Women's Hockey, Column

Finding Wins In Losses: No Worries For Women’s Hockey

Gliding with the speed of a jet and the power of a freight train, Boston University forward Marie-Philip Poulin dashes up the middle of the ice as Boston College’s last line of defense desperately tries to catch up.

Poulin slows her pace as her opponent—BC defenseman Emily Pfalzer—gains on her, tapping the brakes by shifting her weight back ever so slightly. Pfalzer stretches out to knock the puck away from the Terriers’ captain, but Poulin is ready with a countermove.

Just as Pfalzer’s stick is about to disrupt the play, Poulin performs a masterful toe-drag to evade the poke check, then crosses the puck over to her backhand—all before Pfalzer can turn around to realize what happened.

In one motion, Poulin gathers the puck and flicks a picture-perfect shot over the glove hand of Katie Burt—top shelf, bar-down, right where Mama hides the cookies.

The Terriers took a lead and never looked back. With Poulin’s superhuman effort, BU slayed the No. 1 BC for the second consecutive year in the Women’s Hockey East Tournament Finals. In its quest to fill its trophy case, BC has whiffed twice this season—the Eagles also fell in the Beanpot title game to Harvard. Now, only one chance for gold remains—the NCAA Championship.

Lucky for BC, it’s the only one that really matters.

The old saying—attributed to either Friedrich Nietzsche or Kelly Clarkson, depending on whether you’re a 13-year-old girl or a 70-year old-philosophy professor—goes something like this: what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

The BC women’s hockey team has been knocked down twice in the past 10 games after going on a record-breaking 29-game unbeaten streak to start the season. At some points during that stretch, the girls have looked slow and tired, just a shell of the team that rocketed out of the gates to take college hockey by storm.

They’ve been battered, but they haven’t been killed—and in the end, it will benefit them to take their lumps before kicking off tournament play against Clarkson University on Saturday.

In an ideal world, BC would recruit the perfect class four years in a row, have a perfect season, and win the championship—but that’s not how it works. Every team has weaknesses, and it is best to identify them before the season is over. Sometimes, a team just needs its opponent to expose what it has been doing wrong. You can’t fix something if you don’t know it’s broken.

Take, for example, the 2015 edition of the hometown New England Patriots. At the beginning of the season, following a very sloppy win against the perennially bottom-dwelling Oakland Raiders, the Pats were thrashed by the quicker, stronger Kansas City Chiefs. Tom Brady looked like the 38-year-old that he actually is, the running game was nonexistent, and the defense was abominable. People called for the start of the Jimmy Garoppolo era, and Boston was damn near ready to explode.

But to the Patriots’ credit, they identified their weaknesses, made the proper adjustments, and kept charging ahead. After a while, Tommy started looking terrific again. The midseason addition of running back LeGarrette Blount had the ground game rolling. And after giving up more than 30 points twice in the first four weeks, no one dropped more than 25 points on the Pats’ defense for the rest of the regular season.

The Patriots won nine of their next 10 games following the loss in Kansas City en route to the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl victory.

Now consider the National Hockey League, in which the team with the best record has only won the Stanley Cup twice since the 2004 lockout. When it comes down to it, the team that wins the championship is the one that’s riding the hottest streak. Whether it’s a lethal scoring punch, a lockdown defensive pairing, or a stone-cold goaltender, a championship team has one of those units playing at its highest level just at the right time. BC certainly didn’t play its best hockey in Hyannis against the Terriers—it shouldn’t require too much for the 33-2-2 Eagles to flip the switch against Clarkson.

The most concerning issue for BC, though, is that its only two losses were in its most important games. National Championships are not won or lost in the Beanpot, but the Boston tournament is a pretty good indicator of the city’s best. While the Eagles have shown the resiliency to thoroughly dominate regular season games, they’ve crumbled under the pressure of their two championship games.

Additionally, two losses in 37 games is not disconcerting in and of itself, but the fact that each of those defeats have come away from Conte Forum—where BC is still perfect—should sound some alarms in the locker room. The Eagles will obviously have to win at a neutral site in order to take home the national title, so Alex Carpenter & Co. will have to get used to a few days without the comfort of Conte’s home cooking.

Considering BC was playing Harvard and BU for the second and fourth times, respectively, not too much stock should be put into these losses. The Eagles have yet to lose when playing a team for the first time this season. But with both of the other schools in the eight-team bracket, BC will possibly get a chance to exorcise its Boston demons and exact revenge on its local foes.

Although Poulin stuck a dagger in BC’s conference championship hopes, she might have improved its odds at capturing the national title. The Eagles get one last chance to diagnose its problems, and make the necessary corrections.

The Hockey East loss knocks the Eagles down, but it doesn’t knock them out. And in the end, they’re going to be better for it—because sometimes, a loss can be a win in the long run.

Featured Image by Arthur Bailin / Heights Editor

March 11, 2015