Ice Hockey, Sports

Depth key to women’s hockey’s success

MICHELLE JAY/DAILY FREE PRESS STAFF Terrier redshirt senior forward Jenelle Kohanchuk led BU in goals.
Terrier redshirt senior forward Jenelle Kohanchuk led BU in goals.

The Boston University women’s hockey team entered the 2012-13 season having lost its top scorer, forward Jenn Wakefield. But rather than lament the loss of a single consistent superstar, the Terriers (28-6-3, 18-2-1 Hockey East) relied on multiple parts to propel them to the NCAA Championship Final for the second time in three seasons.

Rather than having a single dynamic scorer this season, the offense was spread among the first two lines. Led by senior forward Jenelle Kohanchuk’s 25 goals and junior co-captain Marie-Philip Poulin’s 55 points, six members of the BU squad contributed double-digit goals in the same campaign for the first time in program history.

“It was nice to be able to deal with the loss of a super player like Jenn Wakefield, but have so many more people [opponents] had to keep an eye on,” said BU coach Brian Durocher.

BU came out of the gates strong, avoiding a loss in any of its first six games, with five wins and a tie in that span.

The first tough test for BU came against then-No. 2 Cornell University  — the team that upended the Terriers in a triple-overtime NCAA quarterfinal game in 2012 — in a two-game set on Oct. 20 and 21.

In the first game of the series at Agganis Arena, in front of a record 1,891 fans, BU fell to the Big Red (27-6-1), 5-2, despite 29 saves from junior goaltender Kerrin Sperry. Back at familiar Walter Brown Arena the following day, senior forward Isabel Menard had four points en route to the 5-1 victory. It was the highest-ranked opponent the Terriers ever beat in the regular season.

After falling to the University of New Hampshire Nov. 9, the Terriers embarked on a 14-game stretch in which they did not drop a single contest, including a pair of ties against perennial powerhouse, five-time national champion University of Minnesota-Duluth.

With this streak, BU entered the annual Beanpot contest poised to bring home its first Beanpot title and the program’s 150th win. But Northeastern University had other plans.

Behind four points from eventual Second Team All-American forward Kendall Coyne and a stunning 38-save game from goaltender Chloe Desjardins, BU fell to the then-unranked Huskies (23-11-2, 13-7-1 Hockey East) by a score of 4-1.

The next week, BU faced Harvard University in a consolation game, but the Crimson (24-7-3) blanked the Terriers, 3-0.

“I think it was most discouraging … probably to the senior class because they’re a very decorated class with all these championships and successes,” Durocher said. “They wanted to win that thing and have that bragging right, but they didn’t, and it was amazing how it snowballed into, again, some of the top players … for the next two, three or four games.”

The Terriers had to wait until the next weekend against the University of Vermont to get back on track. With a 2-1 victory, thanks to Poulin’s game-winning goal with 1:30 remaining, BU earned its 150th program win, in addition to Durocher’s 150th career win.

It didn’t generate too many emotions for me,” Durocher said of the milestone. “It’s just another number. To me, it’s just another game and I don’t think I really knew it was happening until well after, when somebody handed me the puck.”

The milestone kicked off another winning streak that remained untouched until the final game of the season.

In the final regular season home game Feb. 23 against the University of Connecticut, the Terriers had a chance to take the Hockey East regular season championship, as Boston College lost earlier in the day. But this possibility was put in jeopardy when BU found itself down 5-1 to the Huskies (3-29-3, 1-19-1 Hockey East) 2:52 into the second period.

But six straight goals, including two from freshman forward Sarah Lefort, earned BU the win and clinch at least a share of the Hockey East regular season title. The next day, a 4-2 victory at Connecticut gave BU the outright title.

The Terriers headed into the Hockey East Tournament looking to repeat as conference champions, handily defeating Connecticut, Providence College and Northeastern en route to the Hockey East Championship.

“Winning the Hockey East championship catapulted us all the way up to the … number-two seed or three seed,” Durocher said. “And that was great. Had we even lost there in the Hockey East Championship we were safely in the top-five teams, top-six teams and would’ve been in the tournament.”

Sperry’s surge in the postseason was much of the reason for BU’s success, as she averaged 29.3 saves and 2.00 goals allowed per game in the postseason.

In the NCAA quarterfinal, BU played on its home ice against Clarkson University. With a two-goal performance from Lefort, the Terriers upended Clarkson (28-10-0) by a score of 5-3 and advanced to the Frozen Four in Minneapolis.

BU met Mercyhurst University in the semifinal bout, and four different Terriers scored to propel BU to the national championship game against the undefeated No. 1 University of Minnesota.

But the Terriers had the same luck against Minnesota (41-0-0) as the Gophers’ opponents had all year, and they fell 6-3.

“The championship game we really have to tip our cap to the A-game [Minnesota] played and salute our kids that they played a B+ game,” Durocher said. “But it was the wrong team to not play an A-game against on that Sunday, and they came out the better [team]. But nobody ever had fear, nobody had angst, nobody was nervous out there.”

Minnesota won its second consecutive national title, its fourth in program history, and completed an undefeated season. A non-WHCA team has yet to win a national championship.

“We’re banging on the door,” Durocher said. “In the past the Harvard was banging on the door, and it will get knocked in someday.”

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