The penalty kill took center stage in the No. 3 Boston University women’s hockey team’s 5-3 win over Clarkson University Saturday, and true to the old saying, Junior goalie Kerrin Sperry was called on to be her team’s best penalty killer.
Sperry made 11 saves on the PK — 34 overall on 37 shots — and may have been the biggest reason the Terriers (27-5-3, 18-2-1 Hockey East) topped the Knights (28-10-0) in the first round of the NCAA tournament to advance to the Frozen Four.
“It’s the third game in a row where we’ve had to do a good job killing penalties, and so far we have in those three games,” said BU coach Brian Durocher. “My charge is to see if we can avoid [taking penalties].”
Saturday, BU gave up five power plays, including two late in the third period, as Clarkson was surging offensively. With key players in the box — first junior defenseman Kaleigh Fratkin, then star freshman forward Sarah Lefort — and Clarkson chipping away at BU’s lead, those kills were crucial.
On those Knights power plays, the penalty killers in front of Sperry stepped up, blocking shots and clearing the puck over and over before Clarkson could set up in the offensive zone. But on the Terriers’ third penalty kill of the game, early in the second period, Sperry essentially kept BU in the game herself.
With Lefort in the box 4:27 into the second, BU struggled to clear the puck out of the defensive zone.
Clarkson fired shot after shot on Sperry, most through at least two or three players in front, but Sperry found each one, diving to cover loose pucks in the crease and make key stops.
Her defensemen helped out — Fratkin swatted away a puck headed for the crossbar at one point — but it was Sperry who shut down what could have been a crucial Knights power play, stopping five shots in those two minutes.
For the rest of the period, she did the same.
“That’s a time when the game could really change, because it goes to 2-1 for them, and their size and their strength and their composure with their talented goaltender, it may have been a lot harder for us to have the luck,” Durocher said.
“But we got the second goal after the penalty kill, and it gave us a little bit of a chance to maybe get a lead and obviously win the game.”
Clarkson had 11 Grade-A chances in the second, not including one that popped up from behind the net and forced Sperry to make an outfielder-style catch. The Knights scored on just one, a rebound that defenseman Erin Ambrose picked up after Sperry had already stopped multiple point-blank chances.
Although BU had possession of the puck in the offensive zone for much of the second, it had seven of its shots blocked in that period (and 20 in the game). Clarkson allows just 24.9 shots on net per game, a testament to a strong defensive corps, making strong goaltending even more crucial than usual.
“They’re a team that prides themselves on, I guess you’d call it, New Jersey Devils hockey,” Durocher said. “They don’t take many chances. They don’t use a lot of energy forechecking. They use it on defense and in the neutral zone, and they just take advantage of opportunities.”
BU’s offense broke through eventually, scoring four times in the game’s final 25 minutes, but it may not have been in the same position to take over the lead if Sperry did not keep the game close earlier.
“We just try to help her out, but she does a great job by herself,” said junior captain Marie-Philip Poulin of Sperry, laughing. “She really stood on her head a couple times, and we are really happy to have her back there.”