It’s been well-documented that Boston College women’s hockey boasts one of the most talented rosters in the country. The Eagles have three defensemen who made the trip to Pyeongchang last year to play in the Winter Olympics, the reigning Patty Kazmaier award winner in Daryl Watts, and a host of other top-caliber players including Makenna Newkirk and Caitrin Lonergan. When BC is at full-strength, its lines can compete with any team in the country.
The only problem is, the Eagles haven’t been at full strength far too often this season, and that isn’t because of injuries. Entering Saturday’s game against New Hampshire, BC was second in Hockey East in penalty minutes. And any hope that a month in between games gave the Eagles some time to figure out their penalty issues was quickly dashed against the Wildcats. BC committed seven penalties, allowed a game-tying goal on a UNH power play midway through the third period, and eventually fell to the Wildcats, 3-2.
Despite the bevy of Eagles infractions, the first period was relatively clean. BC took just one penalty, as Erin Connolly was sent to the box for slashing with nine minutes played in the frame. The Eagles killed the resulting UNH power play without much incident, as Lindsay Agnew blocked two different efforts from Lauren Martin and Tori Howran, and Maddy McArthur was forced to only make one save.
Other than the brief advantage that the Wildcats enjoyed, thanks to the BC penalty, the first frame was largely dominated by the Eagles. BC outshot the Wildcats, 13-4, in the first period and looked much more dangerous in the offensive zone. Lonergan was particularly active, firing off six shots, but none were able to find a way past Kyra Smith—the UNH netminder made 13 saves in the first period, smothering shots from Newkirk and Megan Keller as the teams headed to the locker room after one period still knotted at zero.
When the second frame started, BC’s hopes of continuing to play clean hockey vanished. The Eagles committed three infractions in the first 10 minutes of the period, as Lonergan was first penalized for holding, Cayla Barnes was whistled for tripping, and Connolly took a seat for the second time of the day for cross-checking. The constant stream of penalties certainly interfered with BC’s offensive rhythm—the Eagles managed just eight shots in the second period—but didn’t stop BC from finding the game’s first goal.
Less than a minute after Lonergan was sent to the box, Serena Sommerfield managed to clear the puck along the boards, where it squirmed off a Wildcat skate before dropping to Keller, who sent the puck to Agnew. The junior transfer managed to take the puck over the blue line and drove to goal before wristing a shot just under the crossbar to give the Eagles a 1-0 lead.
The lead lasted precisely eight minutes. BC managed to kill off two more power plays, but, just after Barnes climbed back onto the ice, the puck was dumped behind the Eagles’ goal. UNH’s Grace Middleton hustled to dig it out before finding Jenna Rheault in space at the top of the Wildcats’ offensive zone. Rheault didn’t hesitate, slotting the puck past McArthur from distance and knotting the game at one.
With the matchup once again hanging in the balance, and the Eagles continuing to struggle to find a way past Smith, BC needed one of its stars to produce something special. Luckily, as she so often has been, Watts was up to the challenge. With just over two minutes left in the second period, she picked up the puck in the neutral zone and immediately pivoted toward goal, utilizing great stick skills to dance past three Wildcats defenders before slamming a shot home. The goal gave the Eagles a slim lead heading into the locker room and a chance to start the second half of the season with a win.
Unfortunately for BC, much like the second period, it simply couldn’t stay out of the penalty box. Five minutes into the third frame, Newkirk and Barnes were sent to the box at the same time, giving UNH a golden opportunity with a 5-on-3 power play. It didn’t take the Wildcats long to seize the advantage. Just 10 seconds into the power play, the puck was circled around to Howran, who had taken up position at the right dot. The Eagles failed to pick up Taylor Wenczkowski, who had moved to the opposite circle, and Howran easily found the UNH junior, who tied the game with a one-time effort.
Wenczkowski struck again with the game-winning goal just over five minutes from the end of regulation, managing to break free into the BC zone for a 2-on-1 before getting a shot over McArthur’s shoulder pads while sliding into the Eagles keeper. To make matters worse, Sommerfield committed BC’s seventh foul of the game in the process.
Sommerfield retook the ice with a little over three minutes to play, but, even with equal numbers, the Eagles were unable to find a way past a determined Wildcats defense, which killed a BC power play and allowed the Eagles just one shot on goal in the last five minutes.
Issues with penalties are nothing new for BC. Last season, the Eagles were also second in Hockey East in total penalty minutes. In the past, however, BC has been able to overcome the problem with a great penalty kill. In 2017-18, the Eagles ranked fourth in conference in penalty kill percentage. This season, it’s a different story. BC ranked third-to-last in the conference in penalty kill percentage prior to Saturday’s contest with the Wildcats. Playing short-handed has cost the Eagles dearly thus far in 2018-19. Until BC finds a way to either shore up its penalty kill units or stop committing so many fouls, it’s fair to say that the Eagles simply aren’t the national contender they were projected to be before the season.
Featured Image by Bradley Smart / The Heights