The 2016-2017 Eagles were a special group, going 40-0-0 before falling in the NCAA championship game to the reigning titans of women’s hockey, Minnesota. We spoke with Head Coach Katie Crowley on losing the historic senior class and looking ahead to the new season.
BC Interruption: So, every interview that you get for the next few weeks is probably going to include at least a couple of questions about the graduating class, and this is going to be no exception. Mentally, how do you and the players shut out that sort of looking into the rear view mirror? Is it that there is a kind of a feeling that this is like a brand new team, a fresh start, a fresh identity?
Head Coach Katie Crowley: Well, we lost six very good players. But I think that our returning players are excited to see who now steps forward and takes on more of a role than they have in the past, in terms of maybe producing more or playing a little bit more on the penalty kill or power play or whatever it might be. We have quite a few returners who have played a lot of minutes for us and some decent time in terms of special teams and regular shifts. I think we’re all excited to start the season and get things rolling.
BCI: You mention some players jumping up and playing more significant minutes, and I think last year a big part of our success was the emergence of Meghan Grieves. For years she was a fourth liner with limited minutes, and then her senior year she was a really important contributor that really helped make us a deep team. If you had to pick someone this year, who might you expect to make a similar jump with that?
HCKC: I think we're going to see more from Tori Sullivan, we're going to see more from Ryan Little, we're going to see more from Haley McLean. Not that Tori didn't play a lot — Tori played a lot last year — but I think she's ready to step up into more of a producing role.
Kristin Capizzano, she's an assistant captain this year, she's stepped up so far in practice and been more of a leader and been more and more prominent on the ice. So I think you're going to see similar names but they just take on a different role. They realize that they are going to be relied upon to produce when in years past we relied on those three forwards that we lost. It's going to be a little bit more by committee, but I think more people will be involved.
BCI: You mentioned the three forwards that we lost. With Skarupa and Carpenter in particular, you experimented with splitting them up over the course of the last couple of years but ended up keeping them together on the same line. Tactically, do you tend to prefer having a superline like that, or would you prefer to be less top heavy and more balanced? And in the same light, how do you plan on integrating the freshmen into those lines?
HCKC: Right now, it’s just a feel-out process for what works — what lines will work, what combinations will work. And that’s looking at all four lines, where people fit in, how the freshmen make that step from high school to college. We have Delaney Belinskas, Caitrin Lonergan, and Bridget McCarthy who all produced at the high school level, and I'm excited to see how they do at the college level. And we'll try to lean on them to a certain degree to help us produce.
I don’t know, we've toyed with both, in terms of your question -- with having everybody on one line or to spread it out a little bit -- and I'm not sure what we'll end up with. But right now I think we have it spread out pretty good. We have a solid group.
BCI: With losing so many scorers, and in particular Lexi Bender who would really jump into the play as a defenseman and Pfalzer the year before that — now that they're both gone, are you still expecting to have that same kind of “press forward” style, or do you think that with the loss of so much scoring, do you think that there might be a more of a conservative defensive approach?
HCKC: We'll continue to give our D the freedom to be able to step up and help our offense. With a kid like Megan Keller, it's kind of hard to keep her back when she's such a dominant force. And so we'll pick and choose the right times to jump up in the play and to keep pressing on the offensive side. Obviously we'll want them to produce on defense as well, but I think we'll continue to have that offensive style.
BCI: We’re obviously not the only team that lost talent to graduation. This particular class, nation-wide, was unreal. Northeastern lost their all-world Patty Kaz-winning superstar Kendall Coyne, and while BU didn't really have anybody quite on Coyne’s level, they lost quite a few really big contributors from last year. Given the turnover for those two teams, which of do you think is going to be most likely to challenge us at the top of Hockey East this year?
HCKC: I think both teams are going to be good. I think that BU might be deeper — they got a few transfers which will certainly help them and will certainly spark their team. Mary Parker carried Harvard for a little while and now she's over at BU, and they have Nina Rogers from Minnesota. So I think they will be a very good team, and Northeastern is going to be a good team, too. They lose a lot of offense in Kendall, but they bring back some solid contributors. It'll be interesting to see how they do without Kendall, because she was so heavily relied on.
BCI: How do you parlay the momentum from the last couple of seasons into success with recruiting? Have you seen an uptick in interest from high school players given the recent success, or any real difference?
HCKC: There's certainly been a difference in the 14 years that I've been here. And as our program has grown, we've attracted very talented players and high-character kids. And that's continued for the last couple of years. That part of the game is always challenging and we're out looking for not only the most talented but the best character kids that we think will fit the pieces of the puzzle that we lose. And I think that's the biggest challenge for us is finding those right pieces.
BCI: Women's hockey seems to be trending toward what the men’s side has been doing lately with recruits getting younger and younger. For example, USCHO has had a women’s commitments thread for players entering school in 2019 for at least half a year now. So a lot of times, by the time players are selected to the U18 national teams, many of them are already committed to schools. How do you feel about that that shift in the landscape and how has it affected our recruiting strategy?
HCKC: The way I put it to recruits is that when you've done your homework and you've gone out and looked at all the schools that you can look at, then you can make a fully conscious decision. They’re making these decisions at such a young age. I just hope that in general, not necessarily even just for hockey, that these kids that are making decisions so early are out there looking at all their options and all their school choices and making the right decisions for them as individuals, and not based on other people committing or just that they are being pressured to commit.
I wish that it would slow down a little bit because I think it's getting pretty concerning. Some kids are committing after their eighth grade year, and that’s early. They don’t know where they're going to high school but they're committing to a college.
So it's certainly interesting and I don't necessarily love the fact that it's earlier and earlier, and you're exactly right, I feel like we've been following the men in that direction for a little while now. It's a different kind of battle.
BCI: With Notre Dame leaving men’s Hockey East, there's already talk about some of their potential replacements like Holy Cross and Quinnipiac. Has there been any chatter either from people in the know or otherwise about the potential replacements and who would be preferred, and who would you personally like to see in the conference if it is a team with a women’s program?
HCKC: We’ve had limited discussions on our side. If the men add somebody then we would obviously like it to be a program with a women's team. Honestly, I don't know what any of us are thinking on that. I think there have been talks with a few of those schools. But I'm honestly not sure where I'm at on that one yet.
BCI: If it's Holy Cross that ends up joining, do you know if they would elevate their women’s program to full time D1?
HCKC: I think they would have to go full D1. They would have to adhere to the standards of our league.
BCI: That's interesting because they're the ones that have had the most chatter about possibly joining the league in men’s. That’ll be worth keeping an eye on.
With the ACC Network popping up and ACC Network Extra online, has there been any talk of moving any of our streamed games to any of those platforms or any other higher profile streaming, or TV, like some other schools have? For example, there has been an increase in coverage on ESPN3 and NESN with some other schools.
HCKC: Yes, although I don't think it will happen this year because I don't even know if we're up and running quite yet, anyway. But I think that's something for down the line for sure.
BCI: Has there been any discussion or talk about maybe bidding to host the Frozen Four in the future?
HCKC: I think it's maybe too complicated right now with the other sports that we have playing in Conte Forum, so not in the near team.
BCI: Last question -- in the meeting minutes for NCAA women’s hockey’s June meeting, they talked about concern for more transparency in the selection criteria. I'm guessing that probably came about from the surprise of the committee ranking Princeton above Northeastern in the final NCAA tournament selection last year. Has there been any specific talk about that or any talk about changes to that transparency that you've been aware of for the upcoming year?
HCKC: No, I haven't heard anything on that. We talked about it in Naples a little bit but nothing as far as I know has changed. But it was definitely a topic of conversation at the convention that’s for sure.
Thanks once again to Coach Crowley for taking the time to chat with us to preview the upcoming season. You can follow Coach Crowley and the BC Women's Hockey team on Twitter to keep up with the program, and of course check in with BC Interruption for full coverage.
The puck drops on the 2016-2017 scheudle today and Friday at Conte Forum with a pair of exhibition games before the Eagles fly out to Duluth next weekend for the official start to the regular season.