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Hockey East Roundtable: Women’s Tournament Preview

With the opening round of the women’s Hockey East Tournament beginning on Thursday between Holy Cross and New Hampshire, sports editors and beat writers from student newspapers around the Hockey East join Heights sports editor Emma Healy in a roundtable discussion of the tournament. Panelists include Cam Smith and Jack Belanger from The Cowl at Providence, Cole Stefan from UConn’s Daily Campus, George Barker of The Huntington News at Northeastern, Belle Fraser from Boston University’s Daily Free Press, and Cameron Beall from The New Hampshire at UNH. 

What do you see from your team that’s encouraging heading into the postseason?

Belle, Boston University: The Terriers have gained confidence and believability in their cause in the past two weekends. After a stop-and-start beginning to its season with little consistency in schedule and roster, it felt like everything began to fall into place for BU in its game against Vermont on Feb. 13. Coming off that series, the Terriers put up arguably their best game of the season in Chestnut Hill for the first meeting of the Battle of Comm. Ave. Captain and senior forward Jesse Compher has been dominant since returning from injury and closed last weekend with three points, including the last-minute game winner. She leads by example, playing with the type of grit and determination the entire team has begun to emulate. All four lines are gelling, and the squad’s chemistry has only increased with time. Both senior Corinne Schroeder and junior Kate Stuart have wowed between the pipes, providing the Terriers with solid goaltending no matter who gets the nod. Heading into the playoffs, this team has proven its capabilities and found its identity in some key character-building wins. 

Cam, Providence: What was encouraging for me was a sign of life in the scoring department from the Friars (10-6-1) in their final two games. PC dropped three games in a row starting in late January, scoring one combined goal across all three of those losses. That pattern changed on Feb. 6 when the Friars put up five goals against UNH in a 5-4 victory. That game may mark the return of an offense that was prolific in the early part of its season. Through its first seven games, PC boasted a 6-0-1 record and put up 23 total goals. The return to form of a Sara Hjalmarsson-headed offense will be crucial in the Friars making a deep run in the tournament. 

Cole, UConn: What encourages me about UConn heading into the postseason is the strength of the goalie tandem of Tia Chan and Samantha Carpentier-Yelle, and that the offense has been able to support their strong efforts on the opposite end of the ice. In their last three games, the Huskies have surrendered just two goals, both in a single game against Holy Cross.

Chan, a freshman, has been the Huskies’ backstop and is a Hockey East Rookie of the Year candidate. Her 4-4-1 record does not do her justice, as her 1.43 goals against average is third in the conference and her .948 save percentage is fourth.

Carpentier-Yelle has been superb as well. Her .921 save percentage and 2.11 GAA make her a solid backup that has provided veteran experience during Chan’s rookie season. Head coach Chris MacKenzie is going to have his hands full deciding which goalie to start against BC.

The offense has been strong as well, as four players have double-digit point totals this season. Three skaters—junior Danika Pasqua, senior captain Natalie Snodgrass, and senior Savannah Bouzide—have six goals each with a balance of assists to complement their solid performances. Junior Viki Harkness is an under-the-radar player despite the fact that she has 11 assists and leads the team with 14 points. Jada Habisch is the other significant piece I want to point out here. As a freshman, her 10 points show massive potential, and she could be another strong piece to look out for in years to come.

What weakness do you see from your team that opponents might look to capitalize on, and which team do you think will present the most problems for your team?

Belle, BU: The main point of struggle for BU this season has been offensive production. The Terriers have talent in the lineup but have had trouble getting on the scoreboard. Their goals per game average rose to 2.0 after a high-scoring weekend against Merrimack, but that has not been a consistent trend. A reason behind the offensive drought comes from the Terriers’ 4-38 power-play record. Structurally, they have a good cycle and hold possession pretty well, but the group has been taking low percentage shots from outside the circle––opponents in this league are too good for weak slap shots to get past the goal line. If BU makes it further in the tournament, I think a team like Northeastern may present the most problems. The Huskies have averaged 4.21 goals a game, and their goaltender Aerin Frankel has a .971 save percentage. In that case, if the Terriers got behind, they may have a hard time climbing back. 

George, Northeastern: Northeastern has won 17 of its 19 games this season, including a loss to then-No. 9 BC in the Huskies’ second game of the season. Their only other non-win was a tie in January. It’s hard to really pick out a weakness for Northeastern, but nobody is perfect. In their December loss to BC, the Huskies struggled with their passes, which was an issue that cropped up again in their tie with New Hampshire. Those struggles boiled down to early-season rust, and it really hasn’t been an issue since that road trip to Durham, N.H.

At times, Northeastern’s blueline has had some trouble with breakouts—notably against Vermont this past weekend—but star senior goaltender Frankel eases any worries on the defensive end. I would expect the teams that have speed on their blueline to try to attack Northeastern with five skaters. It’s a risky endeavor against the blazing-fast Huskies, but it caused them some problems this weekend. 

UVM and Boston University are the teams that worry me the most. UVM looked extremely solid against Northeastern in the Huskies’ regular season finale, and while the Huskies won both games of the series, it was the hardest they have had to work all season. BU is a really strong team, and Northeastern hasn’t played the Terriers yet, so that’s also a concern. 

Jack, Providence: After a hot start to the season, the Friars come into the tournament having lost four out of their last five games. What was supposed to be its last game of the season—scheduled against BC—was canceled due to COVID-19 protocols, so the team’s conditioning will be a big factor in keeping up with BU. PC already has one of the weaker penalty-killing units in the conference, and if this team gets winded early, one unnecessary penalty could be the difference. 

If PC manages to get past BU, I can see BC giving the Friars trouble in the semifinals. The Eagles have the second-best offense in the conference at 3.11 goals per game as well one of the better defenses. Senior goalie Sandra Abstreiter will need to be at her best—like she was in the first half of the season when she had a 1.13 GAA through seven games—if the Friars want to make a deep run.

With the top two seeds in the tournament—BC and Northeastern—coming from just a few miles away from each other, how do you see the crosstown rivalry as a factor?

Emma, Boston College: It’s not a secret that BC’s biggest rival is BU, not Northeastern. The Battle of Comm. Ave. is arguably the most historically significant matchup in college hockey, and no other rivalry can come close. At the same time, though, taking on any Boston school is a point of pride, especially when the rankings are so close. The crosstown rivalry is what made BC and Northeastern’s December matchups so hotly contested. The underdog Eagles split the series with then-No. 2 Northeastern, and I have to imagine the rivalry factor was the difference in BC’s bounce-back win. Plus, BC was the only team to put a tally in Northeastern’s loss column this year. If we see a BC-Northeastern matchup in the tournament, I have to imagine it’ll be a battle for the ages. 

George, Northeastern: The crosstown rivalry is a very real thing, especially given how talented both teams are. BC versus Northeastern games have been some of the best I’ve gotten to watch while attending Northeastern, and I anticipate more of the same in a postseason game. I’d expect both teams to be at full tilt from the first puck drop. 

If your team’s first-round matchup is set (i.e. anyone but Northeastern), what are you expecting to see from your opponent? 

Cole, UConn: It seems as though UConn can never get a break from these guys. Out of the 18 games the Huskies played this season, five were against BC, none were wins, but one did go into overtime. Regardless, there is a lot on the line here. These two teams met in last year’s playoffs, and the Huskies won the series 2-1 and advanced all the way to the finals, where they lost to Northeastern. 

The Eagles, in my opinion, are going to come out with a vengeance, despite having beaten UConn five times already this season. The Eagles are looking for their sixth championship game in eight years, and they have the talent to do it.

There are seven players on the Eagles’ squad that have scored double-digit points this season, and two of those—juniors Savannah Norcross and Kelly Browne—have 20 points each. Junior Abigail Levy has been a brick wall for the Eagles, as her 1.22 GAA and .959 save percentage are both second in the conference. Behind her is a duo of Maddy McArthur and Kelly Pickreign, both of whom have lost just once each.

I do think that if the Huskies manage to avoid preventable penalties, shut down the opposing attack, and answer by finishing offensive possessions, they will stay close with the heavily favored Eagles for most of the 60 minutes of gameplay.

Cameron, New Hampshire: Holy Cross has allowed at least four goals in nine games this season. The Crusaders rank ninth in the conference in goals allowed per game—just one spot behind the Wildcats but over an entire goal more than UNH. This tournament-opening game should be a high-scoring matchup, as UNH ranks last in power-play percentage, but Holy Cross ranks last in penalty-kill percentage. It’s tough to say either team has much of an edge right now, but if there’s anything UNH should expect, it’s a high-scoring matchup, and the pressure will be on the Wildcats to hang on as long as they can.

The Hockey East introduced a new system of seeding called the Hockey East Power Index, which seeks to be as objective as possible considering the differential in number of games played from team to team. What are your thoughts on the ranking system, and do you see it moving forward next year, once the season is “normal” again?

George, Northeastern: I’m not a huge HEPI fan to be honest, primarily because we don’t know how it’s calculated. I think if we knew what went into it, I’d be a bigger supporter, but since it isn’t even able to give us an official regular season champion, I’m not a fan of it. I’d expect this is just a COVID-19 measure to adjust for teams such as UVM that have barely been able to touch the ice, and in a normal season where teams can all play a roughly equal number of games, we can go back to normal points.  

For your team to go far in the tournament, which player do you think has to be the biggest performer and why?

Emma, BC: BC head coach Katie Crowley has employed an armada of Eagles in net this year. Levy, Pickreign, and McArthur have all split the time in net pretty evenly, and they’ve been some of the biggest deciders in BC’s most important games this season. Levy has two shutouts to her name and boasts a .959 save percentage. McArthur and Pickreign have been nearly as effective, and it remains to be seen who Crowley will opt for in net to open the postseason. Whoever she goes with, however, will have to be at the top of her game against UConn in the first round. 

Cameron, UNH: Junior goaltender Ava Boutilier will need to step up for the Wildcats if they have any hope of making noise in this year’s tournament. UNH ranks seventh in the Hockey East in scoring offense, only averaging 1.95 goals per game. It’s been clear that the team has struggled to find the back of the net this season, so the Wildcats will have to rely on their captain to help minimize the damage. The team only eclipsed two goals in five of its 20 games this season. Boutilier will have to keep her opponents to two goals or fewer in this year’s tournament for the Wildcats to make waves. 

You can reach some of the panelists on Twitter for more information.

Emma Healy: @_EmmaHealy_, @HeightsSports

Cole Stefan: @Coldest_fan, @dcsportsdept

Cameron Beall: @_beall_, @TNHSports1911

Jack Belanger, @jackbel6, @TheCowl

Belle Fraser @bellefraser1, @DFPsports

Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor

February 25, 2021