MINNEAPOLIS — When junior co-captain Marie-Philip Poulin heads to the faceoff circle, chances are she will win possession for her team. In fact, out of all the players on the No. 2 Boston University women’s hockey team’s roster with consistent faceoff experience, Poulin leads the team with a success rate of 64.1 percent.
What isn’t likely is BU (28-5-3) taking the opening faceoff win and converting it into a goal within seconds.
Nonetheless, the Terriers did just that Friday night as they defeated Mercyhurst University, 4-1, to advance to the NCAA title game on Sunday.
“It breaks the ice. It gets you relaxed,” said BU coach Brian Durocher of the early goal. “I’ve always said if you get one goal [your opponent needs] three before you’re really in the panic mode. So to get that jump makes a big, big difference in this game.”
That jump came just 13 seconds into the game. After Poulin won the faceoff, the Terriers skated toward the Lakers’ net. Poulin then connected with senior forward Jenelle Kohanchuk, who put the puck by Mercyhurst netminder Stephanie Ciampa for the extremely early lead.
What seemed like a fluke goal, however, turned into a theme as the Terriers came out strong at the start of each period, slowly developing a dependable lead over Mercyhurst (29-7-1).
“I think it was all about our team chemistry,” said junior goaltender Kerrin Sperry, who blocked 26 shots. “First, you know, getting [Kohanchuk] out there scoring the first goal, we all get pumped up. That was a great start.”
After holding the score to 1-0 for the duration of the first period, the Terriers gave themselves an extra cushion exactly one minute into the second, when senior forward Isabel Menard and junior forward Louise Warren teamed up to create a 2-on-1 down the right side of the ice.
Menard then wristed a shot by Ciampa, once again halting any momentum the Lakers might have had entering the period.
Just over halfway through the second frame, Mercyhurst suddenly found itself with an opportunity to inch its way back into the contest when sophomore defenseman Shannon Stoneburgh earned a five-minute major for grabbing the facemask of one of the Lakers’ players during a scrum.
What looked like a Mercyhurst opportunity, however, quickly turned into a demonstration of BU’s ability on the penalty kill, as the Terriers not only killed off the penalty, but also forced the Lakers to take a penalty of their own.
Once again, neither team could find the back of the net after BU’s early scoring. That is, until the third period when Kohanchuk made a pass to senior defenseman Kathryn Miller right in front of the crease three minutes into the frame.
Earlier in the contest, Miller had a goal waved off after officials determined that she hit the puck with a high stick. This time, however, the shot counted and gave BU the three-goal lead that it needed to close out the game.
“Miller doesn’t score tons of goals, 20 goals a season,” Sperry said. “She got down there and scored a goal and that pumps everyone up, and I think that allowed us to close the game out on the scoreboard, obviously. And then also, internally for our team, I think that really got us going.”
Seven minutes later, BU jumped out of its early-period scoring habit when a breakaway by Poulin gave the Terriers a 4-0 advantage.
Mercyhurst finally found the back of the net with fewer than two minutes left in the game, but, at that point, the team’s fate was already decided.
With the win, the Terriers advance to the NCAA championship game for the second time in three seasons. This time around they will face the undefeated University of Minnesota, who made it to the final round after an overtime win over Boston College earlier Friday.
BU, like every other team who has played the Gophers (40-0) in the past few weeks, knows that Minnesota has yet to lose a game this season. For Durocher, this means the team just needs to keep its calm as it has tried to do all season.