Alex Carpenter’s head was down, staring despondently at the ice. It was a brutal sight. If you looked closely, you could make out the puffiness around her eyes swelled from the tears. The same went for Haley Skarupa in the postgame press conference. Although she remained composed while answering each question, she clearly had let her feelings out somewhere between the bench at the Ridder Arena and the locker room.
It’s hard not to feel a little bit for Katie King Crowley’s women’s hockey team. The Eagles marched through their schedule early in the year, demolishing opponents on their way to a 28-game unbeaten streak to start the 2014-15 season. No team could handle Boston College’s lethal offensive attack—10 Eagles finished in the top-75 in goal scoring, including two in the top three (Carpenter and Skarupa). On the defensive side, freshman goaltender Katie Burt burst onto the women’s hockey scene by leading the nation in goals against average, supplemented by her 10 shutouts.
And now, on the biggest stage of the year, the Eagles come away with nothing. A 34-win season, the program’s best, ended quietly in the NCAA Semifinals on Friday night by rival Harvard University.
In 2015, the women’s hockey team just fits BC’s narrative. It’s not as if the school’s teams haven’t experienced miraculous wins and puzzling losses in the past. After all, BC’s entire athletic reputation comes from the unexpected. But the way BC teams have won and lost—mostly lost—this year is downright peculiar. In fact, looking across the board at the school’s five most popular sports—football, men’s and women’s basketball, and men’s and women’s hockey—has there been a stranger year in recent memory for BC athletics than this one?
Just consider the football team. Expectations for head coach Steve Addazio’s crew were low coming into the season, as most media outlets pegged the Eagles for a sixth-place finish in the ACC’s Atlantic Division. It was a fair prediction—with four-year starting quarterback Chase Rettig and reigning Doak Walker Award winner Andre Williams both graduating, BC’s offense had plenty of questions.
But University of Florida transfer Tyler Murphy and a stable of running backs, led by freshman Jonathan Hilliman, led the nation’s 15th-best rushing attack to seven wins. Addazio abandoned the power run under Williams in favor of with a newfound option threat. The creative strategy helped the Eagles win games they shouldn’t have, like against then-No. 9 USC, culminating in a second consecutive bowl appearance.
It’s how BC lost those six games that made this season more baffling. Some were your standard losses, like against Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Florida State. Even BC’s fourth-quarter collapse to mid-major Colorado State was fairly typical. The most optimistic fans can expect one of “those” losses.
But no one expected BC’s struggles from two yards out. Of all things that could have seriously gone wrong for the Eagles this season, it was the kicking game that often did them in on the gridiron. While it’s reasonable to expect a downgrade after losing one of the nation’s best kickers in Nate Freese, it’s inexplicable for three kickers to combine for seven missed extra points. Two of those missed PATs directly led to BC losses. Against Clemson, Mike Knoll’s failed conversion on the Eagles’ second touchdown prevented BC from attempting a game-tying field goal with under a minute to go. And in the Pinstripe Bowl against Penn State, Knoll’s miss in overtime left the Eagles down one—BC’s defense couldn’t hold up in PSU’s OT attempt at a touchdown, and that extra point made the difference.
On the court, it’s no surprise that the Eagles had difficulties raking in wins. But head coach Jim Christian’s team teased fans with near-upset victories all season long. The Eagles hung in with five teams that made the tournament: West Virginia, Dayton, Virginia, Louisville, and North Carolina, all defeats. BC also lost games to Miami and Pittsburgh in the same peculiar fashion. With the clock ticking down, Patrick Heckmann twice put the wrong spin on a game-winning finger roll, leading to heartbreaking overtime defeats. And although the Eagles had plenty of big men, with seven players 6-foot-8 and over, most were either injured for much of the year (Idy Diallo and Will Magarity) or ineffective against everyone else (everyone else).
For the women, the oddities came away from Conte Forum. Head coach Erik Johnson preached accountability before the season for his team, believing in his players’ ability to play as a cohesive unit was their biggest strength. Yet Johnson’s team displayed anything but that throughout the year. BC was dysfunctional off the court, with four players suspended (including captain Nicole Boudreau) and one (Lauren Engeln) removed from the team, all for unspecified punitive issues. It may not have changed the outcome of the Eagles’ season, but to have so many players on the same team affected by disciplinary issues comes as a surprise.
And then there’s the ice. I’ve written before that the outsiders’ hopes for men’s hockey were unreasonably high entering the 2014-15 season. In 2008, 2010, and 2012 (BC’s three title years in the last decade), the Eagles thrived on their offense. Last year’s Frozen Four run continued that trend with the high-octane line of Johnny Gaudreau, Kevin Hayes, and Bill Arnold. But this year, the Eagles have lacked a reliable attacker. Even top-liners Alex Tuch, Adam Gilmour, and Zach Sanford go through extended scoring droughts that leave BC relying too heavily on goalie Thatcher Demko to keep games from getting out of hand.
To compensate, head coach Jerry York built his team around strong defensemen. The team had trouble adjusting to this new strategy early in the year, as BC slumped to a double-digit ranking. The team has since rebounded to earn the No. 11-seed in the NCAA Tournament—the Eagles will play a challenging Denver University this Saturday. But given the program’s immense success over the last few years, it’s strange for BC to play an underdog role on its path to the Frozen Four.
None is stranger than that women’s hockey team. For all of BC’s regular season accomplishments, the team doesn’t have a single trophy to show for it. In the Beanpot final, Harvard goalie Emerance Maschmeyer stood on her head to keep the Eagles’ prolific scorers from finding the ropes. BC collapsed 4-1 to Boston University, a team BC defeated twice in the regular season, in the Hockey East Championship game. And now against Harvard again in the NCAA semis, BC had no answers for Maschmeyer.
The only season in the last decade that comes close to BC’s weirdness is 2007-08. York’s team lost goalie Cory Schneider, now of the New Jersey Devils, but still went on to win the National Championship with the help of freshman John Muse. Quarterback Matt Ryan led BC to its first 11-win season since 1940, reaching a peak ranking of No. 2. Since joining the conference in 2005, it was the first time the Eagles competed for the ACC Title, only to lose to Virginia Tech. But men’s basketball made 2007-08 particularly strange—it was the first losing season under Al Skinner since 1999-00, breaking a four-year stretch of NCAA Tournament berths.
But many of those strange occurrences were positives for BC. This year, much of the Eagles’ oddities has been negative. But for all of their weirdness and losing habits, BC’s teams have been incredibly entertaining to watch—especially football and women’s hockey. Only men’s hockey remains alive among the Big Five sports. And although the team is a huge underdog to make it through four games in this year’s tough tournament field, Jerry York’s team has a chance to turn that weirdness back into a positive.
Featured Image by Breck Wills / Heights Editor