Head coach Katie Crowley leads the Eagles into the regular season with the #3 national ranking. With the puck dropping on the new season this Saturday at Conte Forum, Coach sat down with us this week to help us preview the upcoming season.
BC Interruption: Last year ended was a little bit of a disappointment even though we won the Beanpot and got our first regular season Hockey East title. It seems like expectations this year are even higher than they were last year. Where do you place the team's expectations and goals this season?
Head Coach Katie Crowley: I would say we have the same goals that we've had the last 4 or 5 years, where that national title is what we're striving for. I know our kids think about it a lot, last year I thought we had a very good year, we ended up losing to the eventual champion and a very good team in Clarkson.
It was, like you said, not the exact way we wanted to end the year, but I think it helps us stay focused on what we want to accomplish this year.
BCI: Does Clarkson winning the national championship change the mindset at all for an eastern team going against those western power schools?
HCKC: I don't think so. No matter who we're going in to play we look at it the same way, 'we need to get a win out of this game.' It doesn't matter if it's a WCHA game, or a CHA game, or a ECAC team, or a Hockey East team, we need to make sure we win the games that we play.
I don't think it necessarily changes any mindset or anything. An Olympic year like last year was is always unique. You have more teams that put themselves in good spots. This year, again, will be interesting. Women's hockey overall is getting deeper and there are more teams that are vying for titles, whether it's league titles or NCAA titles.
BCI: The last few seasons it's seemed like there's been that one game that trips us up. Last year was the loss to UConn, and you could throw in losing in the Hockey East final to BU. Even though they're really good, it was still a bit of an upset and knocked us out of home ice for the national tournament. Two years ago we had the Vermont tie that cost us the regular season title. It just seems like there's always that one game that sneaks up on us. So how do you, as the coach, keep the team focused on those games where we're playing against a team that we might be expected to beat and keep us playing at our highest level in those games?
HCKC: We actually just had a conversation with our field hockey coach about that. You can certainly have a let down mentally, and that's something we always try to manage. We try to have our kids stay focused and approach every game like you're playing the best team in the country. That's our focus when we go in to any game and you just try to hammer that home to the kids. And that's not unique to hockey. After playing the number one seed and going into another game you can have a let down in the beginning and you have to find a way to get that win when you need one.
I think our kids have realized, especially now that we're getting to be an older, more experienced team, the importance of one hiccup here or there and what that can create, especially now that there are four automatic bids into the NCAA tournament. That changes things as well, so you need to make sure you stay focused for every game.
BCI: Last year one of those tough games was against Syracuse where we lost 4-1. The longer that game went on the worse it got. How does playing Syracuse to open the season give you a chance to avenge that loss?
HCKC: We joke with the Syracuse coaches that this is the ACC Challenge for us. This will be a good test. Last year they certainly upset us. It was a game that we weren't focused for for the full 60 minutes.
I've got to give them credit too, they played well last year. One thing that our kids can learn from that game is that no matter who you're playing, if that team plays well and you're not playing at the top of your game, anything can happen. Our kids will certainly use this game to recover that 'ACC Cup.'
I think our kids are just excited to play in a real game and have some good competition, and they're ready to start the season.
BCI: You mention how the team has become more experienced -- along those lines, what did Alex Carpenter learn while with Team USA that she can bring back to help the team, along with the other players who have spent time training at national team development camp?
HCKC: We've been fortunate to have quite a few involved with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada this summer and I think they're recognizing the importance of every shift. Every time they go out, just being focused and ready to go for their shift and not be able to take a shift off. It's focusing on what you can do to help your team for that one shift, and once it's done then you move on to the next one. The further you go, the higher you play, the more important those single shifts are and that's been something they've been able to bring back to our team.
Carpenter had a tremendous year last year with the Olympic team, she was playing with one of our alums, Kelli Stack. She comes back in a leadership role as well; she's one of our assistant captains and she'll be a leader for us on the ice.
BCI: The incoming freshmen, too, have lots of national team experience. Defenseman Megan Keller is already a major player for Team USA it looks like she might be on the Olympic radar in the future. Forward Tori Sullivan had a hat trick in the exhibition. So it looks like we should have some contributions from the freshmen right away. What part of our game do you expect to see the biggest contributions from the new players?
HCKC: We have three freshmen defensemen coming in who will all add something different. That's half of the defenseive corps. They're all unique in their own way and will add something back there.
You mentioned Keller, she's just a smart, calm, cool, and collected player who makes the right play and I'm excited just to see her progress. Toni Ann Miano is another one who's just a smart defenseman. She's kind of unique in that we have quite a few rushing defensemen and she's more stay-at-home. She makes some smart plays. She's not going to be super flashy where you're going jump our of your seat. You probably won't notice her too too much, but I will and [Associate Head Coach] Courtney Kennedy will, because she's a smart player back there.
And then Kali Flanagan is one of the fastest, quickest defensemen that I've seen. She's going to be able to use her speed in all aspects of the game. And it's going to be really difficult to play against her because she's so quick.
We have two freshmen goalies that are in the mix who are competing hard for that spot and doing a great job so far. I thought our goalies did well in the exhibition game. They didn't see a whole lot of shots, but sometimes those types of games are harder. I was impressed with them.
You mentioned Tori Sullivan, Tori's got a shot. A pretttttty good shot. She was able to get a couple of those off in the exhibition game, and those were goals that she would score on anyone. She's going to definitely pack an offensive punch.
And Kenzie Kent as a forward is similar to Toni Ann Miano as a defenseman. I think Kenzie gets overlooked a lot. She's a real smart player who forechecks the right way, backchecks the right way, and is just a smart player who I'm excited to see at the college level. She's a kid that is just in the right spot a lot of the time. So she's unique in that unless you watch her you'll miss the little things that she does that helps our team.
We have a real good group of freshmen coming in that will help our older kids out and I look for them to all contribute.
BCI: You talked about the two freshmen goalies, and we have Taylor Blake back there too. It's been a little while since BC hasn't had a clear 'number one' in goal. We had Molly Schaus obviously, who was one of the best goalies, really, ever, and we had Corinne Boyles take over after. Are you planning on having some kind of a rotation this year or are you the kind of coach that likes to see who emerges through an early season competition and ride the hot hand?
HCKC: I don't know, we'll see! We have three different kinds of goalies who are going to challenge for that spot, so it's an exciting time for us. I'm not sure yet, to be honest with you. They're all competing really well and they're all doing a good job. I think eventually the number one will end up standing out and making a path for herself.
That's I think what happened with Boyles. Like you said, Molly was probably the clear number one, but after that, Boyles stepped up and made herself known that she wanted to be that number one goalie for us. She really took the reigns on her own, and I look for one of these three to do that as well.
We'll kind of see how it goes. It is a little different situation for us where we have three goalies that are vying for that position.
BCI: Would you identify the inexperience and the uncertainty in goal as the team's biggest concern going into the season?
HCKC: I guess if you want to say that, just because we are young. Taylor Blake hasn't played a lot of games for us, and we have two freshmen. We're young in that position but I like their compete level and I like what I see in practice every day. I guess if you want to say as far as our 'biggest concern,' maybe that would be it, but I'm pretty confident in the three of them.
BCI: On the opposite end of the spectrum, there seem to be plenty of options to choose from as strengths of the team, but out of them all, what do you think would be our biggest one?
HCKC: I would say our depth, and I mean that offensively and defensively. We have experienced kids going out on every shift, whether forward or defense. A little less defensively because there are three freshmen, but those kids have been through quite a bit in their short careers going through the ranks with Team USA.
But offensively, certainly we're very deep with experienced players on all four lines and players who know how to play the game. It'll be exciting to see as we move forward and see what we can do on a daily basis.
BCI: What do you look for during the exhibition games, and what changes do you make in-game or that you specifically made this Friday during the exhibition to test things out for the season?
HCKC: This exhibition was really more just to get our kids into a game setting. We'd been practicing for 5 or 6 days in a row and it was nice to get them out to play in a game and have them play against a team that they knew nothing about, as opposed to just scrimmaging against themselves.
There weren't a lot of plays in the defensive zone but we got to get our freshmen into the mix back there, and that was the biggest thing. We hadn't run a power play as of yet or anything like that, and it was good to see our penalty kill a little bit so we know the rotation and we know what we're doing. Just learning and going against a team we haven't seen before so these kids have to adjust as they're going through it.
I thought our kids played great; they did a good job from the beginning to the end and they did what we asked them to through the whole game, so that was nice to see.
BCI: Alright, putting you on the spot – which four teams make it to Ridder Arena in Minneapolis for the Frozen Four?
HCKC: I have to say us, because I have to say us. We gotta be there. I think BU's going to make it, I think Cornell's going to make it, and I think Minnesota's going to make it.
Be sure to follow Coach Crowley and the BC Women's Hockey team on twitter. The Eagles open their season Saturday afternoon at Conte Forum at 2pm against Syracuse as part of a hockey doubleheader with the men's team's exhibition against New Brunswick. Head on down to watch some free hockey and support our other national championship contender!