Two Boston College freshmen forwards, who left their states in the hotbed of WCHA hockey to venture East, are making a profound impact on their school’s chances of success in the postseason.
Kelli Stack, who is from Brooklyn Heights, Ohio, and Allie Thunstrom, who is from Maplewood, Minn., are the one-two scoring punch for the Eagles who enter this weekend’s Hockey East tournament with a 23-8-2 (15-6-0) record.
Both Stack and Thunstrom were named recently to the 24-member preliminary roster for the U.S. National Team that is preparing for the 2007 World Championships, April 3-10 in Manitoba. Stack found out about making the National Team when Thunstrom text-messaged her in their English writing class and told her to check her email. Thunstrom had found out the night before. “I was so excited,” said Stack. “We kept nodding to each other the rest of the class.”
Stack and Thunstrom were recruited heavily by the major WCHA powers, including Wisconsin and the Minnesota schools. “I thought I’m really lucky: here I turn down Wisconsin to go to BC and he (U.S. National Team and Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson) still wants me,” said Stack.
Stack, a 5-5 forward, has had a dynamite second half going into the weekend she leads the team with 50 points (17-33). At the winter break she had just 18 points (4-14). Since then she’s scored in 15 of the last 16 games dating back to Jan. 5 and she’s currently on a five-game scoring streak.
“I didn’t really expect to come on that strong in the second half, especially since I didn’t do that well in the first half,” she said. She attributed her improvement to superior conditioning and getting into the flow of things to her recent success.
BC coach Tom Mutch said moving Stack from the wing to the center position made a big difference in her production. “She has really flourished there,” he said. “There aren’t too many players who can pass the puck like she can or slow it up or speed it up if she wants,” he said.
Stack opted for Chestnut Hill because she liked the smaller campus and felt she fit in better with the other B.C. players.
“Kelly saw an opportunity that she’d have a chance to play with a growing program,” Mutch said. “We leaned on her and she has responded.”
Thunstrom has been more consistent offensively, but it’s her growth as an all-around player that has made the difference in her value to the team.
Although she had the reputation of being only a scorer, Mutch said she has “proven that she is very, very intelligent on the wing, that she knows how to kill penalties and play defense. In high school, she had the puck the whole time,” he said of her career at North St. Paul where she set the school record for goals and points.
Thunstrom agreed her reputation as a one-way player may no longer be deserved because of her gains in playing defense. “Coach Mutch worked with me on the defensive side so that I could become an all-around player,” she said. “Now I backcheck a lot more.” That new part of her game even impressed her parents when they visited BC during the season.
Still her offense has been dazzling. Thunstrom, who played with a broken thumb much of the season, has had four game-winning goals, the first in the 2-1 season opener against RPI. Stack had four game-winners as well, one of them the winning goal against Boston University in the Beanpot final. She also had the assist on the winning goal when the Eagles beat Harvard in triple overtime during the Beanpot semifinals.
Thunstrom said she’s pleased with her inaugural season. “I always hoped when I came to college to be productive, she said. “Everything has fallen into place.”
She said her decision to come East to school did not sit well in some hockey circles in Minnesota. As the winner of Ms. Hockey Minnesota, her decision was in the spotlight. “It was always expected I’d stay there,” she said, and up until end, she had either Minnesota or St. Cloud in her sites. But a last minute trip to look at three Boston schools (Northeastern and Harvard universities and finally BC) to make sure she didn’t want to come East changed her mind.
“I fell in love with this campus. I said ‘This is the place I want to be,'” she said. Some people, not closely connected with Minnesota programs, were “pretty mean” about her decision, she said, but it doesn’t bother her.
“It was nice to walk into a program that wasn’t established or living on past glory but actually gave me a chance to be part of building it up,” she said. “That is really special.”