In last year’s Hockey East semifinals, Boston College women’s hockey went up against a surprise contender in Connecticut. The Huskies, at the time, were an upstart club that entered the tournament as the No. 7 seed and won back-to-back elimination games to sink No. 2 Providence. While the season series went BC’s way by the slimmest of margins—it won once and played UConn to a pair of overtime ties—it seemed a sure bet that the Eagles would advance to the tournament finale.
Instead, the Huskies sprung an unexpected upset, using a superb effort in net from Annie Belanger and a pair of goals from Natalie Snodgrass to sink top-seeded BC. It proved to be a loss that the Eagles wouldn’t recover from, as it snapped a five-game winning streak and would be followed with a first-round exit against Ohio State in the NCAA Tournament.
The tables have turned this year, though, as the Eagles—although suffering an up-and-down season that featured 10 losses, one fewer than the previous two years combined—swept UConn in the regular season with ease. None of the games were particularly close, either, as BC outscored the Huskies, 10-0, in a three-game span in November. Further vengeance against UConn likely awaits in the first round of the 2019 Hockey East Tournament, too, as the Eagles will host the Huskies in the best-of-three quarterfinal round which begins this weekend.
While it seems certain that BC should dispatch the visitors from Storrs, Conn., there’s still plenty to keep an eye on in the first-round series. After all, the Huskies are slotted in at the familiar seventh seed—the same as they were last year, when they went on a magical run to the title game. Here’s what you need to know, broken down by position, before the puck drops for Game One at 2 p.m. on Friday.
BC: It’s funny that you can look at the Eagles forward lines and say that they’re underperforming. Consider this: In terms of points per game, BC has four of the top 10 in the Hockey East rankings, and three of those are forwards. Daryl Watts (19 goals, 20 assists), Caitrin Lonergan (13 goals, 21 assists) and Makenna Newkirk (10 goals, 24 assists) have managed to combine for 107 points this season, an impressive total. When you compare it to last year, though, when the group went off for 218 combined points—on the strength of a Patty Kazmaier Award-winning season from Watts—and you’ll see why it seems that they’re not the same explosive unit. That’s nitpicking, though, as few teams can trot out lines with as much scoring depth as head coach Katie Crowley can. That’s without mentioning contributions from the likes of Lindsay Agnew (13 goals, 10 assists) and Kelly Browne (10 goals, 12 assists), two players who have proven capable of coming up big in the clutch.
UConn: This group was held scoreless throughout the three-game regular season series, failing to crack 20 shots in any of the games. That wasn’t the biggest surprise, though, as the Huskies ranked seventh in Hockey East in scoring offense and convert on the power play at just a 16.1 percent rate. That’s not to say the Huskies aren’t without weapons, with Snodgrass (13 goals, 13 assists) leading the way. She’s joined by juniors Catherine Crawley (10 goals, 14 assists) and Briana Colangelo (7 goals, 17 assists) in forward lines that have a lot of balance. Snodgrass is the standout, obviously, but she was largely held in check against the Eagles in three meetings this year. She only managed seven shots throughout the series—impressive considering Snodgrass averages almost five per game.
The Edge: It’s more than clear that BC has a much stronger forwards group. There’s a reason the Eagles are second in the conference in scoring and averaging more than a full goal per game than the Huskies. There’s not a lot of teams in the country that can match up, numbers wise, with BC’s top six—and UConn is definitely not one of them.
BC: When the list of the 10 Patty Kazmaier Award finalists came out, there was no surprise that Megan Keller—with 18 goals and 23 assists as one of the nation’s highest scoring defenseman—was on it. Keller has been the lifeblood of the team in 2018-19, stepping up big time and time again after winning an Olympic gold medal last season. Her final year on the Heights has been remarkable, and she’s one cog in what has been a solid defensive corps. The Eagles among the best Hockey East teams in scoring defense, and there’s a clear reason for it. Keller and Serena Sommerfield are the first line, while fellow Olympians Cayla Barnes and Kali Flanagan are a potent pairing. The depth continues, as juniors Jillian Fey and Bridget McCarthy have two years under their belt.
UConn: Defense, at times, has been quite the weakness for the Huskies. Despite being a smart defensive team—it’s penalized at the lowest rate in Hockey East, at 5.5 minutes per game—it’s also susceptible to allowing goals. UConn allows 2.56 per game overall and that number ticks up to 2.74 in conference play, only better than cellar dweller Holy Cross. Defensemen Taylor Wabick and Tristyn Svetek have proven strong facilitators in the offensive zone, both totaling double-digit assists, but the group as a whole rates out poorly. Only one defenseman—Svetek, at plus-1—has a positive net rating.
The Edge: Again, team numbers considered, it’s not hard to see which group has played better this season: BC. Keller (plus-36), Flanagan (plus-20), Fey (plus-12), and Sommerfield (plus-10) all have net ratings that clear double-digits, a strong group of players that doesn’t even include the second-highest scoring defenseman—and one of the most talented—in Barnes. Depth in the defensive corps was occasionally missing last season, but it’s clear that the return/arrival of a trio of Olympians was the shot in the arm that BC needed.
BC: Maddy McArthur has performed about as well as you can expect someone too, considering the monumental shoes she was stepping into. Katie Burt is the all-time winningest goaltender in NCAA history, so McArthur likely felt a lot of pressure to step in and succeed. She’s had her hiccups, but by and large has been excellent in net for Crowley. In conference play, McArthur is fourth in goals against average (2.00) and seventh in save percentage (.911). That second ranking is low, as she has faced the second-fewest shots of any conference goaltender but allowed 16 more goals than her nearest comparison in Northeastern’s Aerin Frankel. Kelly Pickreign went 2-1 in spot starts for BC this year, stopping 70-of-74 shots.
UConn: The Huskies also had the difficult task of replacing a well-known netminder, as they lost All-Hockey East First Team selection Annie Belanger to graduation. Her understudy, Morgan Fisher, has stepped in and has not been able to replicate Belanger’s strong year. Fisher finished conference play eighth in both goals against average (2.57) and save percentage (.911), but a part of that can be chalked up to the sheer volume of shots she had to face. Fisher was called upon for 623 saves, third-most of any Hockey East goaltender. She’s coming off two rough games, allowing 10 combined goals while stopping just 37 shots in losses to Merrimack and Boston University.
The Edge: On paper, these two have pretty similar numbers, as Fisher’s volume—the product of poor defense in front of her—translated to greater goals allowed, so ultimately the pair stop shots at the same rate. Neither of these goaltenders are the familiar dominant forces like Burt and Belanger were last season, with that duo both landing All-Hockey East honors, so we’ll rule this a wash.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor