By Kat Hasenauer Cornetta
Hat tricks make the headlines, but what has made Boston College women’s hockey a national contender this season has been an increased emphasis on defense.
Senior captain Blake Bolden is a perfect example of the shift in the Eagles’ thinking. Known as a strong offensive defenseman in her first three seasons, Bolden has a clearer focus this winter.
“I am not as offensive as I used to be in past seasons, because we have such great forwards,” said the Euclid, Ohio, native. “So I’ve been focusing on my defensive game.”
Emily Pfalzer, Bolden’s defensive partner, believes the new emphasis has sparked her team’s strong performance.
“I think we’ve played really well,” said the sophomore from outside of Buffalo, N.Y. “We’ve focused on defensive zone play and in the corners. Just working as a unit as a whole has gotten better. We’re trusting with each other to get the job done.”
Boston College boasts one of the strongest defensive units in the nation, statistically and anecdotally. The Eagles possess the third-best scoring differential in the nation of 2.68 goals per game. The Eagles have been able to shut down some of the nation’s most prolific goal scorers. On Halloween,
they horrified a flying-high Boston University team, negating all Terrier forwards but Marie-Philip Poulin in a 7-1 win, then outplayed them to a 5-5 tie a few nights later. In late November, BC shut down Quinnipiac’s top line of Nicole Kosta, Kelly Babstock and Erica Uden Johansson. In early January, BC stymied Northeastern’s Kendall Coyne and Cornell’s Jillian Saulnier and Lauriane Rougeau, all dangerous scorers with national recognition this season.
Bolden knows exactly how the Eagles are succeeding in negating those offensive powers.
“We’re working really hard man on man. Mainly we’re keeping offenses on the outside,” explained Bolden. “We play 15 seconds of man on man, gutty work, and hopefully we get them to turn the puck over.”
Preseason, both Pfalzer and Bolden understood that their offensive contributions were not going to be as key as past years, so they placed an increased emphasis on honing their defensive skills. Those drills and improvements continue during the season. “I definitely have worked on my defensive-zone play and coming out of the corners and playing stick on stick,” said Pfalzer.
But both are quick to point out that their unit’s new defensive-first focus hasn’t completely separated the offense and the defense. Bolden is still serving in her helper role, dishing out 16 assists as of Jan. 19. That stat helps Bolden sit among the national top 10 in defenseman points per game, and she leads Hockey East in that category. The entire defense also sits in the top 10 for scoring defense, with a mark of 47 goals this season, more than the total offenses of three of their conference mates.
And Pfalzer loves to point out that fellow sophomore Alex Carpenter (Reading, Mass.), who is on a program record 20-game point scoring streak, is an amazing defenseman when she is needed.
“All of our forwards do a good job in the defensive zone,” Pfalzer said. “As a center, Carpenter plays man on man with us. And when she can get down low, no one gets by her.”
There is a genuine excitement among Pfalzer, the usually more reserved Bolden and their teammates this season. After a rough start to the season where several players mentioned that a team bond was a little slow to form, they used a “hurricane day” in late October to strengthen connections off the ice. Once that trust and understanding was built, they started on a tear that has yet to let up. That developed enthusiasm shows on and off the ice and is evident in how Pfalzer and Bolden talk about each other.
“Emily and I love playing together,” said Bolden. “We know how each other plays and what we need to do.”
“I definitely looked up to Blake,” said Pfalzer. “She’s a strong leader and we play well together. She’s a vocal leader as well as a silent leader when she plays. She leads by example.”
Upon graduation this spring, Bolden hopes she won’t leave her mark only on Pfalzer and the other defensemen, but on the entire team. “I hope that in the future people can say that Blake Bolden was a great teammate,” she said. “She showed grit, she worked hard and she was there for her teammates whenever they needed to be picked up, because that’s what I’ve always tried to do.”
After two consecutive Frozen Four appearances, Boston College is eager to reel in an elusive national championship.
“My freshman year, I don’t even think we had a winning season,” she laughed. “So to now have two Frozen Four appearances in a row is great. I’m really happy that I have had the chance to be around an improving program.
“We want to win a national championship. We’ve won a lot of tournaments, like Beanpots, but now it’s time for a new championship path.”