BC came up painfully short last season, going 34-3-2 but coming home empty handed. We talked to head coach and ACHA national coach of the year Katie Crowley about last season and looked ahead to the upcoming campaign.
BC Interruption: Last year you said that the team's had the same goal for the last several years, which was to win the national championship. But despite having only three losses and by far the best record in program history, we came up short in every tournament we played in. How do you and the players view last season?
Coach Crowley: It was something that took us a little bit to digest, and when you come back to campus with none of those trophies it's hard to look on it as a positive. But we all understand those trophies are hard to come by, and they're hard to win. Despite not bringing home that hardware we did have a great season; it was an extremely successful season and I think our returning players learned a lot about themselves and about each other and hopefully that will help us this year.
BCI: You mention that the trophies are hard to come by, and it seems like they've been extra hard to come by for BC from some reason. We're 0 for 4 in the Hockey East tournament the last four years, even though we've arguably been the favorite each time, and 0 for 5 in program history in the Frozen Four. Why do you think the team has historically struggled in those big games?
CC: It’s a good question. It's funny because we talk to Coach York a lot, and we're around the men's program a lot, not only Coach York but Coach Brown and Coach Ayers. They've been through quite a bit with their programs. Coach York told us at one point that they had some losses before they had a few wins too, so hopefully that bodes well for us and we can make a little bit of a comeback push here and get a few under our belt.
But I think maybe we get too excited for those games because those are the big games. If I had all the answers to it my job would be really easy [laughs]. Every year is a new challenge, every year there's something else we need to work on. That certainly is one of them.
We talk about the process of it all. It's hard to keep getting back there, never mind to win a few in a row. It's a difficult road to get there. You have to sit back and see it all after the fact. It is a credit to our kids that they worked hard to get to this point. So hopefully we can bring home some hardware.
BCI: It's hard not to argue that the WCHA has historically been the top conference in women's hockey, and in the last few years it seems that Hockey East has fallen behind the ECAC as well. I know we've done pretty well to schedule as many tough out-of-conference matchups as we can, but particularly with the addition of Merrimack, who is realistically going to struggle quite a bit over the next several years as they build up their program, do you think that the abundance of lower tier teams in Hockey East hurts the team's development over the course of the season?
CC: No, I don't, I think our league is very good, and on a given day if you're not playing at the top of your game, you never know when you're going to run into a hot goalie or another team sneaks one in that normally wouldn't go in, or something like that, so you always have to be ready to play. I think our league compares with any of them.
The WCHA has a limited amount of non-conference games so they pick and choose those teams that they play. Hopefully we'll help ourselves here this weekend when we're playing Duluth. You don't get to play those WCHA teams that often, so when your league does play them it becomes a big weekend for your league -- not only for your team, but for your league -- so hopefully all of our teams realize that.
But I don't think it's been a development issue. We've had some great games against BU that could have gone either way, some games against Northeastern that could have gone either way, some games against Maine that could have gone either way, I could go down the list.
BCI: I think the argument being made by some of us who follow the program is, for example, a WCHA team like Minnesota gets four games against Wisconsin, four games against North Dakota, four games against Duluth, and now Bemidji is climbing up there… and in the ECAC it’s the same thing with Clarkson and Quinnipiac and Harvard and (to a lesser extent this season) Cornell. There are more opportunities to battle-harden your team in those conferences. So maybe it’s not so much that there are so many bottom tier teams causing a problem, but that there is a lack of top tier teams to really prepare us for those big games late in the year.
CC: That's why we're fortunate that we play against Harvard, St. Lawrence, Clarkson a couple years ago, and we play Cornell every year now for two games, so those certainly help us with strength of schedule. It is disappointing that we have trouble getting those WCHA teams to come out here to play because they're really being very "careful" with who they pick for their non-conference games.
BCI: Other than top tier eastern NCAA teams that we schedule and the WCHA teams that we get out here, has there been any thought to trying to schedule the Boston Pride of the NWHL as an exhibition to have another top tier game even if it doesn't count?
CC: The problem with that is that it would have to count against our 34 games. We can only play a Canadian team as an exhibition; it's an NCAA rule. If we play a team like the Boston Pride it has to count against our regular season schedule. We did it a couple years ago with the Boston Blades when we had an extra game to give, but this year we have a full schedule so we can't do it. We were actually supposed to play the Blades the year after that as well but their schedule didn't match up with our schedule.
BCI: Last year our power play conversion was 15th in the country, which on its face sounds pretty average until you realize that overall we scored at by far the highest rate in the country even strength. As a measure of how much a team improves its scoring rate on the power play, we were the third worst in the country and in the second half we actually scored at almost exactly the same rate per minute on the power play as we did even strength. It was a huge point of frustration for a lot of us that follow the program. Do you personally view last year's power play as a disappointment, and have you and the staff made any substantial changes to how you approach the man advantage this year?
CC: Yeah, that certainly was a point of emphasis all last year, and I think it got to the point that our kids were pressing too much. It certainly was frustrating and we're going to try to hopefully change that around for this year.
For right now I want them to be a little bit ‘loosey-goosey,’ to not have so much structure, and hopefully they can use their creativity. We have some very creative players so maybe by us giving them a little bit less structure it will improve. It's a little too early to tell. We’ll be putting together some new power play units and trying some different things and trying to find the right personnel that fits into the right spots. We have the offensive power; it showed at least in the first half last year. But I would venture to guess that we almost had more penalty kill goals than we did power play goals [laughs]. So that's certainly a point of emphasis for us moving forward.
BCI: BC has said that it is going to be giving Full Cost of Attendance scholarships, although as we've seen in the news, BC's cost of attendance calculation is lower than every other school in the country. How has FCOA affected recruiting, if at all?
CC: There's a couple schools in Hockey East that are giving them and a couple that are steadfast that they're not. I haven't noticed a difference in recruiting since that has come out. Part of that might be because it was announced a little too late and those kids were already committed, but I haven't noticed as of yet.
BCI: We briefly mentioned the Boston Pride of the NWHL earlier. BC has a lot of the talent going into the new league. Carpenter was the #1 overall pick in the inaugural draft which was really cool, and news just came out that Kelli Stack is the highest paid player in the league. Do you think that the NWHL is a game changer for the future of professional women's hockey?
CC: I hope it is, I would hope that kids get that opportunity to play professionally, and I think this is a major step in the right direction. I'm very interested. We don't know a whole lot about it, we were never really involved in the process. It's hard to comment on it, just that I hope that these women players are able to get paid to play the game, and I hope that the level is high enough where people want to go watch it and that it's something that develops a fan base because ultimately that's what will drive the league.
BCI: Have you noticed any of the current players talking about the possibility of being able to play professionally after college or any chatter about the league in general?
CC: No, I think everyone's still a little apprehensive, they're going to see how this plays out and where it goes. The kids don't really talk about it all that much. We know what our former players have done and where they signed and I'm interested to hear their thoughts on it after they play a few games to see how they feel about it. It’s obviously exciting.
BCI: Almost all of the incoming freshman have several years of experience with the National Team Development Camp. Grace Bizal is the freshman who was on last year's U18 world championship team that won gold. Is she the type of defenseman who will try to fill in for Emily Pfalzer's lost offensive production, or is she more of a lock-down stay-at-home type like Miano?
CC: I'd say she's in the middle of the two. She can certainly jump up in the play. She's a great skater, she reads the play well, but it's also tough to get by her. I'm excited for her because she's going to learn every day in practice facing the forwards that she's facing and it’s going to help her game jump. It's hard to say that she'll jump right into Emily’s footsteps because I think that will be more of a "by committee" situation, but Grace is certainly a great force and will help with that.
To me our defense is very, very strong. I think as a group they get overlooked because our forwards are so productive, but all of the defensemen are really good and should get more credit than they do.
BCI: And the rest of the freshmen, where do you think their biggest contributions are going to be?
CC: McKenna Newkirk is a little bit overlooked because she was injured and then too old for U18s, but she would have been a valued asset to that U18 program. She's a very good hockey player and I'm really excited to see her play at this pace and learn from the seniors how to be a great hockey player in college and hopefully, for her, beyond. But she's a dynamic player. She's certainly someone to watch offensively.
Molly Slowe from Nobles [and Greenough], she’s going to learn playing at the pace that our team practices at. They learn that that's what makes us good. For Molly I think she's a very smart hockey player, and she's very coachable and I think that she's going to learn a lot very fast and be able to help us out for sure at forward.
Ryan Little comes from Shattuck [St. Mary’s], she's another kid that is someone to watch. She's been very, very good for us since we've been on the ice this fall, and I'm excited to see her grow through her college career as well. She's fast, she's strong, she knows the game, and she's someone that I think will develop into a very good college player and will have a good freshman campaign.
Thanks to Coach Crowley for taking the time to chat with us. You can follow Coach Crowley and the BC Women's Hockey team on Twitter to keep up with the season, and of course check in with BC Interruption for full coverage. The puck drops on the 2015-2016 season this Friday and Saturday at Conte Forum against 5-time national champion Minnesota-Duluth. Be sure to catch a game this year as the #2 ranked Eagles try to bring home the program's first national title.