There are four women's college hockey teams left standing this week, and two of those teams are from Boston.
Third ranked Boston University and fourth ranked Boston College advanced to the Division I Frozen Four after winning their semifinals in two of their best played games of the season. Key to both teams’ quarterfinal wins was success on the penalty kill.
Boston College not only was able to limit their penalties, but was able to kill off three of the four they did commit in their 3-1 win over Harvard. The Eagles strength comes from playing a team defense. Blake Bolden showed why she's earned praise on defense through her four years at the Heights, but their young defensemen, like her defensive partner Emily Pfalzer, are also able to keep the pressure on opposing offenses. And top line forwards Haley Skarupa and Alex Carpenter (Reading, Mass.) are outstanding defensive forwards who aren’t afraid to block shots.
That team defense is key to Boston College goaltender Corrine Boyles, who isn't having too shabby of a year herself. Boyles made 30 saves against the Crimson, swallowing up a few shots that looked destined for the net.
“I think our D-zone was great,” said Boyles post-game. “We were picking up lot of sticks, which was awesome, and blocking a lot of shots, and getting our sticks down, which made my job a lot easier.”
The Eagles paired their team defense with continuing to fire at will on offense. You don’t hear a lot of overeager fans breaking out the “Shoot!” chant against this year's BC team, because the Eagles take every shooting opportunity they can. Be it up close and personal, or slap shots from the top of the face-off circles, you can never say the Eagles don't shoot.
“Our game plan (against Harvard) was to throw pucks on net,” said Bolden. “It was really exciting to see the grind and the hustle of our forwards to put those pucks in the net.”
The full 60 minute effort head coach Katie King Crowley got from her team Saturday is the same effort they will need in their semifinal game against undefeated Minnesota (6 p.m. Friday), who finally showed a bit of a human side by needing three overtimes to defeat North Dakota in their quarterfinal.
Bolden says that despite the unstoppable force that the undefeated Gophers (39-0-0) look to be, the Eagles are ready. “It's what we've been waiting for all year.”
Boston University’s 5-3 win against Clarkson in the quarterfinals was all about the special teams and defense in the third period. Louise Warren put on a forechecking clinic in the last few minutes of the game. After scoring what would turn out to be the game-winning goal, she singlehandedly limited several Golden Knight chances in two late-game penalties.
The penalty kill was noted by Terriers head coach Brian Durocher as one of the strongest parts of their game against Clarkson. Despite giving the Golden Knights five power play opportunities, they were able to kill them all.
“This is the 3rd game in a row that we've been able to kill penalties,” Durocher said.
Marie-Philip Poulin is the driving force of this year's Terriers team, making plays and spurring on teammates like freshman Sarah Lefort. Poulin credits her team's cohesiveness for their success this late in the season.
“We're communicating well with each other,” she said.
Boston University will take on Mercyhurst in Friday’s semifinals (9 p.m. EST), a familiar NCAA Tournament opponent for the Terriers. The two have met twice in the NCAA quarterfinals over the last four years, splitting those games. Strong defense and penalty killing will be needed to limit the chances of the Lakers' Christine Bestland, who has 71 points on the season, including 10 power play goals (good for third in the nation).
Player of the Week
Stephanie Ciampa, senior, goaltender, Mercyhurst College (Peabody, Mass.)
Ciampa helped the Mercyhurst Lakers make it to their third Frozen Four in history, making 29 saves in her team’s surprising 4-3 overtime win over second ranked Cornell. Ciampa, an alumna of Tabor Academy, has a 20-1-0 record heading into the Lakers’ semifinal tilt with Boston University, and boasts a 1.44 goals against average, the third best in the nation.
Ciampa has had success despite limited starting experience - she only started two games in 2011-12. She credits working on her mental game as the key to her success so far this season. “You really have to focus and stay consistent for your teammates,” said Ciampa in January.
Game of the Week
It is hard to just pick one of the two NCAA Frozen Four semifinal games, but if for some reason you can only watch one, you may want to pick by country allegiance.
The Minnesota-Boston College semifinal will be a showcase of players who are likely to be considered for the 2014 U.S. Olympic Team. Four members of the Eagles were participants in December's National Team Winter Training Camp, and Gophers' Amanda Kessel and Megan Bozek played alongside them there.
Meanwhile, event organizers may want to consider breaking out “O Canada” before the Boston University-Mercyhurst semifinal. Both teams are chock full of stellar Canadians with international team experience, like Poulin, Jenelle Kohanchuk and Mercyhurst's Bestland.
1) Boston University (27-5-3 overall) - The Terriers are on a nine game winning streak going into their NCAA semifinal. Lefort earned her second consecutive Hockey East Rookie of the Week award after scoring two goals against Clarkson.
2) Boston College (27-6-3) - The Eagles are in their third consecutive Frozen Four. Blake Bolden only needs two points to pass Genevieve Missirlian as the high scoring defenseman in program history.
3) Harvard (24-7-3 overall) - The Crimson jumped out to a quick lead in their NCAA quarterfinal, but couldn't hold onto the lead despite controlling the puck through much of the second half of the game. “We were just a step behind them,” said Harvard coach Katey Stone. “We were hesitant.”
4) Northeastern (23-11-2 overall) - Had Northeastern made a NCAA quarterfinal, I'm convinced that their late-season motivation and firepower would have propelled them through to the Frozen Four. They were an outstanding team to watch throughout the season.
5) Quinnipiac - (20-12-4 overall) – Quinnipiac’s athletic programs are having an outstanding year across the board, and despite their women's hockey team not making the ECAC semifinals, they return so much of their core that they should be a force to be reckoned with again next season.