Old and New
This is the inaugural season for women’s Hockey East, and with a 13-1-1 conference record, Providence became the first regular season champion for the new league. The Friars will try to repeat the feat, attempting to become the first Hockey East postseason champion with two wins this weekend.
Even though the league might be new, the teams that make it up aren’t. In February, New Hampshire won its 500th game in the program’s 25-year history, becoming the first team ever to win so many games. Providence, another Hockey East member and the No. 1 seed in this tournament, currently stands at No. 2 with over 480 wins.
The Coaching Matchups
A new face behind the bench for New Hampshire is first-year head coach Brian McCloskey. McCloskey comes from the highly successful men’s program at New Hampshire, where he was an assistant coach for 10 years. McCloskey took over for previous coach Karen Kay, and became just the third coach in 25 years. For guiding the Wildcats to a 26-6-2 record, he was named the league’s Coach of the Year.
Maine, New Hampshire’s opponent in the first round, is led by six-year veteran Rick Filighera. Filighera-coached squads have finished over .500 in three of the previous five years.
Bob Deraney of Providence is coaching Providence for the fourth season, and like McCloskey, he has successfully made the transition from the men’s game to the women’s. After playing at BU, he coached the men’s programs at Northeastern, Dartmouth, and Massachusetts before coming to the PC women’s team.
Connecticut’s Heather Linstad is in just her third season behind the UConn bench, but has the most coaching experience in the women’s college hockey ranks. Linstad helmed the Northeastern bench for eight years before coming to Connecticut, where she won 161 games.
“We don’t quite have enough depth,” she said. “We need one more class. You can only recruit so many players a year. But the fact that we are one of the four teams here, from the six teams in the league, that’s a good sign.”
Keeping Up With The Joneses
When Stephanie Jones opened scoring at 5:25 of the second period of the day’s first game, it was a welcome sight for the New Hampshire faithful. Not only was it the first goal ever scored in Hockey East tournament history, but more importantly it staked the Wildcats to a one-goal lead. New Hampshire is 22-0-1 when scoring first this season, thanks in large part to Hockey East’s Player of the Year, UNH goalie Jen Huggon, who boasts a 25-6-2 record, a miniscule 1.59 goals against average, and a 0.927 save percentage.
That Jones was the one who scored was not too surprising, since she leads New Hampshire in goals (22) and points (37).
It’s Good To Be King
There was a large gap between the top two teams, Providence and New Hampshire, and the rest of Hockey East. The two owned a 23-0-1 record against the other four teams in the conference, outscoring opponents 92 to 18 in conference action. The teams placed a whopping 10 players to the league All-Star First and Second Teams, including all six of the First Team selections.
Despite the apparent disparity, however, there was plenty of respect for Maine and Connecticut from the higher-seeded teams.
“We learned not to take any opponent for granted,” said Jen Huggon, who earned her 14th shutout of the season. “We had to take it a game at a time and not think about playing in a championship game.”
Maine coach Rick Filighera had his own take on the gap between teams. “Are [my kids] the most skilled players? No. But I’ll take my team in a street fight any day.”
“I feel bad for my seniors. I was hoping they would get a taste of the championship game.” — Filighera, on the season-ending game
“I remember being home for the summer and reading the press release and thinking, ‘Oh my god, we’re Hockey East!'” — New Hampshire goalie Jen Huggon, on the formation of the Hockey East women’s league.
“I really do believe we’ve turned a corner. We’ve just won our 23rd game of the year. That is the most of any team in Providence College history. That’s a tremendous accomplishment by our players. We’ve raised the bar.” — Providence head coach Bob Deraney
“I think it’s going to be high scoring, I really do. These are two teams that are going to go after it. I wouldn’t be surprised to see 7-5, 7-4, 6-4, something like that.” — Deraney, testing his precognitive abilities on tomorrow’s title game between Providence and New Hampshire.