It’s a different game for Kent at Boston College

Kenzie Kent (BC - 12), Milica McMillen (Minnesota - 13) - The University of Minnesota Golden Gophers defeated the Boston College Eagles 3-1 to win the 2016 NCAA national championship on Sunday, March 20, 2016, at the Whittemore Center Arena in Durham, New Hampshire. (Melissa Wade)
Kenzie Kent battles,Milica McMillen in the 2016 NCAA national championship. (Melissa Wade)

Two seasons ago, Boston College lost for the first time on Feb. 10 in its 29th game. Last year, the only loss came on March 20 in the 41st game. Perhaps nothing could drive the point home as emphatically that things are different for the Eagles this time around as the fact that their initial defeat was suffered on Oct. 1 in their second contest.

Such a change was not unexpected with the graduations of Alex Carpenter and Haley Skarupa, who finished with 278 and 244 career points, respectively, the top two totals in BC history. With that senior duo spearheading the attack, BC poured in a program high of 213 goals last year.

While it remains to be seen how many times the current club finds the net, it’s a safe bet it’ll be a more modest total. Senior Andie Anastos tops this season’s squad with 104 career points, and due to an early injury, she wasn’t around by the end of Saturday’s loss.

“One of the biggest things I saw [in that loss] is how important Andie Anastos is to our team, as a captain, as a leader, as a player,” coach Katie Crowley said. “I think that took some heart and soul out of our bench for a little bit there until we really started to pick it back up in the third. You lose a kid like that who I think often gets overlooked, but she works her tail off day in and day out for us and for the Boston College jersey and for our program. For her to get hurt, it was tough for our team. I think they took a step back and said, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! Now what?'”

While the Eagles were trying to answer that, Minnesota-Duluth struck early and often, and after 40 minutes the Bulldogs enjoyed a 5-0 lead. BC has grown accustomed to skating out for the third period for games where the margin was five goals or more, but it was always on the positive side of that ledger. The last time the Eagles trailed by as many as five goals was Jan. 25, 2012, in a 6-0 loss to Boston University when Carpenter was a freshman and the current seniors where juniors in high school.

“Like the coaches said, it’s a great learning experience,” forward Kenzie Kent said. “No one on this team has ever been down by that many goals. Like our [assistant] coach [Gillian Apps] said, it’s a wake-up call. Not that it’s a good thing, but we can always learn from stuff like this, and I think we will.”

Her coach also pointed to the learning aspect as a silver lining.

“I’m moving people around, because you see kids play better when they’re playing at center,” Crowley said. “You see kids play better when they’re playing at wing. That’s what you work through in this first couple weekends.”

Some of her charges are barely scratching the surface of their NCAA careers.

“I got to see a lot of really good things from our freshmen, who hadn’t seen much action,” Crowley said. “I thought in the last 10 minutes, we really started going pretty good.”

Once they got going, the Eagles broke through for a couple of goals by two of those freshmen, Delaney Belinskas and Caitrin Lonergan. For Lonergan, it was her second tally through two games at BC.

“It’s definitely a work in progress,” Kent said. “Going into this season, we knew that. It’s not going to happen overnight, so we just need to be patient. Things will definitely fall into place. We have a very, very talented team. We have a young team, but once we get them on board, we’re going to be great, I think.”

Despite being just a junior, Kent has plenty of experience when it comes to watching her college teams evolve. Once her hockey season ends in March, she puts away her skates and hockey sticks and picks up a lacrosse stick.

Being a multisport athlete in Division I was far more common a couple decades ago when Crowley was playing at Brown.

“On my team alone, I think we had five of us that were playing hockey and softball,” Crowley said. “It’s certainly changed. It’s certainly unique now. It doesn’t happen that often, but Kenzie is such a great athlete. To be able to go off a season last year of going from September to the end of March, and then to step right into a lacrosse program and take them so that they made it to the tournament, too.”

Combining the two seasons and postseasons makes for a full calendar.

“It’s like a normal D-I, one-sport athlete for the first seven months of the year, so it’s fine at that point,” Kent said. “Just getting into lacrosse, that’s when it gets more difficult for me. I get more tired and my schedule gets a little harder. It’s not too bad, it’s just that coming into my third year, it’s kind of been nonstop for three years straight, so it’s getting a little tiring.”

Anastos can relate to the demands of juggling sports, as she played both hockey and basketball before coming to BC.

“I get what she’s saying, because it is tough after a long season like that, and not finishing it the way you wanted it to go, and then being like, ‘I just need a little break and just relax a little bit,'” Anastos said. “She did a really good job of going into lacrosse and does a great job with lacrosse. She’s an unreal player.”

Crowley has also experienced having to keep training when her hockey teammates were done for the year and knows there is both a physical and mental toll.

“It’s taxing both ways,” she said. “I think for [Kent] after losing in the national championship game, it was like, ‘Let me get back out there.’ So I think that part was good for her mentally, but it’s a grueling season. I think [hockey] is the longest season in college. To be in a competitive atmosphere like she was for that long and then be able to continue to do it after that is pretty impressive.”

Kent said that while she does get tired from combining the two sports, the mental strain is more difficult.

“Last year was hard, just being so close and invested into one season and being in the national championship and then losing, changing my complete different mindset to being in the middle of a season on a different team,” she said. “It was hard, but I’m really close to the lacrosse team, so they made it really easy.”

Fostering that relationship with her lacrosse teammates takes commitment from Kent.

“Obviously, my whole mindset is on the hockey team when hockey is in session, so I don’t do anything physically, but if there is a weekend where I can hang out with the lacrosse team and go to one of their extracurricular activities, just like hang out,” Kent said. “I always try to make time for them, just so it makes it easier to jump into the season halfway through.”

With both teams traveling a fair amount, hanging out with lacrosse players isn’t always an option.

“They play fall ball, so they have something almost every weekend in the fall,” Kent said. “Then they take a couple months off and get back at it in January, so I miss a good amount.”

In today’s society, she’s found that there are ways to keep in touch.

“Like Snapchat or GroupMe, they always post pictures and keep everyone in the loop,” Kent said. “Some of my really good friends are on that team, so with the help of them, I stay connected.”

Her coaches for hockey and lacrosse also maintain a connection.

“We talk a lot just about how she’s doing,” Crowley said. “At the beginning of the year, she’s with us full time, so she doesn’t really do a lot of lacrosse until we’re done, and then her season comes up. I think the toughest part for her, like this year she tried out for the national team for lacrosse, U.S.A. national team. That took her away from things, and it’s a little bit different. Obviously, the workout is a little bit different for lacrosse than it would be for hockey, so she had to switch some things up there. But I’m never going to take that opportunity away from a kid. She’s a dynamic athlete.”

With hockey starting in September, and lacrosse lasting well into May, the national camps bring additional demands. Anyone who has worked hard for that long finds herself counting the days until the next holiday.

“I think that’s what makes everything more mentally challenging, because I get to a point where I kind of want a break academically and athletically, but it’s kind of impossible because I don’t really get a vacation-type thing,” Kent said. “Christmas break with hockey, Easter break with lacrosse — it gets hard.”

One thing that isn’t tough for Kent is deciding which set of her teammates would be at an advantage if they were to try out the other sport.

“I think the hockey team would be a better lacrosse team than lacrosse would be hockey, just because you’d have to learn how to skate, and that’s the hardest part,” she said.

The two sports require largely different talents from her.

“I would say just the quick decision-making — that’s what has helped me most with both of the sports,” Kent said. “You have to make decisions quickly and make plays quickly, so I think that’s helped a lot. I think it’s pretty much the only correlation between the two.”

Still Crowley has observed skills in Kent that she believes were honed on a lacrosse field.

“Some of the things that Kenzie does on the ice with the puck — it’s little things that you don’t necessarily see unless you’re watching her,” Crowley said. “She’ll make a behind-the-back play, or just a tip toward herself or away to somebody. She does some pretty nice things with her stick that I think certainly carry over from lacrosse.”

Kent didn’t set out to be a two-sport athlete at BC, and she was fairly far along in the recruiting process when she began to entertain the idea.

“I would say junior year when I visited BC,” Kent said. “That was not one of my goals, to play both. It just so happened that I was visiting lacrosse schools and I was visiting a couple hockey schools. Didn’t really think that I would be playing hockey, but after I met [associate head coach Courtney Kennedy] and [Crowley] and the BC hockey team, I just kind of fell in love with that. Also, the lacrosse coach Acacia Walker, she really is the only reason I can do both. She lets me come into the season halfway through and treats me like I’ve been on the team the whole year.”

Kent has excelled at both sports. Of the current hockey players, she is second to Anastos in career points, and she ranked fifth in lacrosse points in 2016 with only 10 games played. With fledgling professional leagues in both sports, could another double be in Kent’s future some day?

“Maybe,” she said. “That’d be fun.”

For now, there is other fun in Kent’s future.

“That second half of the season is always fun; we call it Trophy Season,” Anastos said. “We have the Beanpot and then Hockey East, and then you have NCAAs. That time of year is always so much fun. Everyone is clicking. Everyone knows the systems that we’re playing in a game.”

As last weekend displayed, the Eagles aren’t yet in that form.

“This time of year is obviously harder,” Anastos said. “This year we have more freshmen, so coming in, they have to adjust to the way we play hockey and Boston College hockey. It is difficult to come in and not just play like how you were playing at that level last year, because you have to move together, and you play with different people now. It’s tricky, but it’s also fun. You get to see who you play well with. Like I get to play with Kenzie now, and it’s awesome.”

Although seven rookies are figuring things out at this level, there are mentors available.

“We still have a lot of experience on our team,” Anastos said. “We still have players who have been in those positions and played in those big games. That’s a big deal. Like Makenna [Newkirk] was a freshman last year, and she scored that goal in the final game of the Frozen Four. Now, she’s older. We expect more from her now as a sophomore.”

As the captain, the demands she’s placing on her teammates are simple.

“Right now, we just want everyone to work as hard as they can,” Anastos said. “I know that this is my last year. I want everyone giving it their all like I did my past three years giving it my all for all the seniors that I knew it was their last year. That’s all I’m asking for, is everyone to work as hard as they can and show up and be ready to go for every practice and every game.”