Poulin gets one more shot at top prize for BU

Marie-Philip Poulin (BU - 29) - The Boston University Terriers defeated the visiting Northeastern University Huskies 3-2 on Saturday, January 28, 2012, at Agganis Arena in Boston, Massachusetts. (Melissa Wade)
Marie-Philip Poulin (BU – 29) – hopes to win five more games in her collegiate career; that would give her an NCAA Championship. (Melissa Wade)

She’s done it all. That statement is commonly made in reference to a great hockey player.

When it comes to the accomplishments of Boston University senior Marie-Philip Poulin, it is totally true. Well, almost.

Poulin is one of the most recognizable names in women’s hockey, in large part due to her success on the Olympic stage. After scoring a pair of goals in back-to-back gold-medal games for Canada, even people who normally don’t follow the sport have heard of Poulin.

In addition to her heroics that won her Olympic gold twice, she has earned World Championships at both the senior and Under-18 level, and a couple of regular season and tournament Hockey East titles with the Terriers.

About the only glory she lacks is an NCAA Championship, and Poulin has one more chance to add that.

“It’d be amazing,” she said. “I think when I knew I was coming back to Boston I wanted to come back and win an NCAA title. It will take a lot of work to get there, but we’re going to go game-by-game and hope to achieve it.”

Her college career is down to a maximum of five more games, and then coach Brian Durocher will be faced with the unenviable task of figuring out how to replace her in his lineup.

“She has really set the bar,” he said. “She’s somebody, because of I think the injuries, and because she’s an unbelievable teammate and really thinks pass first, she’s probably put statistics behind, always looking at the team accomplishments, team success. When you compound that with the fact that she’s had some injuries, I think it’s been hard for her to really get the recognition she may deserve. Some of that is circumstantial. She’s got the great success in the Olympics, national teams, been a fantastic college hockey player, but when you come up with the injuries and things like that, it’s been hard for her. I don’t think she’s been an All-American yet, hasn’t been a Kazmaier winner or final three.”

That could change soon. Poulin is one of 10 finalists for this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award, and she is a likely pick as an All-American as well.

“As far as our individual team and our program, you can’t have a better leader with that kind of talent. We’ve had other good leaders, other talented kids, but this kid really brings everything at the highest level. Everybody that coached her before and everybody that will coach her in the future will say the same thing, and every teammate she has says the same thing. So it’s going to be very hard to replace her.”

Her coach knows of what he speaks, because he has already had to attempt to deal with her absence from the roster in the short term, both during her Olympic year and when other circumstance have caused her to miss games.

“The spleen, which was the big injury, took her out for it had to be 20 games [in 2011-12],” Durocher said. “This year, it’s five games. She’s also been at Four Nations in November and also the MECO Cup at least one year and missed some games there. Then she broke her hand while she was here. Knee, hand, spleen — it’s been a long line of injuries. I don’t think she had an injury before she came here. Maybe the hockey gods caught up to her and decided her time at BU was the time that was going to be injured.”

Combined, those circumstances have kept her out of a BU uniform enough times that her junior linemate Sarah Lefort has played in one more game in her career in one season fewer.

“Height-wise, she wasn’t the biggest kid, but she always was unbelievably strong on her skates,” Durocher said. “The great players are always that. She could always handle the physical play. She was always ready for it. I don’t think it was ever a problem or anything that set her back.”

Perhaps the style that has made her one of the game’s stars has exposed her to greater risk of injury.

“Lord knows, she doesn’t shy away from any physical play, because she cuts back along the boards more than anybody I’ve ever seen,” Durocher said. “It’s partly because she has the hand skills and the agility and the quickness on her edges to do it, but she’s also fearless and courageous along the wall. Eventually, you’re going to bump into people. I’ve seen it happen many, many, many times where she hits the brakes and changes direction, and whoops, the kid chasing her has no idea she was going to change and basically hits her and there is pretty serious contact there. Usually, it’s the other kid that goes down, but they both take the brunt of the hit. Sometimes things give, and in her case, it’s been a couple of injuries where different parts of the body have given out a little bit on her.”

One of the challenges for Durocher during Poulin’s senior season has been finding the right line combination for her, and he had talented newcomers to consider.

“As a coach, you try to balance things out,” he said. “I try not to put rookies ahead of their time. If somebody earns her way to the power play or a top line, great, and Victoria Bach or Rebecca Leslie as freshmen, they could play on a top line here or a top line at just about any college hockey program.”

One wing was an obvious choice, as Poulin and Lefort had clicked while skating with former Terrier Jenelle Kohanchuk two years ago. The other wing wasn’t as easy.

“They had Sam Sutherland, who’s a very solid hockey player, but midway in the year, we sort of got the sense that if they could go out and get two goals, and in some games three, we could win games, 2-1 or 3-2,” Durocher said.

To complete his top line, he turned to another senior who was returning after an injury knocked her out of the line-up last season.

“Kayla [Tutino] is the kid who can do two things at the highest level,” Durocher said. “One of them is shoot the puck, and two is to play on the front of the net. She’s fearless; she’s tough as nails. She’s got some quickness to go with her strength. That’s where she makes a living. Her freshman year, I think she got close to 20 goals and played with Jenn Wakefield. It almost didn’t matter who the third person was, because they’d get short-handed goals; they’d play as a tandem. They got a lot of goals because they both could shoot it and they both would go to the net and knock in pucks. She’s found a home with [Lefort] and with [Poulin] and given us a dynamite line.”

Since being united, Durocher says the combination is averaging around three goals per game.

“It’s going pretty well,” Poulin said. “I think we find each other on the ice and we’re improving every day. Every line is going well. We’re pretty excited to go to Hyannis this weekend.”

Hyannis, Mass., is the site for the Hockey East semifinals and final. To successfully defend their title, the Terriers will need more than just their top line.

“We still think we’ve got some firepower behind them,” Durocher said.

Some of that pop comes from Bach and Leslie, who have debuted with a sum of 33 goals and 62 points.

This time of year, the fate of any hockey team is often determined in its defensive zone.

“Shannon [Doyle] is an all-star in my mind,” Durocher said. “She’s one of the real top defensemen in college hockey. We’ve got other good players here. Lillian Ribeirinha-Braga is a real solid player. Shannon Stoneburgh has had a wonderful year. Two of the kids that are playing for us on a regular basis have had deteriorating type of injuries, and they’re probably only 70 percent of what they were in October. With a player like Caroline [Campbell], who was an experienced fifth-year senior, not with us right now, it’s put a hole back there.”

Any weakness on the blue line compounds the fact that BU came into the season looking to replace Kerrin Sperry in goal.

“We’ve got two kids we feel good about, who have played pretty solid during the year, but they both want to and need to take just a half a step more,” Durocher said. “They didn’t let in bad goals, but some pucks were flying in that they knew they wanted to get. I think in the last three or four games, Victoria [Hanson] has played extremely well. We’re banking on her now as she goes into her first year of deeper into the postseason. She answered the bell on Friday and Saturday against Vermont and played real well against BC on [the last day of the regular season], so we’re giving her a little bit of a run, just because you’ve got to play back-to-back, and so last weekend I wanted to give her two games. Now she has a chance if we can get by Northeastern to possibly play two games this week. We’re not looking past Northeastern; we’re just looking to put the kid we think is the best person for the job now in the net.”

Boston University’s strength is its forwards, so Durocher hopes to take full advantage of that positive.

“We want to tighten it up on D, and I think the best way for our team to play good defense is to get those forwards to cover 190 or 195 feet of the ice,” he said. “They’ve got to play two ways. They sometimes have to play conservative. We’ve been kind of harping on that throughout the year. Some games you do it, and some games you forget, and it becomes too wide open for my liking.”

Although the Terriers’ scoring punch gives them a shot in any style of game, they likely proved that their best chance at success comes with a more conservative approach. They held Boston College to two goals in tying the teams’ most recent meeting, the only blemish on the Eagles’ Hockey East record.

“It gave us good momentum,” Poulin said. “It was a great game. They’re pretty hard to play against and last weekend we played Vermont and we were pretty excited about it. It was two great wins for us and we need to keep the momentum going.”

She gives any team a great shot to keep rolling with what she produces at big moments.

“There’s probably different plays that people could talk about, but the one that sticks out in my mind was in the NCAA tournament when she was freshman,” Durocher said. “It’s our first time there. We’ve got a pretty good squad, with not only her, but Wakefield, and Catherine Ward, and Tara Watchhorn, and Kasey Boucher, and Sperry was a young goalie. In a game that almost was getting away from us, if I remember, it was 2-0 Wisconsin. She goes in on a breakaway, and how she could have the confidence — most kids would just want to get a shot on net. Most kids would just come in and make some deke that they’ve made 100 times. She comes in and everything she does looks like she’s going left to her forehand side, and she’s going left past the net, she brings the puck back to her backhand in front of the goalie and shelves it on her backhand into the top corner. To this day, just the confidence, the savvy, and the ability to execute was pretty special, and to think that’s what a kid is doing on that stage.”

From here on out in her NCAA finale, it will all be grand stages. First the conference tourney, likely an NCAA quarterfinal, and if her team advances, one more Frozen Four.

“There’s only so many people in women’s college hockey that you’d pay to see play, and she’s one of them,” Durocher said. “I would pay for a lot more, but the average fan doesn’t. She’s the type of kid you would.”