Women’s Hockey: Hockey East Coaches “Excited” to Start Season

BOSTON — Excited. That’s the word used by all nine coaches on the Women’s Hockey East Association conference call today. The preseason begins tomorrow with reigning champions Boston College welcoming the first-ever Isobel Cup Champions of the National Women’s Hockey League, the Boston Pride.

“Obviously, [last year] was a great year for our program,” Eagle’s head coach Katie Crowley said. She stressed that, despit the loss of U.S Olympian Alex Carpenter and other high talent, the goal remains the National Championship.

“It’s someone else’s opportunity to make plays and score goals,” Crowley said.

When asked if last year’s undefeated run is replicatable, she stuttered for a brief moment before her response: “certainly.”

Boston University assistant coach Katie Lachapelle quickly acknowledged that the team has some “big shoes to fill from last year.”

She praised Mary Parker, the Graduate Transfer from Harvard, for being “someone the new kids can go to for advice. They’re all new, but she’s got that experience under her belt.”

With the other transfer, Nina Rodgers from Minnesota, Lachapelle noticed that she joins her new teammates in being “anxious to play this weekend, kinda see how everything comes together,” as she said.

As for their star returns from last season, Lachapelle expects big things from Victoria Bach and Rebecca Leslie. “We’ll look to them in big situations, whether it’s power play, penalty kill, and obviously with point production as well,” she said.

The Terriers have not selected a starter for the upcoming slate of games, in the hopes that “down the line, they’ll [Erin O’Neil and Victoria Hanson] make that decision for us,” Lachapelle said.

University of Connecticut head coach Chris MacKenzie knows it will not be easy to replace Hockey East 1st Team All-Star Elaine Chuli in net, but junior Annie Belanger and freshman Morgan Fisher are up to task. MacKenzie also revealed that one of his freshman defenders — though he did not specify — was injured over the summer and will red-shirt the season.

The Huskies made it to the Hockey East Semifinals the last two seasons, which MacKenzie thinks helps his team “understand the landscape of the league and how tough it’ll be.”

“We should, if we compete the way we can, compete with anybody,” he said. Six freshman forwards now give him, as he put it, “skill and speed that maybe we haven’t had in our lineup.”

It is an added bonus that Fisher “grew up 10 minutes away” from campus and was “right in the thick of things to be on the U.S National U-18 team; she was one of the last cuts there,” MacKenzie said.

The Maine Black Bears will be a young team at 11 incoming freshman, including two from the Czech Republic in Tereza Vanisova and Vendula Pribylova. Pribylova comes to Maine after almost exclusively playing on Boy’s teams in the Czech leagues. “This is gonna be her first experience on a female team throughout the year as her primary team, outside the National team,” head coach Richard Reichenbach said.

Reichebach framed the loss of workhorse goalie Meghann Treacy as a positive: “our team will know she’s not there.” Between his new choices of senior Mariah Fujimagari, redshirt-freshman Carly Jackson,  and true freshman Jillian Flynn, “we’re gonna be fine in net,” he said.

When asked about his decision to start the year with no exhibition or preseason games, he joked that he was “just trying to make my job as difficult as possible.” For the second year in a row, the Black Bears will play two of their “home” games at the Norway Savings Bank Arena in Auburn, Maine, which normally hosts high school hockey events.

As for Cross Insurance Arena in Portland, Reichenbach said the school is looking at doing games there in the future. “It seems like a no-brainer to play some satellite games,” he said.

Entering her second season with the Merrimack Warriors, head coach Erin Hamlen is glad to have, in her words, “so-called veterans” on her team. The Warriors finished an abysmal 5-26-3 (3-18-3 Hockey East) and missed out on the Hockey East Playoffs, hosted by Merrimack College.

“We don’t project to be the most talented team,” Hamlen said; “we have to counter-balance that with work.

“I love that we’re ranked last, I can’t wait to move up the ladder as we go.”

Describing last year, “we took a group of individuals that were 18-, 19-years-old and said ‘OK, let’s go’,” Hamlen said. “We’re looking forward to the fact that there’s continuity in the locker room, there’s cohesiveness, something that I don’t think we had at the beginning of last season.

The Wildcats of New Hampshire, coached by Hillary Witt in her third season, fell to UConn in two tightly contested match-ups in the Hockey East Quarterfinals series. “A lot of our games last year, especially down the stretch and in the playoffs, we did a really good job generating shots on goal and getting opportunities; the one thing we didn’t do well was finish,” Witt said.

As for the Northeastern Huskies, assistant coach Jeff Pellegrini knows its time to move on from Patty Kazmaier Winner Kendall Coyne. “[She] did an amazing job of creating a new culture within our locker room, within our program,” he said. As for her sister, Bailey, the two are “completely different players.”

“She knows she’s not her sister, and she doesn’t want to be her sister,” Pellegrini said.

The Huskies are highly confident heading into this season, with Brittany Bugalski expected to be “the backbone of our team,” as Pellegrini said.

Bob Deraney, head coach of the Providence Friars, is pretty sure this is “the most talented team we’ve put on the ice in the last three years.” Deraney wants the Friars to be a “200 foot, pressure the puck type of team” that is able to capitalize on mistakes.

He has placed the playing time for his goaltenders in the hands of the players. “You can’t get in any trouble if every week you make it a competition and at the end of the week you decide who were the best players that week and put them in the positions that they deserve to be in,” he said.

Lastly, Vermont Catamounts’ head coach Jim Plumer wrapped up the call. He describes himself as “an optimistic realist, this time of year the optimistic side takes over.”

The Catamounts have no freshman defensemen, and are part of a team that is “resolute about being positive,” he said.

As for the ones in the blue paint, Molly Depew will not play for the Catamounts; she has opted to work for the team as an analytics assistant. In her place, Melissa Black, a transfer from Union College, and freshman Sydney Scobee will compete with Madison Litchfield for the starting role. Black got a lot of work for the Dutchmen, mostly because they won zero games all season.

Plumer is looking to Taylor Willard to be “the Tom Brady of our team.” Willard played over 40 minutes a game by his estimation, and he can finally spread out the team’s ice time.

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