You wouldn’t really know it looking at their 9-7-2 record, but Boston College Women’s Hockey has really been a pleasant surprise this season.
Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way early: Hockey East, as a conference, is wayyy down. We kind of saw that coming this year with Northeastern’s massive list of departures, but it doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Against the top conferences in women’s hockey, the league is a whopping 4-19-1 against the ECAC and 0-4-0 against the WCHA. There’s simply no comparison between Hockey East and these two leagues at the top, and seeing zero (!) Hockey East teams in the top ten in the Pairwise, KRACH, and the polls is pretty compelling evidence for that. At least in the near term, the NCAA tournament is going to be sort of like the UEFA Champions League with the Hockey East champion playing the role of a Belgian side that’s just happy to be there. It is what it is.
That’s why BC’s record of 9-7-2 is a bit misleading. The Eagles started the season with four losses on the road against Clarkson and Wisconsin, both of whom have blown up to be two of the top teams nationally so far. Clarkson’s the last undefeated team in women’s hockey at 18-0-2, and Wisconsin is, well, Wisconsin, as they’ve racked up a 13-3-0 record over their tough WCHA schedule on the way to a #3 spot in the polls.
Since that throw-’em-into-the-fire start, and once you calibrate your expectations to “Beanpot and League contender,” the Eagles have looked pretty darn good, really — especially relative to the Women’s Hockey East preseason poll:
Boston College currently sits tied atop the Hockey East standings with UConn. Better yet, the Eagles hold the tiebreaker as they’ve already finished their season series with the Huskies and went an impressive 2-0-1.
Against the other top teams from the preseason poll, BC has acquitted themselves well — aside from a frustrating back-and-forth affair with Northeastern, the Eagles looked good in a split with Vermont, annihilated Providence, and beat BU. But the standings are a total mess, and who’s “good” in a given week hasn’t been all that predictable. 3rd through 6th in the standings are separated by just 3 points, with 7th through 9th only a game or two behind the rest. Given how much of a scramble the second half looks to be, the Eagles are going to be pretty glad they’ve got so many points already in the bank.
The story with this Eagles team is just in the eyeball test, and it’s about more than just throwing raw talent onto the ice and hoping for the best. The hallmark of the last several years of BC seasons has been elite talent that underperforms. You would have expected that the graduate transfers out of Cayla Barnes and Hannah Bilka would have forced the Eagles to take a step back this year, but it’s been the opposite. It’s been a much, much more team-focused game.
Structurally, compared to not just last season but the last several seasons, it’s like watching a completely different program. Offensive zone possession was completely nonexistent in prior years, but it’s been a different story this season with the Eagles being far more successful at keeping control of the puck. They’ve also been better at regaining possession cleanly with better breakouts and better neutral zone play — more symptoms of playing an improved team-focused game. And that’s a good summary of what has made BC see more success so far this year: general improvements overall in playing as a team and being better than the sum of their parts.
The end result is a team has really been a pleasure to watch, and has positioned themselves as a real favorite for both the Beanpot and Hockey East titles. Let’s not get carried away — the Eagles are not what they were 7-8 years ago, and they’re just as much responsible for the dip in Hockey East’s competitiveness nationally as anyone else in the league. But this year’s team has emerged as one that’s been enjoyable to follow and actually feels like a favorite for hardware for the first time in a long while.
BC gets back at it for the start of the second half on December 30th against Saint Anselm, with the Beanpot semifinals & trophy season kicking off just a couple weeks later.