BOSTON — Last season, the Boston University Terriers opened the season at #8 in the US College Hockey Online poll and finished 13th. In their preseason poll, USCHO.com put the Terriers at #10, while voting Northeastern to #9 and reigning Hockey East champions Boston College to #3 with two first-place votes.
Much has changed in the six months since the season ended with a 5-0 loss to the Eagles in the Hockey East Finals. Head coach Brian Durocher will be without program-leading scorer Sarah Lefort — drafted by Les Canadiennes of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League — and last year’s captain Kayla Tutino — drafted by the Boston Blades (CWHL). Also lost to graduation are assistant captain Dakota Woodworth (Boston Blades), Alexis Woloschuck (Boston Blades), Lillian Ribeirinha-Braga, Diana Bennet, and Rebecca Russo (free agent signing to the New York Riveters of the National Women’s Hockey League).
“We have big shoes to fill from last year,” assistant coach Katie Lachapelle said on a conference call of Hockey East coaches.
That notwithstanding, there is a lot to be excited about for BU this upcoming season, namely, the balance of incoming talent with senior leadership.
Returning from last year are juniors Victoria Bach and Rebecca Leslie. Bach led the team in goals (22) while trailing Leslie for the overall points lead by only one (48 to her 49). Both represented Canada over the summer as part of Canada’s Development Team, playing in a three-game series against the USA. Lachapelle said the team will “look to them in big situations” this season.
Much of Leslie’s scoring came in concert with Russo on her opposite wing. The two combined on over half of each other’s goals. Leslie even tied for the NCAA lead in short-handed goals with the graduated Kendall Coyne of Northeastern. If the chemistry can be recreated with a new winger, or her center, Leslie could be an offensive threat every time her skates chip the ice.
Among returning scorers, Maddie Elia ranks third in offense from the previous year. The Lewiston, NY native was drafted in the final round by the Buffalo Beauts (NWHL) after falling a point short of 30 in 2015-16. She opened last year as the top-line center, eventually making way for Bach.
It took a few weeks for her to gel with Leslie and Russo, but the offense came back with fury. With her first collegiate hat trick against Yale (Nov. 3), she displayed her ability to grab hold of the game. On the flip side, there are times, like the elbowing major against Vermont (Oct. 25), where she grasps the game too tight.
Sammy Davis, a unanimous Hockey East All-Rookie Team selection, cooled off as the year wore on. She opened the season with seven goals in nine games, then scored one over the next 14. As one of six Terriers to eclipse the 100 shots-on-goal mark with 119, her offense can make or break a game.
Past the top performers, last year saw seven players score between 10 and 20 points; just three — Alexis Crossley, Samatha Sutherland, and Sarah Steele — will return this year.
Crossley and Natalie Flynn will serve as co-captains for this year’s squad. Flynn may have a grand total of five points in her three years on the team, but she is always in the lineup. Last year, she almost exclusively played with the third-line.
Newcomers Deziray De Sousa (Phillips Exeter) and Nataza Tarnowski (Ottawa Senators) led their respective teams in scoring last season. If Tarnowski were to match her 51 points, she could lead the team and make top-10 in the country while she’s at it.
On defense, numerous questions still need to be answered, and may take a few games to sort out. With four of the eight blue-liners being incoming freshman – Abby Cook (Pursuit of Excellence), Alexandra Calderone (Dawson College), Katie Shannahan (Detroit Little Caesars), and Breanna Scarpaci (Shattuck-St. Mary’s) – who plays and who sits might be on a rotating basis for a while. The new options will give Durocher ample opportunity to rest or sit a player should he find the reason to.
Of the whole roster, two names stick out with unique arrival stories: Nina Rodgers and Mary Parker. Rodgers played the last two seasons with the University of Minnesota, busy winning both NCAA Championships. Parker played across the Charles at Harvard University, garnering All-ECAC, All-Ivy, and ECAC Forward of the Year Finalist honors in her three seasons with the Crimson.
Why, then, did these two wind up on Babcock Street for this season? Rodgers did not factor into any of the major games the Golden Gophers played. In fact, her only point in a game that was not a runaway victory came in an assist on the game-winning goal against St. Cloud State (4-2 win, Jan. 23).
Playing for Minnesota has its benefits, namely the National Championship, but Rodgers decided instead to transfer to BU and join her Hopkins High School teammate, Erin O’Neil. Lachapelle called her “anxious” to play her first game in the Scarlet and White
Parker has taken a different route over the Charles. After three seasons as a major factor for the Crimson offense, she looked poised for a great senior season and a fond farewell from university hockey. Life had other plans. She only played five games, with one goal and two assists, after an injury kept her out for the rest of the games.
In addition to her prowess, Lachapelle noted how the new players approach her with questions, seeking advice.
She opted to use her One-Time Graduate Transfer to play for BU since her senior eligibility was still intact. How she will fare coming off injury is the only question for Harvard’s one-time scoring leader. She is nine points away from 100 collegiate points.
Then there is the biggest question of all: who will be the team’s #1 goaltender?
“We’ll feel it out at the beginning,” Lachapelle told the media. “Down the line, they’ll make that decision for us.”
For the past two seasons, Victoria Hanson and Erin O’Neil traded starts until one got hot down the stretch and took over for the duration of the season. Last year, that decision did not come until the Quarterfinals series versus Vermont, and it came in the form of O’Neil.
Ashlynn Aiello will resume her role as the third-string goalie put into the game in the waning minutes of a blowout. She saved all six shots she faced in her two games played (vs. Yale Nov. 3, vs. Merrimack Jan. 30).
In the team’s first five games of the upcoming season, beggining on Sunday against Providence, they will face no teams the top-10. Immediately after this stretch, BU will have consecutive home-and-home series with Northeastern and Boston College.
A road trip to Maine, away-home against Merrimack, then a visit to Harvard for Parker’s homecoming, followed by a two-game homestand with the Princeton Tigers. Flip the calendar to December and it’s away-home against the UConn Huskies before hosting the reigning champions Minnesota for two games.
After the new year, Boston College plays host to end the regular-season series, as does UConn. Two game sets follow against Vermont and Providence, then off to North Andover to wrap up the season with the Warriors.
The 39th Annual Women’s Beanpot in February will open with BU vs. BC at Northeastern. The Terriers will face either Harvard or the host Huskies for the Beanpot/third-place the next Tuesday.
Three days after Beanpot, BU packs up for the final road trip to New Hampshire. Then they have to turn the bus around immediately, because the two teams will face off the next day at Walter Brown Arena.
The final weekend of the season will feature one more matchup with Northeastern, followed by Senior Day celebrations against Maine to close the year out.
Last year, all that separated BU from the NCAA Tournament was one team: the Boston College Eagles. They were a combined 0-4-0 against their B Line rivals. With the likes of Alex Carpenter, Dana Trivigno, Hayley Skarupa, Kaliya Johnson, Lexi Bender, and Meghan Grieves all gone from Chestnut Hill, the Terriers now have a chance to retake the Hockey East crown.