At the start of the 2007-2008 season, the Boston College Eagles’ women’s hockey team faced a lot of questions and a lot of challenges. Last season featured moments that almost made the season like Charles Dickens’ famous opening line about the best and worst of times from “A Tale of Two Cities.”
Last season saw the Eagles, led by freshman forward Kelli Stack and freshman goaltender Molly Schaus, have their best season in the program’s history. The Eagles defended their Beanpot title, winning their first-round game against Harvard 4-3 in triple overtime, and advanced to the NCAA tournament for the first time in their history, beating Dartmouth 3-2 in double overtime in the quarterfinals to advance to the Frozen Four, where they lost to Minnesota-Duluth 4-3 in double overtime.
Everything looked to be in place for future success. However, just six weeks after their Frozen Four appearance, coach Tom Mutch resigned amid rumors of indiscretions. After a search, assistant coach and three-time Olympian Katie King was named head coach, and King brought in former Olympic teammate Courtney Kennedy as her assistant.
At the start of the season, King looked to bring the team back together and focus on playing to get back to the NCAA tournament.
“When the kids got back on campus, we just tried to focus on the season,” said King. “Everything that happened in the past was done, and that goes back to the Frozen Four. I remember last year when we were going to the Frozen Four, everybody was saying it’s great to get there and hard to get back, and I think all of us, not necessarily just our kids, thought we could ride those coattails a little bit, but no one is being surprised by Boston College anymore. They know that we’re a pretty good team and they’re coming out, they’re trying to get us. We can’t rely on last year.”
This is a sentiment that Stack, who is currently tied for the team lead in points with Deborah Spillane, enthusiastically agrees with.
“We just tried to get back to the basics and respect everybody and trust everybody on the ice and off the ice,” said Stack. “I think we just need to take a step back and not be so focused on what we did last year, because I think a lot of us are thinking, well, we were so good last year, it’s just going to happen for us again this year, but everybody’s gotten better, they’ve gotten new freshman, so all the teams we were close to beating last year have gotten that much better, so we just need to go back to playing our game and just know that we can score when we have to, we can defend when we have to, and hopefully we can get out of this slump we’re in and have a better second half of the season to get back to the Frozen Four.”
Stack, who grew up in Ohio, was recruited by several schools, but ultimately narrowed it down to Boston College and Wisconsin. She chose BC in part because she liked the smaller campus.
“I chose BC because I liked the location of Boston, and it’s a big sports town and I like sports a lot. It was smaller than Wisconsin; Wisconsin has a ton of kids and a really big campus and it’s very spread out. BC is all in one area and you can walk through the whole thing; you donâ€™t need a car to live there, so I really liked that too.”
Stack was one of the players who had a huge impact on the Eagles last season. She led the team in points, with 54, and had assists on the game-winning goals against Harvard in the Beanpot and Dartmouth in the NCAA tournament.
Stack found the transition to NCAA hockey was most difficult with strength and defense. “In 19-and-under, nobody worked out or anything, but when you get to college everybody’s in the weight room all the time and everybody’s really strong, so probably I was pretty weak when I came into college, so I’ve had to work pretty hard to get stronger.
“I think the defensive part is one of the things I’ve had to work on the most when I got to college. That’s one of the things I focus on a lot in practice with Coach King and Coach Kennedy. When I came in, obviously a lot of players just come in offensive minded, not that they don’t care about the ‘D’ zone, but it’s not one of their major concerns, and it’s not what got most people to college if they were playing forward. Like I said, I work really hard in practice on the ‘D’ zone; I work on keeping my feet moving and always having the girl’s stick in the air and being real strong on my stick and not letting them get to the net.”
So far, this season has seen some ups and downs for the Eagles, who have been in and out of the top 10 of the USCHO.com poll all season. They have had some good wins, including a tie and win against Hockey East rival Connecticut, but ended their first half on a down note, losing to Boston University and Northeastern.
Ultimately, those games are ones that King feels are learning experiences for her team, and will hopefully make them stronger in the second half.
“I think they surprised us a little bit,” said King of BU and Northeastern. “It’s like I told our kids, you give a team, any team, a period or ten minutes of a game, you know, that’s where you might lose it, so we just have to try and focus on that and right now we’re focusing on new lines and trying to put another win in our column.”
Stack spent much of the first half of the season on a line with Spillane and Meghan Fardelmann, a line that was very effective for the Eagles. Stack feels that three work well together because of their desire to win.
“Kelli is such a dynamic player and kind of reads where her teammates are going to go and reads the play so well,” said King. “Deb has such a great hockey mentality where she’s kind of similar to Kelli but I think that they read well off each other and then Fardelmann just kind of goes 110% all the time; she just doesn’t stop and they know she’s going to go to the net and they know she’s going to keep digging in the corners and kind of be that power forward type.”
“I would say that we don’t care who gets the point or who gets the goal, we just want to win,” commented Stack. “We know that, like if I give a pass to Deb or Meghan I know that they’ll give it right back to me. I think it’s a lot of unselfish play with our line, and a lot of hard work.”
However, King is looking at breaking up the line in the second half of the season to generate a more balanced offensive attack.
“I think in this game, you need more than one line,” said King. “Kelli and Allie (Thunstrom) played together in the last game against Northeastern and I think they played really well together. Allie’s in a little bit of a slump, but she’s had a great attitude and she’s trying to pull herself out of it, and we’ll do what we can to help her pull out of it. Becky (Zavisza) as well; she’s been in a little bit of a slump for her, but she works extremely hard and those are generally our goal scorers. They say themselves that they are struggling and we’re trying to work through that and get them out of that and hopefully we can get a couple lines going.”
One thing King has been happy with is the play of goaltender Schaus, who finished her freshman year 20-10-2 and played for the U.S. U-22 team this summer with Stack, Fardelmann and defenseman Maggie Taverna.
“Well, I think Molly’s great,” said King. “She’s got a tremendous amount of pressure on her this year. I don’t think she realizes how much of a leader she is on our team, but kids look to her more than she even knows. I think she’s trying to take that role and see what she can do with it, but we’re also trying to work with her on moving pucks on the goal line, and she’s one of the best athletes on our team. She’s a great skater, she can handle the puck great; she could probably play forward, but we’re not going to let her do that (laughs). She’s done a great job for us again, and she’s facing a lot of shots and sometimes she’s left out to dry and she’ll make an unbelievable save. I can’t say enough about Molly.”
Stack, Fardelmann and Schaus were also invited with 53 other players to the USA Hockey Annual Women’s Holiday Camp in Lake Placid, held in the last week of December, something Stack was excited about.
While the team has been somewhat inconsistent, Stack feels that King has transitioned very well into the head coaching position, and is a valuable resource for the players.
“She knows the game very well, and she was an Olympian and same with Coach Kennedy; she was too,” said Stack. “I think their relationship, they’re such good friends, it makes it a lot easier on us being able to talk to them and go to them if we need anything. I think seeing her as an assistant coach and seeing her as a head coach, it’s kind of cool to see the change she’s made. She didn’t really speak up a lot last year, but now everything’s coming from her. She’s got a really tough job, trying to take us back to the Frozen Four. She’s got a lot of expectations too, and I think she’s doing a great job so far.”
“Coaching in general is kind of, I’d say a little bit eye-opening,” said King. “You think about so many different things that I think as a player you don’t necessarily have to think about, or maybe you should but you don’t. Obviously it’s a little different being the head coach; itâ€™s a little more pressure. You feel the losses a little more, and the wins a little more, but it’s been great so far and hopefully we can step it up in the second half.
While the Eagles are hoping to get back to the NCAA tournament, they know they have a difficult road ahead. In the second half, they start with two games against St. Lawrence and Minnesota sandwiched around a game with Harvard.
Stack for one is confident that if the team can get back to concentrating on consistent play, good things will happen.
“I think that we need to work together as a team and just start over with a 0-0-0 record in the second half of the season, because we have some really tough games, so it’s going to pretty tough for us, so I think if we can just start over fresh and work together as a team, we shouldnâ€™t’ have a problem. I think we have to play with more confidence, because we know we’re a skilled team. We have to go into every game and just play BC hockey, and that should take us as far as we want to go.”
King is looking forward to the second half as well, and has great confidence in the ability of her team to compete.
“I’m sure that we’ll make it exciting,” she laughs. “That’s the thing about our kids; they come ready to play and ready to go and ready to work hard, and that’s what I like about our team; I never to tell them to go hard, or go harder. They go pretty hard all the time. We just have to continue to compete for three periods and I think we can hold our own against any team in the country.”