Women’s Hockey East had no shortage of positive developments leading up to its third season. The NCAA tournament expanded from four to eight teams and the league was assured its first bid ever for 2005. The three Hockey East Beanpot schools all turned a corner as Boston College had its best recruiting class in years, Northeastern hired prominent alum Laura Schuler to right its ship after years of tumult, and Boston University finally announced it would start a varsity program in 2005-06 with longtime men’s assistant Brian Durocher as its head coach. By the time Vermont jumps from the ECAC next season, Hockey East will be eight schools strong.
Although Hockey East has great potential, the conference will continue to face growing pains at the national level in the near future. No league in the country has had such turnover on the ice and on the bench. Connecticut, despite being the newest of Hockey East’s six programs, has the league’s most veteran roster, and its head coach Heather Linstad has the second-longest tenure in the league. The league’s top four defensive point scorers, top two goaltenders in save percentage, and its top goal scorer in league play all moved on from graduation. New Hampshire, the coaches’ preseason favorite, has just one senior and three juniors on its roster. Four of the schools have changed head coaches since their final season in the ECAC, and all the new coaches appear to be there for the long haul of bringing the conference to national prominence.
The new coach with the toughest job ahead is Schuler, who returns to her alma matter Northeastern after years with the Canadian national program and three years spent starting UMass-Boston’s program. Because previous coach Joy Woog did not officially resign until June 30th, Schuler couldn’t even interview until July. Typical immigration processing kept her from being officially hired until September, and she hadn’t filled her coaching staff by October. Despite all the adversity, this is still her dream job.
“It’s such an honor to say I’m the head coach of my alma mater,” Schuler said. “In my playing days, I remember watching my coach and thinking, ‘That’s what I want to do for a living.’ So it is really a dream come true.”
Maine coach Guy Perron, who took over for Rick Filighera after serving as a longtime men’s assistant, will also be in for a challenge building up his program after graduating its two all-time leading scorers and its No. 1 goaltender from a year ago.
“As a program, Maine has been a middle-of-the-pack team,” Perron said. “We’ll be looking to put some structure in place so that in the future, so we’ll be able to be up there with the top teams, like Providence or New Hampshire. We’re looking ahead to that goal.”
While the rest of the league looks up to Providence and New Hampshire, those two schools have looked up to higher national goals. Providence won conference titles in three straight years despite just one regular season title, but because NCAAs had no autobid, they were shut out of the Frozen Four every time. Now thanks to Hockey East’s autobid, this season the Friars will be rewarded if they can peak at the end.
“If the tournament hadn’t expanded, we would have changed our philosophy,” Deraney said. “There is so little room for error for teams to make a four-team tournament, we would have put more of an emphasis on winning every game. The last couple of years, we have tried to position our team to peak at the last part of the year, so we are playing our best hockey when it matters most. The expansion allowed us to stay with that philosophy. That takes some of the pressure off the players.”
The Hockey East tournament this year will be played at BU’s Walter Brown Arena for the first time after two years in Northeastern’s Matthews Arena. With the autobid on the line, it promises to be the most hard-fought tournament yet.
“This past season we won Hockey East and that was it,” said sophomore Sonny Watrous, the 2003-04 Hockey East Rookie of the Year for Providence. “Now we really have extra incentive to really finish strong and get to the finals.”
1. New Hampshire
Head coach: Brian McCloskey, 3rd season (50-16-6)
2003-04 record: 23-9-4, 17-1-2 Hockey East (1st)
2003-04 team offense: 3.53 (7th), 4.40 Hockey East (1st)
2003-04 team defense: 1.97 (8th), 1.75 Hockey East (1st)
2003-04 power play: 20.7% (8th), 22.8% Hockey East (2nd)
2003-04 penalty kill: 91.9% (2nd), 91.0% Hockey East (1st)
Key losses: F Carolyn Gordon (23-16-39), F Rebecca Paul (13-24-37), D Kristen Thomas (3-27-30), D Allison Edgar (9-16-25)
Key returnees: F Lindsay Hansen (11-29-40), F Stephanie Jones (16-17-33), D Martine Garland (5-7-12), G Melissa Bourdon (1.76 GAA, .922 SV%)
Newcomers to watch: D Nicole Goguen (Canada U-22), F Taylor Palazeti (Alberta U-18), F Leah Craig (Team Ontario)
Predicted finish: 1st
Preseason coaches polls: 1st
Outlook: The Wildcats might be young, but no UNH sophomore class has ever been more experienced. Coach Brian McCloskey said at the outset of last season, that the freshmen would have to contribute immediately, and now they are better for it. Now UNH goes through another difficult transition period with another crop of freshmen to throw into the fire. The Wildcats lost their top two defensemen to graduation and Thomas’ booming shot on the power play will be missed, but they can now feature a tandem of Canadian U-22s in Goguen and Garland. McCloskey recruited well to replace All-American Jen Huggon last year, as Bourdon ably filled her space between the pipes, and McCloskey appears headed for similar success at the blue line. The forward lines will have a nice blend of youth and experience, led by All-League playmaker Hansen, Hekle and veteran Steph Jones.
Said McCloskey: “We’re fortunate we have Steph Jones coming back. She has done a fabulous job leading this team, and the other girls really look up to her.”
As usual, the biggest challenge for UNH will be to win a postseason title, a goal elusive for the program since the inaugural women’s hockey national championship in 1998 (three year’s before NCAA sponsorship).
Head coach: Bob Deraney, 6th season (103-56-18)
2003-04 record: 21-13-2, 14-5-1 Hockey East (2nd)
2003-04 team offense: 3.33 (11th), 3.95 Hockey East (2nd)
2003-04 team defense: 2.11 (9th), 1.85 Hockey East (2nd)
2003-04 power play: 21.6% (5th), 25.5% Hockey East (1st)
2003-04 penalty kill: 85.3% (19th), 86.5% CHA (3rd)
Key losses: F Darlene Stephenson (10-26-36), D Kelli Halcisak (20-26-46), D Meredith Roth (6-14-20)
Key returnees: F Rush Zimmerman (17-26-43), F Sonny Watrous (16-11-27), F Karen Thatcher (10-17-27), D Danielle Bourgette (2-12-14), G Jana Bugden (2.22 GAA, .904 SV%)
Newcomers to watch: F Cherie Hendrickson (2nd only to Brown’s Kerry Nugent on the Brooks School’s all-time scoring list), F Jenna Kelich (national semifinalist with Honeybaked club)
Predicted finish: 2nd
Preseason coaches polls: 2nd
Outlook: Having already lost their three best defensive players-Stephenson, Halcisak and Roth-to graduation, the Friars now find themselves without Bugden and forward Ashley Payton for the first third of the season as both had surgery over the summer. Senior Amy Thomas, who started 17 games as a freshman before losing out to Bugden, is the goaltender most equipped to take her place. The Friars have tremendous depth at forward with three U.S. U-22 players in Zimmerman, Watrous and Thatcher, although the offensive skills of the defensemen will not be as strong as a year ago.
Said Deraney: “We are going to be a different team than last year-more traditional, and more offensive. Last year, we were able to generate a lot of offense from our D, but this year they will be a little more traditional. Their job is to get the puck to our forwards.”
Providence might struggle early with its youth plugging in the holes from graduation and injuries, but as usual, Deraney expects his team to be there in the end. After all, that’s what’s happened each of the last three years. While the Friars can’t be considered the regular season favorite, they’re still the team to beat in March until someone proves otherwise.
Head coach: Heather Linstad, 5th season UConn (34-70-13), 13th season overall (195-141-40)
2003-04 record: 9-19-6, 5-11-4 Hockey East (1st)
2003-04 team offense: 1.74 (26th), 1.90 Hockey East (4th)
2003-04 team defense: 2.97 (24th), 3.10 Hockey East (5th)
2003-04 power play: 10.2% (25th), 12.0% Hockey East (4th)
2003-04 penalty kill: 80.9% (26th), 75.9% Hockey East (6th)
Key losses: F Sara Mahoney (4-9-13), D Stefanie Snow(2-5-7)
Key returnees: F Tiffany Owens (10-7-17), F Leslie Hurlbut (9-2-11), G Shannon Murphy (3.16 GAA, .894 SV%),
Newcomer to watch: Jaclyn Hawkins (NEPSAC All-Star)
Predicted finish: 3rd
Preseason coaches polls: 5th
Outlook: For years, Linstad has been waiting for first recruiting class to start finding the back of the net. Now that the Huskies finally have four full D-I recruiting classes and nine seniors in place, this should be their best season yet. In recent years, UConn has been plagued by top players, like Laura Stosky and Kim Berry, leaving at midseason. And then last year captain Stefanie Snow and top sniper Shannon Connolly where both lost in the same weekend of the season. The defense and goaltending, which had been solid, suddenly collapsed and the Huskies dropped out of the Hockey East playoff picture. If they can avoid any further maladies, UConn should have a clear path to the Hockey East semifinals. After all, this was a team that upset St. Lawrence on the strength of Connolly’s two goals back before all the injuries.
Said Linstad: “What you’ll see on the ice is that the girls who will be there are the girls who want to be there. Our first recruiting class will have been with us for four years,and the performance of those seniors will be a key to our success.”
Head coach: Guy Perron, 1st season
2003-04 record: 12-16-4, 9-9-2 Hockey East (3rd)
2003-04 team offense: 2.31 (20th), 2.15 Hockey East (3rd)
2003-04 team defense: 2.56 (19th), 2.50 Hockey East (4th)
2003-04 power play: 9.3% (28th), 12.2% Hockey East (3rd)
2003-04 penalty kill: 84.6% (22nd), 87.2% Hockey East (2nd)
Key losses: F Meagan Aarts (12-13-25), F Karen Droog (12-10-22), G Lara Smart (2.58 GAA, .920 SV%)
Key returnees: F Tristan Desmet (12-11-23), F Sonia Corriveau (10-3-13), D Kelly Law (2-7-9)
Newcomer to watch: F Danielle Tangredi (Ontario provincial champion), G Jayme Wilmann (BC provincial champion)
Predicted finish: 4th
Preseason coaches polls: 4th
Outlook: Perron’s wealth of hockey experience will certainly be an asset to this team, and last year’s freshmen class was the most talented the school had seen in a while, but after the graduation of crucial players like Aarts, Droog, and Smart in one year, it will be tough for Perron to do much better than another exit in the Hockey East semifinals.
5. Boston College
Head coach: Tom Mutch, 2nd season (6-22-3)
2003-04 record: 6-22-3, 1-18-1 Hockey East (6th)
2003-04 team offense: 1.65 (28th), 1.45 Hockey East (6th)
2003-04 team defense: 3.52 (28th), 3.95 Hockey East (6th)
2003-04 power play: 9.4% (27th), 9.6% Hockey East (5th)
2003-04 penalty kill: 81.8% (24th), 82.4% Hockey East (5th)
Key losses: F Alaina Clark (3-8-11), F Kaitlin McGrath (4-2-6)
Key returnees: F Kerri Sanders (9-4-13), D Sarah Carlson (1-5-6), G Lisa Davis (3.35 GAA, .901 SV%),
Newcomer to watch: F Deb Spillane (U.S. National Festival)
Predicted finish: 5th
Preseason coaches poll: 3rd
Outlook: Spillane, a star of the Assabet Valley club and the Franklin, Mass. boys team, is the most highly touted recruit BC has had for years, and Mutch has recruited a strong class of nine players. Goaltender Lisa Davis certainly has had flashes of brilliance throughout her career. But will the Eagles have enough talent to get to third place in the league as the coaches predicted? It will be a tall order, considering they finished a full 17 points back of the playoffs last season. But if Mutch can turn the program around in just one season, he will deserve every award that he gets.
Head coach: Laura Schuler, 1st season Northeastern, 2nd season overall (13-12-1)
2003-04 record: 13-13-8, 7-9-4 Hockey East (4th)
2003-04 team offense: 1.82 (25th), 1.75 Hockey East (5th)
2003-04 team defense: 2.26 (12th), 2.45 Hockey East (3rd)
2003-04 power play: 9.4% (26th), 6.2% Hockey East (6th)
2003-04 penalty kill: 87.7% (9th), 85.7% Hockey East (4th)
Key losses: F Cyndy Kenyon (11-13-24), D Rebecca Peters (0-8-8), D Rachel Bertram (2-6-8), G Chanda Gunn (2.06 GAA, .938 SV%)
Key returnees: F Marie Desrosiers (8-11-19), F Amy Goodney (12-6-18), G Katy Augustyn (2.44 GAA, .915 SV%),
Newcomer to watch: F Missy Elumba (Minn. East Suburban All-Star), F Melissa Wigmore (Pomfret captain), F Nikki Petrich (Shattuck St. Mary’s)
Predicted finish: 6th
Preseason coaches polls: 6th
Outlook: The Huskies were competitive last year with good goaltending, good defensemen, and quick forwards with just enough breakaway speed. Augustyn still performed well in Gunn’s absence last year, but Northeastern only has three returning defensemen on its roster to protect her, after so many players left during the offseason. Among the forwards, Desrosiers and Goodney will still put up as many points, but they will need more offense than before to win games this season. Northeastern was a unanimous last place pick among the coaches, which sounds worse than it really is. This team still has potential to pull together and grab a playoff spot, but even if the Huskies finish in last by a hair, the players will have the best experience of their Northeastern career’s with Schuler at the helm.
Said Schuler: “I think the team just needed someone new. The girls are very high spirited and eager for the new year to begin.”
–Lee Urton contributed to the reporting of this article.