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Season Preview: For #3 BC Women's Hockey, It's NCAA Title Or Bust

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The pieces are there -- can they put it all together?

BC Athletics

Every year, the BC women's hockey team seems to come in with higher and higher expectations. Two years ago, the team was ranked #3 overall for the first time in program history, and ended up bowing out in the NCAA semifinals to undefeated Minnesota. Last year, as the #2 ranked team going into the season, it was an early exit from the NCAA tournament, once again to the eventual national champion.

Now, coming in once again as the #3 team in the national polls, it could be argued that the Eagles might finally be able to call Minnesota and Wisconsin, ranked #1 and #2 respectively, its peers.

BC has been very good the last few years, but has always found itself in the second tier of teams, just below the elite western schools. That has changed this year. The Eagles bring in one of the strongest recruiting classes in the entire country, return an Olympian who played on the first line for Team USA, and lost just one of its top 8 scorers to graduation.

That's a formula for a breakthrough season.

Last Friday, the Eagles opened their season with an exhibition against Queen's University of Canada and unleashed a fury--ten goals scored, one allowed, and a 45-14 shot advantage. It was the first chance BC had to put it all together in a game setting, and, well...they didn't disappoint.

The puck drops on the regular season Saturday at 2pm against Syracuse. Let's break things down as we look ahead to the season.

Goaltending

If there's one bit of uncertainty going into the season, it's in goal. After losing 5th year senior Corinne Boyles to graduation and losing backup Megan Miller in a transfer to Wisconsin, the Eagles were left with just one goalie with any collegiate experience, Taylor Blake, who, as a junior, has played just one period of hockey at Boston College, stopping the only two shots she faced.

Fortunately, there are reinforcements on the way. Freshmen Gabri Switaj and Katie Burt come in with a combined 7 years with National Team Development Camp, and Burt was one of two goaltenders on the USA U18 team. Despite the inexperience, between Blake, Switaj, and Burt, there is raw talent that any team would love to have between the pipes.

Defense

In front of the goalies is a defensive corps that was given an infusion of young talent with this year's freshman class. The blue line already had some real breakout talent: Emily Pfalzer, the highest scoring defenseman last year who really took off in the second half of the season, scoring at nearly a point-per-game clip; Kaliya Johnson, who posted the highest +/- on the team; Lexi Bender, not far behind with a +22; and sophomore Lauren Wedell.

But the excitement comes when you see how these experienced blue liners can up their game with the three freshmen who are joining the crew. Kali Flanagan was desribed by Coach Crowley as one of the fastest defensemen she's seen at BC, Toni Ann Miano comes in as a stay-at-home defenseman with USA U18 experience, and Megan Keller joins as one of the only incoming freshmen in the country named to the USA U22 team.

Where is the weak link on the blue line? It's very hard to point one out.

Forwards

Here's where it really gets exciting. The big story on offense, of course, is the return of Alex Carpenter. Carpenter was one of the best players for USA Hockey at the Olympics, playing on the top line with two of the biggest names in the sport. She is joined by Tori Sullivan and Kenzie Kent as the freshmen newcomers. And--as has been a theme here--both come in with national team experience, playing for the USA U18 team. Sullivan made her presence known in the exhibition, scoring a hat trick in her first time on the ice as an Eagle.

Perhaps just as exciting as what BC is adding is what they aren't losing. Of its top 8 scorers in the 2013-2014 season, the Eagles lost just their 4th highest scorer. Of their top 11, just the 4th and 9th highest scorers graduated and left the Heights. What this means for BC is that they are going to be able to roll 4 lines of extremely high end talent. Given the group returning and the newcomers, there will probably be one or more 4th line players with national team experience. Can we stop and think about how ridiculous that is?

Last year, Hockey East was a huge disappointment, with only one other team making the NCAA tournament, BU, who needed a come from behind win in the Hockey East championship to earn an autobid for the right to get slaughtered by Minnesota in the first round. They should be much better this year, as should Northeastern, as both return Olympians as well and have strong freshman classes. Having those teams win games is important not just for BC's standing in the Pairwise, but to keep them battle-tested as they work toward trophy season.

Once again, the pieces are there for BC to put together a special season. It all starts Saturday afternoon at 2pm against Syracuse. Hopefully the Eagles can start out with a convincing win on the way to Ridder Arena in Minneapolis, not just for a berth in the Frozen Four, but with a real chance to win the whole thing.