Featured Column, Women's Hockey, Column

Why BC Women’s Hockey Will Avoid Another Late Season Collapse

Reading through last season’s Boston College women’s hockey archives is like sitting front row at an ancient Greek tragedy.

It opened in the winter of 2014, beginning with intense rising action as head coach Katie Crowley’s squad breezed through the first half of the year to climb to the No. 1 ranking. Emily Pfalzer, one of the country’s top defensemen, anchored the blue line as the Eagles racked up shutouts and held opponents to a mere 19 shots per game.

Unwittingly, BC had already committed its fatal error. The team was too good—by limiting opponents’ shots on goal, the Eagles also limited save opportunities for freshman goalkeeper Katie Burt (it’s not a tragedy without a little bit of hubris). While the then-17-year-old led the nation in goals against average with 1.11, she fell far behind the curve in terms of experience.

Then you had your tragic heroine Alex Carpenter, the superstar U.S. Olympian with an Ovechkin-esque resume crowded with individual accolades but devoid of postseason wins and championships. In the Beanpot Final last February, she watched from the penalty box as Harvard stole the title during her five-minute absence to hand BC its first loss of the year. For now, they’ll chalk it up as a learning experience.

The dramatic irony is painful.

A month after the Beanpot meltdown that ended their 28-game unbeaten streak, the Eagles would fall victim to the pressure once again, this time in the Hockey East Championship against
rival Boston University. The Terriers overwhelmed Burt with shots and scored four goals in a rout of the No. 1 seed to win their second straight conference crown over Carpenter & Co.

Finally, in March, BC sought revenge on the Crimson in the final act of the season: the Frozen Four. Harvard goalie Emerance Maschmeyer slowed the high-octane Eagle offense just enough to eke out a 2-1 win and send Crowley’s crew home without any trophies as recognition for its historic season. Losses like these provide no great catharsis for BC fans.

Through January, the undefeated 2015-16 BC women’s hockey team has drawn an eerie number of parallels to last year’s group, which won the most—but not most important—games in school history. That’s why it’s easy to get excited about the No. 1-ranked Eagles, but just as easy to remain skeptical. Indeed, history repeats itself, but there is another storyline brewing in Crowley’s clubhouse.

It starts with Carpenter, the fallen heroine, stepping off the plane from Minneapolis after the team’s season-ending loss to the Crimson in the Frozen Four, already eyeing revenge like Leonardo DiCaprio as he painstakingly claws himself out of his own grave in The Revenant. Yes, the losses still sting. But now, after nearly a year of waiting, she stands again on the main stage at Kelley Rink, skates sharpened, ready for the challenges that the next two months will bring. These are the only two months that matter. The Eagles’ lone trio of losses in the Beanpot Final, the Hockey East Championship, and the Frozen Four Semifinal serves as a brutal reminder.

To say this year is different because BC is undefeated and has succeeded against last season’s local rivals would be wrong.

Although the 2015-16 Eagles boast a 24-0-0 record—including a combined 5-0 mark against Harvard, BU, and Northeastern—it is not necessarily a sign of improvement. At this time last year, Crowley’s squad was not only undefeated, but also 5-0 against those same three Boston-area schools.

So what makes this year different?

It starts with the maturation of the team’s offensive and defensive MVPs, Carpenter and Burt, respectively. The senior forward is now nearing the end of one of the most impressive campaigns of all-time in the sport, and she is hungry for hardware. Not to mention, the 2015 Patty Kazmaier Award winner is playing the best hockey of her life—even better than last season—as she has tallied 28 goals and 27 assists in just 24 games this season.

It’s difficult to drastically improve when you’re already among the best in nation, but Burt did exactly that. The sophomore has allowed just 20 goals in 20 games between the pipes, making strides as she sees higher volumes of shots and tucks another year of experience under her belt.

On Tuesday, Burt and the Eagles blanked Harvard, 2-0, for their first win at Bright-Landry Hockey Center in 10 years. Burt collected her 50th victory as goalie for BC, making her the youngest and fastest in women’s collegiate hockey history to reach the milestone. The 18-year-old’s ninth shutout of the season featured two goals from Meghan Grieves, proving that the veteran first-line duo of Carpenter and Haley Skarupa doesn’t need to score to secure a win.

On paper, there is little difference between this year’s success and the deceivingly flawless regular season of last year. But after an agonizing offseason, Crowley has transformed her team into one that is ready for the big stage, and ready to crush the perception that BC can’t win when it matters. Rattling off 24 consecutive wins to start this season has shown the 2014-15 National Coach of the Year that her players have bought in. As fans, it’s time to buy in, too.

This year, forget the tragedy storyline—this team wants redemption, and it’s going to get it.

Featured Image by Julia Hopkins / Heights Editor

January 21, 2016