one-timers off the stick of defensemen. Unless, of course, you’re talking about Boston University defenseman Tara Watchorn.
The sophomore put every ounce of her 5-foot-10 frame into a one-timer from just inside the blue line that beat Connecticut netminder Alexandra Garcia at 9:52 of overtime to give the Terriers their first Hockey East tournament championship in just the fifth year of the program’s existence.
“I remember skating up to the blue line and the puck was about to come outside,” Watchorn said of the championship-winning tally. “I was just trying to keep it in and I saw an opening for a shot and I just took it.
“For that time in the game and how tired I was, I think I got a lot on [the shot].”
Traveling through traffic, the blast made it way through a screen into the top corner and set off a mega-celebration for the first women’s Hockey East final to ever go to overtime.
To even make Watchorn’s heroics possible, it was the play at the other end of BU netminder Melissa Haber (25 saves), who withstood significant pressure from UConn in the overtime period. Haber, who was named the tournament’s most valuable player, made five stops in the extra session, including denying UConn’s Kelly Horan on a breakaway at 3:10.
“I usually don’t think when I play, I just react to the puck,” said Haber. “I had a clear head and focus all game and [during the breakaway] I just let myself react to the puck.”
If the Terriers were looking for an edge in the overtime, in could simply be experience. BU, though playing in its first title game, had been to overtime 15 times in 36 contests this year. Playing a little more than the prescribed 60 minutes, then, was old hat.
“That helped us going into the overtime period,” said Watchorn. “Everyone in the dressing room was just saying, ‘We’ve been here before. We’re confident. We’re ready to go.’”
To get to the overtime, the two clubs battled throughout the entire regulation. Plenty of back-and-forth action led highlighted by spectacular goaltending at each end. While Haber earned MVP honors for her performance, her counterpart Garcia was equally as impressive, stopping 31 of the 33 shots she faced.
BU came out of the gate quick and outshot the Huskies, 10-6, in the opening period. UConn coach Heather Linstad said her team’s slow start, one day after her Huskies took an early 3-0 lead before holding on, 3-2, to unseat top-seeded Providence, was the difference maker in the game in her mind.
“In the playoffs, we’ve established our game plan in the first 10 minutes and obviously we didn’t do that,” said Linstad. “We were very flat in the first period and we kind of gave away 20 minutes.”
At 12:41, UConn’s Monique Weber was sent off for body checking and the Terriers’ power play, which had connected at just 17 percent on the season and was unable to score in Saturday’s semifinal, came through in the clutch.
Leading scorer Jenelle Kohanchuk took a pass from behind the net and fired a quick shot that Garcia stopped with her right pad. The rebound, though bounced right to the stick of defenseman Kathryn Miller at the left post. She deposited just her second goal of the season at 13:33 to give the Terriers a 1-0 lead.
In the second, the Huskies evened the game on what looked like a harmless play. Weber floated a soft shot from the blue line on Haber. The senior netminder, who had been near flawless in the tournament, allowing just one goal in the first two games, bobbled the rebound and Michelle Benning was ready to pounce on the rebound, depositing it in the net before going airborne in celebration.
Haber regrouped quickly, though, as UConn seized the momentum and peppered the BU net. Withstanding to momentum swing, the Terriers nearly retook the lead with 35 seconds left in the frame as Garcia was forced to stop BU winger Lauren Cherewyk on an initial stop and then on her own rebound.
In the third, BU tilted the ice back in its favor, outshooting UConn, 10-5, but Garcia held the fort. Her stop of Kohanchuk with 10 seconds remaining capped off a great frame for the sophomore netminder and sent the game to overtime.
The loss for UConn ends one of the program’s most successful seasons. The Huskies (21-9-7) finish the season one win shy of the 22-win high-water mark set in 2007-08.
BU (17-8-12), on the other hand, advances to the program’s first ever NCAA tournament and will face an opponent to be determined when the field is announced on Sunday evening.
While hockey success is no surprise at the school, with the men’s team having won five NCAA championships including last year’s title, the women’s program has now certainly hit a pinnacle.
“I think this is just another step forward [for the program],” said Durocher. “We’ve [finished in the standings] sixth, fifth, four, third and second in five years in Hockey East. Now we’ve got a title to go with it.
“We all know from the players, the coaches and to the staff, the legacy and tradition of BU men’s hockey is something that we pride ourselves on.
“We want to be the same in our gender. It took a while to get rolling and [players when being recruited] asked if they were going to play in any big games. Well, I think they’ve played in a lot of big games.”
And with its first league title under its belts, BU now has at least one more big game ahead — the NCAA tournament.