Women's Hockey Playoff Preview

Providence comes into the Women's Hockey East playoffs as a marked team. They are two time Hockey East defending champions and they have this year's number one seed. Their first round opponent is Boston College. The winner of that game will face the winner of the Connecticut and New Hampshire game for the title.

PC won 3 of 4 regular season games against the Eagles, sweeping a pair in December and splitting the February games. Boston College is much improved over past seasons. This is their first post season action since 2002 when all the teams in the old ECAC East were in the playoffs. They were eliminated at that time by Northeastern in the quarterfinals 4-0.

Boston College finished the season 10-19-4, but finished the season with a 5-4-1 run. That is a significant improvement from the 6-22-3 record for the 2003-04 season.

The Eagle's strength is their young players. They played 9 freshmen and 3 sophomores regularly. These include the keys to their rise from last place to a playoff spot. Their top scorers are freshmen Debbie Spillane of Franklin Mass and Sarah Feldman of Fall River. The pair combined for 34 of BC's 74 goals

Their linemate for most of the season, another freshman, Colleen Harris, accounted for 9 more of the BC goals. She now anchors the second line that includes converted freshman defender Cristin Stuart and Lee-J Mirasolo, another freshman. This line functions as the checking line against the other team's top line. Spillane and Feldman are playing with senior Kerri Sanders, who ended up as the team's 3rd leading scorer. The Eagles can cobble together a 3rd line to put fresh legs on and rest the top two lines. The biggest threat on this line would be Michelle Lombardi.

Providence as the home team will have last change thus may try to skate power line against power line and let their greater forward depth wear down the Eagle's offense. PC's other choice is to split the top line up and let BC put their checking line on Zimmerman and Watrous and match the Eagle's top line with their best checking forwards, Thatcher and Greaves.

The Boston College defense improved as the year went along. There are 3 freshmen playing regularly on defense, Erin Blood, Rachel Wedig and Kim Meagher. They are paired up with the veteran combination of senior captain Sarah Carlson and junior Jill McInnis.

Unlike PC's defense which takes an active part in their offense the BC defense are generally stay at home defensive defensemen. As a team they have only 6 goals and 28 assists. Still in the 4 games against the Friars they got 2 goals. BC seems to realize the key to beating the PC is to get the puck on net, quantity rather then quality has seemed to help them score in their previous games against PC. PC's defense also only has 6 goals, but has set up another 51. Three of the PC defenders rank among the league's top 5 scoring defensemen. The more that PC can open up the game and get the defenders involved in the offense the better and more numerous PC's scoring chances will be.

BC's turn around this season really stems from deciding that Alison Quandt is their number 1 goalie. All down the stretch she has played strong, usually seeing more action then her opposite number. That in part will be the key for PC's goaltending. Amy Thomas often has had limited work and has suffered from a letdown in concentration. If Thomas can stay focused and play a solid game so that the defense feels comfortable venturing deep into the offensive zone PC should be able to get enough quality chances to get an early lead and then capitalize on BC's failed gambles. However if Quandt has a strong game like she played at Schneider in February and can keep PC off the board till late in the game PC will be very wary of the situation. They tend to become more conservative when playing late in a close game and then the game could turn on a single mistake either way, as the game at Schneider did in February.

BC regularly dresses a full complement of players but their depth is questionable beyond the top 12 players. The Friars can send out 2 very strong lines and have a solid freshman 3rd line. Often PC will double shift one of their top forwards so they put a look of skating 4 lines out there. This also creates match up problems. PC offensively is led by the 2nd and 3rd leading scorers in Hockey East, Karen Thacher and Rush Zimmerman. Since her injury in late January Sonny Watrous has cooled off. Katelynn Laffin, Christina Redmond, and Hilary Greaves are veteran forwards who have made contributions in previous tournament games. Defensively PC has senior Danielle Bourgette and Emily Gryp who have played meaningful minutes in many big games. They also have Kathleen Smith who seems to prove the adage about freshmen after a full season. She is playing at a level way above her experience.

In the other match up second seed UNH faces off against upstart Connecticut. Connecticut is not to be overlooked. They are now a 4th year program and have come on strong. They actually finished only 4 points behind both UNH and Providence. They finished the year 8-1-3. In that period they took 2 games from the Friars and took 3 of 4 points from the Wildcats. They ended the year at 15-11-8.

UConn seems to have found their stride when they settled on a number one goalie. They have chosen to go with junior Kaitlyn Shain. In February she was selected as the Hockey East player of the month. Beside Shain providing a solid last line of defense Connecticut's strength lies in it defense. The key contributors are Natalie Vibert and Alicia Ramolla, both sophomores and senior Caitlin Salazer-Reid.

This year Connecticut found an offense spark in freshman Jaclyn Hawkins. She scored a school record 24 goals for the season. The other offensive notables are seniors Tiffany Owens, Shannon Connolly, Megan McLeod and Angie Wallace. Veteran experience is a big plus for this team. They have 7 seniors and 3 juniors playing regularly. Still they failed to make the playoffs last year and were quickly eliminated in their first two seasons in the league.

This experience though is something UNH does not have. UNH is also not able to field a full complement of players either. Injuries and academics have cut the size of their roster drastically. If Connecticut plays the tough physical game they are capable of and causes UNH to exert extra effort to break the trap Connecticut is know to employ, even if UNH wins the game it may sap a lot out of them.

UNH is the highest rated Hockey East team in the polls (PC is 9th and UConn 10th) at number 8. They were the preseason pick to win the league. Along the way they have been faced with several key injuries. The most devastating was to sophomore Martine Garland. Faced with the loss of their two all star defensemen from last year the loss of Garland has seen them use 3 freshmen regularly on the blueline.

The Wildcats finished the year as the only team in Hockey East to already have 20 wins (21-7-6). However their 6-3-2 finish while good is uncharacteristic. UNH is known for peaking at playoff time.

With a young defense UNH has had to rely on its sophomore goaltender Melissa Bourdon. Bourdon, a native of Quebec, will mostly likely by the conferences 1st team all star goalie. Her ability to recover from other's mistakes will keep UNH in every game.

Offensively UNH is a nice mix of youth and experience. UNH plays only 1 junior and 1 senior. Those two upperclassmen are the keys to the Wildcat offense. Stephanie Jones, the senior, is a one trick pony, but what a trick it is. She is a deadly sniper, leading the Cats with 23 goals. The junior is Lindsay Hansen, Rookie of the year two years ago and a first team all star last year. She is the consummate playmaker, comparable to the Friar's Karen Thatcher.

The youth has also contributed to the UNH offense. Sophomore Nicole Heckle edged out the Friar's top duo for the league scoring title. Three freshman forwards also made major contributions, Taylor Palazeti, Leah Craig, and Jennifer Hitchcock.

UNH has dressed only enough forward to fill 3 lines and only 5 defensemen, four of whom they seem to rely on for most of the minutes. The three lines however can be matched up well with any other team in the tourney's 3 lines or if someone chooses to use a short bench the UNH 3rd line will still hold their own.

For the first time the Hockey East tourney may not come down to just Providence and UNH. The Friars gained an edge by not having to play UConn which is now close to the two perennial powers. However BC for the first time can not be overlooked. To win the Friars will need a strong goaltending performance and some timely goals. They also must curb the amount of time they have to spend killing penalties.

The women's Hockey East tourney will be played Saturday and Sunday at BU's Walter Brown Arena. Providence's semi-final game is at noon. For Friar fans it means a doubleheader at BU. Later that night the men will play game 2 of their quarterfinal game against BU.

Scout Friars Top Stories