The 1997 Broadway adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s which ran for four years on Broadway, reappeared this past weekend in Boston and Providence. On ice. However this wasn’t Disney’s latest recreation but the trials and tribulations of our Lady Wildcats.
Saturday at BU the weekend opened with a solid first period with UNH controlling much of the play. Heather Kashman redirected a Kristine Horn shot on the teams first powerplay to open the scoring at the 8 minute mark. Despite several oportunities to extend that lead, we entered the break with a 1-0 lead.
A disastrous power play at the beginning of the 2nd period allowed BU to control play before capitalizing and tieing the game at the 1:39 mark. That momentum shift carried throughout the period as we yielded two more goals to enter the 3rd down 3-1.
A second power play marker at the 5 minute mark of the 3rd by Kristine Horn brought the Wildcats within one. But another defensive miscue would return BU to a 2 goal advantage and an empty netter sealed the loss in the final minute.
Sunday we travelled down to Providence where this time a disastrous opening and series of breakdowns resulted in a 3-0 deficit in the first four minutes of the game. This was as frustrating a loss as our effort a month earlier at BC. We had moments and shifts where we did some excellent things, but we never put a solid effort together over any stretch of the contest. We traded goals over the last half of the game and wound up on the short end of a 6-2 score.
TAKEAWAYS: The No Spin Zone
1. Defensively: Our blueline continues to make life difficult for themselves with poor decisions and untimely turnovers. Heading into the season I expected the loss of 3 seniors to be a factor for this team. I’ve commented numerous times about the challenges an entering freshman faces at the Division One level. It’s a steep and unforgiving climb. Over the last 10 seasons, we’ve been fortunate with underclassmen having the luxury of playing alongside or behind experienced veterans. Not so this year. Our best blueliner over the last month has been junior Katie Brock. Katie went through her own struggles as a sophomore last year but has regained form and is playing extremely well right now. She’s a plus 3 on the season which is a solid reflection of her play. Sophomore Maggie Hunt has likewise made some huge strides this year. She’s working hard to be more consistent, but parts of her game have really elevated this season. Freshman Brynja Bogan has held her own and continues to be defensively solid. Brynja is a physically strong first year player who handles her assignments with tenacity. It’s remarkable that she’s our second best plus/minus defenseman and net even on the season. She has the potential to really develop into a solid blueliner as she moves forward.
I played forward my entire life. Like all players, I viewed the game through a forwards prism. The view from up front changes dramatically when you step behind the bench. Hockey is a team sport, but it begins and ends with you back end. Every facet of the game is impacted by the blueline and there is no way to hide turnovers, throwaways, missed assignments, poor execution or sloppy play. Compounding all of the above are two critical shortfalls right now: footspeed and decision making. Both resulted in a number of breakdowns over the weekend and teams like Providence and BU have the speed and skill up front to capitalize in these situations.
There is no shortage of challenges heading into a tough final month of contests. We have to get better on the back end if we want to give ourselves a chance to win.
2. Goaltending: No hiding it, netminders play a huge role in every outing. It’s by far the most difficult and least forgiving aspect of the game. Much like our blueline, we’ve had some solid outings. But we lack consistency right now and some of that we can attribute to youth. Of our 12 games to date we’ve had a freshman in net for 9 and 1/2 of those games. There are statistics in the sport of ice hockey that I believe in and save % happens to be one of them. Over the course of a season that number doesn’t lie. After 12 games our combined save % in the net stands at .880. In the women’s game, to have a chance on any given night your goaltenders have to be in the .920% range, unless your team is an offensive juggernaut. Plain and simple we have to get more consistent play in the nets.
A bright spot yesterday was the play of freshman Moe Bradley. After falling behind 4-0 in the 2nd period we inserted Moe into the contest. No warmup, no preparation and in every sense of the word that’s throwing someone into the fire. Moe responded with a stellar effort and competed hard to keep the game from turning uglier than it already was. Our goaltending situation is far from settled and we need someone to step forward and give us more consistency and timely saves than we’ve gotten over the first two months.
3. Special Team’s Play: We haven’t been stellar but this area has shown some bright spots. Over the weekend we managed to go 2-8 on powerplay while our penalty killers held the opposition to 1/11. Special teams aren’t winning games for this squad, but they aren’t losing them either. Overall after a dozen contests we’re our special teams are dead even having generated 8 goals for and yielded 8 goals against. ( 7 + the 1 short hander at BU ).
I’m confident that we’re getting better on both sides of this equation. I see signs that our power play is beginning to create excellent movement in the offensive zone. Our top unit has consisted of 5 forwards which has translated into some difficulty gaining the offensive zone. We clearly need to be sharper and execute better in this area. Once we gain the offensive zone however, both units are generating some solid scoring chances.
Our penalty kill, given our youth and the number of players we’ve pressed into action is a bright spot. To be sure we’ve got to get better at denying zone entry, but our reads and rotation in the defensive zone have prevented our opponents from getting much in the way of momentum offensively. Powerplay’s are much like a five man band of musicians – when they’re in sync and blend their individual strengths seamlessly – they make great music. There is a rhythm to their play and if they unlock it they can really change the complexion of a game. The same holds true for the penalty killers in reverse – their ability to disrupt that rhythm is really critical and I see our units doing just that.
4. Up Front: Our forward play has improved with some tweaking of our line combinations. Junior Kristine Horn has been our best player over the first two months. She leads the team in scoring and shots and has been a bright spot most nights. Sophomore Arielle O’Neil and junior Kristina LaVoie likewise have stepped their games up significantly this season. Points have been hard to come by, but I’ve been impressed with Arielle’s defensive play (+1). We’re getting more balanced efforts out of our lines right now despite scores over the weekend. Losing sophomore Hannah Armstrong for the last three games to injury has made things more challenging for us given our lack of depth. The trend for this club continues to reflect that lack of depth in the 3rd period. In back to back weekend contests, our third periods have seen us badly outshot. Getting through 6 consecutive periods with our numbers right now is clearly a big challenge.
After Sunday’s loss, it was a quiet bus ride home. We don’t have the luxury of looking backwards as we head west this Thursday to Minnesota to face one of the best teams in the country. I’m confident that the team will regroup and respond to the challenge. Onward.