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Boston College Women’s Hockey Season Preview: Rebound Incoming

The Eagles are a step behind the elite... but they should be much improved

John Quackenbos, BC Athletics

It’s been a long time since Boston College Women’s Hockey has had a season as frustrating as the 2019-2020 campaign. While the team had a good start to the year thanks to a soft opening schedule, things quickly went awry and the Eagles barely ended the year above .500 at 17-16-3.

But there was an expectation for a rebuild going into last season. BC lost a ton of talent to graduation in May 2019 — some of the best players in the world, including Olympians Megan Keller and Kali Flanagan, plus other players which ended up consisting of 2/3rd of the blue line and a couple high scoring forwards. But on top of that, two of the top returning scorers left via transfer, and you just don’t lose nine players (five of whom you would classify as “nationally elite”) and not take a step back.

But we’re now a year removed from that big roster transition, and the coaching staff has had a chance at their first real roster reload.

This year’s iteration of the BC Women’s Hockey team has a brand new look. The team was young to begin with, thanks to having seven of their top eight scorers last year as freshmen and sophomores, but there are a whopping eight incoming freshmen, plus a major transfer, plus a club team call-up, which makes 10 out of 25 players on the roster that weren’t there last season. Oh yes; we are well into the rebuild now.

THE FORWARDS

Departures:
Delaney Belinskas (20-6—26 in 35 games)
Lindsey Agnew (7-8—15 in 35 games)
Kate Annese (0-5—5 in 36 games)
Bridget McCarthy (1-3—4 in 36 games)
Erin Connolly (0-2—2 in 16 games)

Key Returns:
So. Hannah Bilka (14-23—37 in 34 games)
Jr. Kelly Browne (13-23—36 in 36 games)
Jr. Savannah Norcross (11-6—17 in 36 games)
Jr. Olivia Finocchiaro (4-13—17 in 36 games)
Sr. Maegan Beres (4-9—13 in 36 games)
So. Caroline DiFiore (4-8—12 in 36 games)

New Faces:
Fr. #28 Gaby Roy
Fr. #24 Caroline Goffredo
Fr. #22 Olivia O’Brien
Fr. #17 Christina Klinoff
Fr. #2 Natalie Tulchinsky
Fr. #29 Cecily Hetzel

Wow, that is an incredibly young group of forwards. Just one returning contributor is a senior. The Eagles should have a decent mix of depth and top-end talent this year, with Hockey East Rookie of the Year Hannah Bilka leading the scoring charts and Kelly Browne coming back as probably the team’s most crucial two-way player. Below them is a mix of more than solid returning players who will probably see improvement in their numbers just from the Eagles having the puck more this season.

It’s tough to predict what you’re going to get out of freshmen, but with a class this big, it’s reasonable to expect a few contributors. Roy and Goffredo in particular are expected to make an impact right away, and you can probably expect to see someone like O’Brien or Klinoff (or one of the others) make an impression in practice to get top-9 ice time as well.

THE DEFENSE

Departures:
None (!)

Key Returns:
Jr. Cayla Barnes (6-17—23 in 35 games)
So. Alexie Guay (3-16—19 in 36 games)
So. Hadley Hartmetz (2-13—15 in 36 games)
Jr. Jillian Fey (2-5—7 in 36 games)

New Faces:
Fr. #26 Sidney Fess
Fr. #9 Maddie Crowley-Cahill

The Eagles struggled to score last year (at least relative to past seasons) in large part due to the fact that they stopped outshooting opponents like they used to. You can trace that directly to the fact that the defense was absolutely gutted due to graduation prior to last season. But wow, the change on the blue line is like night and day over last year.

As insane as it seems, this is the first time in a while that the Eagles will have a full group on defense in a couple years. Last season, even with a fully healthy group, BC was forced to convert a fourth line forward from time to time to put on the blue line just to have enough bodies. But with zero players leaving to graduation, the Boston College defense should go back to being the team’s bread and butter.

At the top, you of course have Olympian Cayla Barnes to anchor the group, but Guay and Hartmetz are both defenders who have been on the national team radar for their respective countries. Fey was a very pleasant surprise as a freshman last season, Mullowney is waiting in the wings, and the two incoming freshmen are both supposed to contribute immediately — Fess in particular is a high-end recruit, but don’t sleep on All-NEPSAC first teamer Crowley-Cahill, either, as she should be a strong performer right away as well.

I’m not saying this is a group that’s going to embarrass their opponents Team USA-style, but God, it is just refreshing to have a full talented unit again.

THE GOALTENDERS

Departures
Molly Barrow (3.00 GAA, 0.864 Save % in 1 game played)

Key Returns:
Jr. Maddie McArthur (2.51 GAA, 0.913 Save % in 26 games played)
Jr. Kelly Pickreign (2.82 GAA, 0.909 Save % in 12 games played)

New Faces
Jr. Abbey Levy (2.97 GAA, 0.903 Save % in 22 games played at Minnesota State)
Jr. Kelly Lavelle (BC Women’s Club Hockey)

Well, let’s address the obvious first: That is a lot of juniors. Frankly, it’s a lot of goaltenders in general, but wow, all juniors.

It makes sense to have so many goalies this year with COVID, though. Who knows what’s going to happen, and if you have the roster space, why not. Lavelle is a capable goalie (she’s won national championships while in high school and frankly with that pedigree it’s incredible she wasn’t already playing D-I hockey elsewhere), and she’s still our fourth option. Kelly Pickreign was the team’s 1B last year, and now she’s going to be battling with two elite-level ‘tenders for game time. It speaks a lot about her character and how much she loves the school that she stuck around in that position when she could be starting at another program.

That brings us to the top, and the big news of the offseason. Abbey Levy of Minnesota State transferred into Boston College, and Levy was one of the top goaltenders in the WCHA the last two years. While her stats won’t blow you away, that comes from the fact that the Mavericks were... well, we will kindly refer to them as “A Team That Allows A Freaking Ton Of Shots.” Levy’s a very talented goaltender, and she was certainly one of the top goalies in the WCHA.

But she’s coming into a program with a goalie that’s already got a top-tier pedigree in Maddie McArthur. The Canadian was Hockey Canada’s U-18 goaltender coming into the Heights, and while she took a step back last season, you can’t discount the fact that she was playing behind a defensive unit being held together with duct tape and string.

It all points to a true split in net for the first time in recent memory for the Eagles, and certainly in Coach Crowley’s tenure behind the bench. With two top-tier goalies battling it out, BC has more than one elite option in net this season.