Of the six coaches in Hockey East, five of them have been with their programs for at least two years. The only new guy in town is New Hampshire’s Brian McCloskey, who steps over from the associate men’s coach position to become just the third coach in the 25-year history of the women’s program.
McCloskey and his players have more to learn than any of the other teams in Hockey East, but he expects to be caught up within due time.
“We’ve spent the lion’s share of the first couple weeks here introducing systems that have been a little different for the kids,” McCloskey said. “We’re just trying to get them comfortable with where they fit in individually in learning their roles.”
McCloskey’s primary duties with the men’s program, beyond recruiting, included a focus on offense and training. Such skills will be crucial to a program that has struggled to put the puck in net and outscored only Boston College and Connecticut among current Hockey East teams.
“Offensive production was an issue for our program last year and I can’t assume we’re going to suddenly emerge,” McCloskey said. “We do have some players who have gained another year’s experience. We do have a few new faces who can contribute offensively.”
Among the Wildcats’ top returning talent up front is sophomore Steph Jones, who became the first Wildcat freshman in five years to lead the team in goals. She also led the nation in game-winners.
Sophomore Randi MacMaster, who played on the first line with now-departed Kira Misikowetz, will look to step up. Junior Carolyn Gordon, who was second only to Misikowetz on the team in assists, will continue to be the team’s best option in the faceoff circle.
The Wildcats bring in just two recruited forwards to assist the 11 returnees, including Lindsay Hansen, a former club teammate of MacMaster’s, and Vicki Davis, an Edmonton, Alb., native.
McCloskey expects to rely on a balance attack, rather than one or two superstars. That offense will be spread out between not just the top three lines, but also among the defensemen. McCloskey has two of Hockey East’s most prolific scorers in junior co-captain Kristen Thomas and classmate Allison Edgar. Edgar was second on the team with 15 goals last season, while Thomas tallied 19 assists.
New Hampshire’s main strength should remain its goaltending, where Jen Huggon and her 1.78 GAA ranked among the nation’s best.
“I think our goaltending should be status quo. Jen Huggon’s a senior and I expect she’ll have a great year again for us,” McCloskey said.
So while the Wildcat players might take some time to buy into McCloskey’s system, and McCloskey will need time to learn the strengths and weaknesses of his team, the Wildcats expect to grow into a legitimate Hockey East contender by the end of the season.
“There may be a slight disadvantage in knowing my team right out of the gate, but over the course of the season that’ll play itself out,” McCloskey said.