The 2019-2020 Boston College Women’s Hockey team is presented with a rare opportunity. The last several seasons all started out with incredibly high expectations, a national-title-or-bust mindset that, while not out of line with talent level, nonetheless made the end all that much more disappointing.
This year, the program’s whole mentality is different.
Make no mistake — the yardstick is trophies. The Eagles may be faced with a huge loss of talent to graduation and transfer, but at this point BC is a national powerhouse that reloads rather than rebuilds. The season will be judged on what hardware Boston College can come away with.
But instead of constantly reaching to meet impossible expectations, for once the Eagles are here to prove a lot of people wrong.
It was not a great off-season in Chestnut Hill. After a year that yielded zero trophies, two Olympians graduated and a handful of other very important pieces left for the real world with them. And yes, fair to say or not, two other talented players abandoned the program. So it goes without saying that most of the national prognosticators have left BC for dead. No one expects the Eagles to contend with the big names of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Clarkson nationally. No one expects the Eagles to contend with league champion Northeastern in Hockey East. No one expects the that the Eagles could possibly do better this season after losing the bulk of their scoring and blue line despite how much the team underachieved with those players.
How can you have a successful season when it’s impossible to exceed expectations? It’s a whole different world in the Kelley Rink locker rooms this season. The team knows they have to put in the work, and that it’s not enough to show up with a few gold medalists and expect that to be enough to carry you through the year.
This is a locker room that feels very disrespected, with a lot of pride for themselves and for their coaching staff to play for.
Daryl Watts (transfer): 22-26—48 in 39 games
Makenna Newkirk (graduation): 12-28—40 in 39 games
Caitrin Lonergan (transfer): 14-25—39 in 37 games
Ryan Little (graduation): 3-6—9 in 39 games
Molly Slowe (graduation): 0-0—0 (mostly due to injury)
That’s a whole lot of scoring that BC will need to replace. When you throw in Megan Keller’s offensive numbers as a defender, the Eagles lose their top four scorers. But BC has some talented players who will be getting a lot more ice time and who should see their numbers go up.
Senior Lindsay Agnew, a transfer from Minnesota who shined in her first year on the Heights (15-11—26), should have an opportunity to be a go-to scorer for the Eagles this season. Sophomore Kelly Browne was one of the best two-way players on the team by the end of the season — as a freshman center, no less. She put up an 11-15—26 line, and was at nearly a point-per-game clip (7-9—16) over her last 17 games. Look for her to have a breakout season as one of the cornerstones of the BC offense. And make room in your notebook for fan favorite senior captain and Snow Queen Erin Connolly, who has played on lower lines most of her career, but has made the players around her on those lines better and actually generated solid offense from those lower lines. It’ll be fun to see what she does to pick up her team with more responsibility on her shoulders this season.
BC does bring in three freshmen forwards as well to help fill the gaps. Two come from the New England prep school circuit, Caroline DiFiore and Abby
YOLO Volo, and could very well see meaningful minutes given how BC has 5 forwards to replace. The offensive gem of the recruiting class, however, is Texan Hannah Bilka, a potentially program-changing recruit who played prep school hockey at powerhouse Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Minnesota. Bilka scored BC’s first goal in the team’s exhibition this weekend against the PWHPA, an unassisted shorthanded tally. Aw yis.
Megan Keller (graduation): 19-24—43 in 38 games
Kali Flanagan (graduation): 5-15—20 in 38 games
Serena Sommerfield (graduation): 1-16—17 in 38 games
Grace Bizal (graduation): 2-10—12 in 20 games (due to injury)
With Bizal missing most of the season due to injury, that means that the Eagles are really replacing three of their six spots on the blue line due to graduation — or even three of five given that BC often played with 5 D. All three of those players were on the ice for major minutes.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that the 2018-2019 iteration of the BC defense canbe summed up in two words: Young & Talented.
The returners will be anchored by Olympic Gold Medalist and Future Two-Time Olympic Gold Medalist Cayla Barnes (4-19—23), who is only a sophomore but brings with her experience you’d dream of having out of a senior. She’s joined by fellow sophomore Jillian Fey (1-2—3) who was an extremely pleasant surprise as a freshman and was one of those defenders you rarely noticed because she was so good locking down her own end. The team relied on her a lot, especially in the second half of the season. Senior Kate Annese, on the roster as a D/F utility player of sorts, hasn’t played many minutes for the Eagles over her career but may see herself on the blue line helping out, especially early in the season.
Replacing the departing players is a trio of freshmen, all of whom are blue-chip level recruits. Newton’s Deirdre Mullowney won the club national championship three times with the Boston Jr. Eagles, including this past season, and attended USA Hockey national team camp four times. Hadley Hartmetz was a teammate of Hannah Bilka’s at Shattuck-St. Mary’s and was a two-time member of the USA U-18 national team. It’s hard to pick a gem of the three defenders, but if you were forced to pick one, you might give the nod to Alexie Guay, two-time member of Canada’s U-18 national team and possibly the best young defender in Hockey Canada’s development system. You can obviously expect all three defenders to play far more minutes than your typical freshmen.
In goal, the Eagles have sophomore Maddy McArthur between the pipes, who had a solid year as a freshman despite playing most of the season at less than 100%. She came to BC as an elite-level recruit, having played as the top goalie in the Canadian development program, and the coaching staff has got to be excited to see her start the year not just with a full season under her belt, but at full strength as well.
For sure, there will be some growing pains with so much youth on the blue line and in goal. But there’s a ton of skill back there. Defense will not be the weakness many think it will be for this team.
2016 & 2017 Women’s Hockey captain (and 2018 Women’s Basketball captain) Andie Anastos joins the team as Assistant Coach this season, and there’s a lot of buzz among program insiders about her coming back to the team behind the bench. Anastos was regarded as a truly exceptional leader in her years as a captain, and having a young coach recently out of her playing days behind the bench should add a nice piece to the staff. And not for nothing, but BC hasn’t won any trophies since Anastos graduated. I’m just saying.
Say what you will about BC’s inability to break through for that long-awaited national championship, but the Eagles — and this coaching staff — have always done well historically playing with a chip on their shoulder. Back before the Eagles were a national power, BC caught plenty top programs by surprise for some huge wins and brought home some trophies along with them.
BC starts out 8th in the USCHO poll — which, if it were the Pairwise, would see the Eagles on the outside looking in for the NCAA tournament given that one of those 8 spots has to go to the CHA champion. The pollsters have the BC behind both Northeastern (4th) and Boston University (7th) among Hockey East teams, so there’s not a lot of faith in BC’s ability to be a national contender.
The goal for BC this year should be at least be to make the national tournament. From there, they would be one win away from the Frozen Four, which would absolutely an impressive run. In Hockey East, while the Eagles are certainly not the favorite, they should certainly not feel like Northeastern — and definitely not BU — is a team that they can’t skate with. Getting to the Hockey East championship game and giving themselves a one-game shot at the title is pretty reasonable ask. From there, you see what you’ve got with a young team that’s got a full year under their belts.
The Eagles kick off the regular season this weekend with a trip to Merrimack for a pair of games on Friday and Saturday, September 27th and 28th. A couple of road wins would be just what BC needs to get the new season off on the right foot.