February always gets me in a playoff frame of mind. Everywhere you look from high school to small college winter sports, teams begin gearing up for their respective tournaments.
After a decade plus of involvement with women’s collegiate ice hockey I admit however I still feel somewhat ambushed by the sudden reality that the season is nearing an end. Five games remain to close out the 2012-13 regular season. Five games in 12 days. In the blink of an eye we’ll be facing a one game sudden death contest to keep our season alive. For players, coaches and fans it’s difficult to savor the moment with such intense action coming rapid fire.
Our team has grown immensely since September. It has been challenging in every way imaginable. I’ve written several times about being offensively challenged. After nearly 30 contests we understand this as a reality we have to embrace. Fortunately we have improved dramatically as a defensive unit over the past six months. Special teams have grown tremendously as well. We aren’t dominant on one side or the other, rather effective and balanced. Our power play units generate quality scoring chances; our penalty killing is solid and reliable. It’s interesting to note that we are the least penalized team in Hockey East. That’s helpful but the net result is that we don’t get as many advantage opportunities as our opponents. How can that be you ask? Generally teams that take fewer penalties, get fewer man advantage opportunities. Call it human nature but officials tend not to like enforcing a heavily unbalanced advantage one way or the other. You just don’t see many games where one side has two times the power plays. It happens, just not regularly. So while we’ve killed fewer power plays night in and night out, we’ve also had fewer man advantage opportunities. We’ve managed to take less than half as many penalties as the most penalized club. But we’ve also received the fewest number of power play opportunities.
Here are some numbers:
Offensive rank — 6th in Hockey East
Defensive rank —- 2nd in Hockey East
Power Play rank — 3rd/4th in Hockey East
Penalty Kill rank — 2nd in Hockey East
At this point of the season these numbers reflect patterns and trends that are indicative of areas of strength and weakness. But they don’t always reflect the whole picture. Teams are an evolution. Year long numbers are averages and can obscure a developing strength or a telling weakness. The take away for me is that we benefit by staying true to our defense first approach, but need to continue probing ways to generate more offense. Sometimes the KISS principle fits the bill and I’d say that applies here. One thing we keep stressing is the old standby of taking shots when we get the puck into scoring areas. Too often this year we’ve passed up quality shooting opportunities looking for the perfect play. The poster child for taking the shot when it’s there has to freshman Brittany Redlick who’s scored 6 times this year with a limited amount of ice time. Brittany takes the puck to the net hard and shoots whenever she gets the opportunity in the offensive zone.
So many of our players have shown a lot of improvement and growth this second half. Caroline Broderick has impressed with her play and most importantly has become a reliable presence in our lineup. Caroline had to adjust to the center position this year and she’s played a instrumental role in keeping us three lines deep. She’s gained a lot of confidence and is playing the best hockey of her young career. Sophomore redshirt Hannah Armstrong has been a force the past few weeks both offensively and defensively. Hannah suffered an early injury last season which forced her to sit out most of the year. After a year off, she’s worked hard to contribute in virtually every facet of team play, including scoring goals. On Monday in our makeup game with the University of Connecticut, Hannah scored her first career hat trick. She was a force on both ends of the ice and has certainly taken her game to a new level.
Two seniors that have been critical to our success this year have been Kristina LaVoie and Kailey Chappell.
Kristina has been our offensive catalyst almost every night, while Kailey has done a fabulous job of settling a very young and inexperienced blueline. Kailey is such a smart, heady player who leads by example. Both her and Kristina have played some of their best hockey in a Wildcat uniform this year.
On the very back end I have to commend our goaltending unit for their commitment, work ethic and mature handling of a major challenge, without the drama or selfishness you see all too often these days.. Most of you know that we are carrying two sophomore and two freshmen netminders this season. All four have seen action, but as one would expect it hasn’t been easy or without some bumps and bruises. Sophomore Jenn Gilligan has shouldered much of the duty since Christmas break after finishing the first half with several strong wins. She was named Hockey East Goalie of the month for January.
Freshman Marie-Eve Jean spelled Jenn at UVM two weeks ago helping us rebound for a big road win after dropping the opening game of the two game set. Goaltending has been a integral part of our defensive numbers this year and we have clearly improved in this critical position. I can’t take any credit for what Coach Frye and our four netminders have accomplished through hard work and perseverance.
With five games remaining, we’re in a battle to gain one of the two remaining home ice playoff berths. Providence, Northeastern and UNH are going to get an early taste of playoff hockey. We face-off with the Friars in a two game set this coming weekend; Northeastern and the Friars close out the last weekend with a two game set of their own. Currently we sit tied for fourth with the Huskies, while PC sits one point ahead in third place. With head to head series remaining, it’s safe to say the remaining two home playoff slots will be decided on the ice.
I hope that many of you get to watch the team compete over the next two weekends. I am proud to be associated with this outstanding group of competitors. They have represented themselves, our program and the university with class and pride to date. Here’s hoping our best hockey is yet to come. Onward!