The Boston University women’s hockey team will finally start up its Hockey East conference schedule Tuesday night, as the Terriers are set to face off against Northeastern University at Matthews Arena.
Despite already playing in five games this season, the Terriers (3-1-1) are only one of three Hockey East teams (University of Connecticut, University of Vermont) that have yet to clash with a conference opponent this season.
As it has been seemingly every year, the Hockey East is set to be another showcase of competitive play. In a preseason poll released in mid-September, the space between the second-ranked Terriers (48 votes) and the fifth-ranked University of New Hampshire (34 votes) was decided by only 14 votes.
This is the second-straight year in which BU is tabbed to finish second in the conference, trailing only to Boston College (56 votes). The Terriers are coming off of a wildly successful 2012-13 campaign, as they captured both the Hockey East regular-season title and tournament championship for the first time in program history.
“I think you want to get off to a good start,” said BU coach Brian Durocher. “21 games is not a super-long time, and that’s what the Hockey East regular season consists of. … I think the kids are taking it as another game, it will be a quick turnaround from Saturday night to a Tuesday game, but I like to think the kids … will be ready to go come Tuesday.”
The Terriers are coming off of a 2-1 victory over Yale University Saturday afternoon in the friendly confines of Walter Brown Arena. Sophomore forward Sarah Lefort and freshman forward Maddie Elia each found the back of the net in the game for the Terriers, improving BU’s home-opener record to 5-3-1.
BU has received contributions from a multitude of players so far this season, especially from its underclassmen, as five of the Terriers’ top six scorers are either a freshman or a sophomore.
“It’s nice that they’re generating offense, it’s nice that they’re gaining confidence,” Durocher said. “They don’t have to be top scorers, they don’t have to be the star of the game every night. … The sooner they mature, the sooner they get used to the extended roles, the better we’ll be.
“We know what’s ahead of us, and those kids will have to grow up in the hockey sense a little faster than maybe they would normally have to.”
The last time that the Terriers faced off against the Huskies (4-4, 1-1 Hockey East) was March 10 when BU defeated Northeastern in the Hockey East title game in Hyannis. Then-senior forward Jenelle Kohanchuk scored twice in the third period while senior goaltender Kerrin Sperry made 35 saves en route to the victory.
This season, Northeastern is without its most talented player, as forward Kendall Coyne will spend the 2013-14 campaign training with the United States Women’s National Team in preparation for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
Coyne was an offensive force in 2012-13, as she accumulated 68 points in just 37 games while leading all of the Hockey East with 37 goals. For reference, UConn (3-4-0) only managed 58 goals as a team last season.
Durocher said that getting the opportunity to avoid facing Coyne on the ice this season would alter his team’s gameplan against the Huskies.
“Again, when you lose great players like we lost in [junior captain Marie-Phillip] Poulin or Kendall over there, you’re talking about two kids that change the complexion of a game,” Durocher said. “You could randomly pick up the box score almost any game over there before she arrived and you’d see that they were a very competitive, hardworking team, but they didn’t have that two-point-a-game person that could turn a 2-1 loss into a 3-2 win. She did that consistently over there.”
Northeastern has struggled so far this season on special teams, as it ranks last in both power-play percentage (3 percent) and penalty-kill percentage (77.8 percent). The Huskies offense, led by sophomore Paige Savage (8 points) have averaged 2.38 goals per game this season, virtually identical to BU’s numbers this season (2.40 goals per game).
For Durocher, the biggest key to a Terrier victory lies in the team continuing to establish a strong defensive presence.
“[The key is] continuing to, as a team, play good defense,” Durocher said. “Play hard defensively and be a little bit of a pain in the neck to play against. If we start thinking that we’re going to be going over and out-fancy Northeastern, then we’ve got the wrong mindset.
“We need to come in there with a defense-first mentality and then if we score one, if we score three, if we score five goals, we don’t want to have that as our focus. We want to make sure we’re playing well on the defensive end. If we do that, that will give us a good chance to win over there.”