Where did the time go? Holy Cow!?! Wasn’t it just yesterday that exams ended and everyone headed off to spend time with family and friends?? What looked like a long break seemingly evaporated and today, like Rip Van Winkle, I awoke staring at the last week of January and the resumption of classes.
Less than a third of the regular season remains and the playoff scramble is underway in Hockey East. The first half of the season is a distant memory as teams gear up for one league showdown after another in the coming weeks. It’s clearly playoff hockey and we aren’t even in February.
So allow me to catch up with you. So much has unfolded since we closed out the first semester with a 2-2 tie versus ECAC leader Harvard. It would be difficult to summarize the first two and half months in a sentence or paragraph. We experienced one of the most challenging and competitive slate of games in the programs history. To be sure, there were highlights and lowlights. There were plenty of growing pains and battle scars to prove it. But make no mistake what unfolded in October, November and December was a giant step forward individually and collectively. By the time we headed off for Christmas it was clear that as frustrating as some outings were for this group, we were moving in the right direction.
Three weeks can go by in a blink, but still I’m always curious to see how players handle that long a break in the midst of a grinding college schedule. The answer I saw on January 6th was “no problem coach.” I’m always open to rethinking the process and over my 11 seasons with the women’s program I’ve come to the conclusion that so long as your players remain active, the break always serves them well. Coaches are often guilty of ‘overthinking’ the process. A long break in most minds equates to ‘problems’ on the other side. I haven’t experienced that. In fact I’m convinced that in a playing season that spans almost half the calendar year I think the pro’s outweigh the cons. Players return excited and energized. Yeah there is some rust that has to be shed, but all in all traditional thinking of short breaks to avoid losing continuity doesn’t seem to hold true.
After eight days of short, intense practices we took to the road to face Union in our last non league contest and then this past weekend to Connecticut and the push toward the Hockey East playoffs and tournament. Three road games, three hard fought wins. First up was a 4-2 win in Schenectady against a much improved Union club. A two goal performance by freshman blueliner Megan Armstrong lead the way. A balanced attack in Storrs Connecticut this past weekend carried the Wildcats to a pair of important league victories. With nine Hockey East games left in the regular season we find ourselves locked in a tight four team race for one of the four home ice playoff slots.
The team has battled it’s way to a 6-4 -1 record within Hockey East. Statistics at this point of the season usually begin to reflect trends and become more meaningful. After several months of watching our players ‘storming’ through different roles and challenges, this team has settled solidly into the ‘norm’ phase. Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. It’s apparent that our players understand their roles and have bought into carrying them out with determination. Progressing to this stage of the process is what every coach expects, despite the fact that it isn’t easy to attain and always difficult to maintain.
We remain offensively challenged. We understand that we can’t rely on one or two players to take care of our offense. We generate collectively and different players have stepped up on different nights. While we may not be one of the league’s top offensive juggernauts, we are instead one of the most balanced teams in the loop. Defensively we’ve made big strides. It’s been a total team effort in limiting opponents, but the emergence of Jenn Gilligan as our top netminder has been critical. Jenn has been a solid part of the team’s success and currently sports the top save percentage in Hockey East.
Special teams are always critical this time of year and to date both shorthand and powerplay units have demonstrated the ability to affect the outcomes of games. We’ll have to continue to improve in both areas going forward to be successful. To date however the team has done a nice job handling the challenge of executing in both departments.
The real question staring us in the face as we vault into the last three weeks of the regular season is not simply ‘can we maintain.’ No I’m confident that won’t be enough. The big question this time of year is who which teams can find that collective extra gear and ruthless dedication to the cause to push themselves into the final stage of development. “Performing” is much more than simply playing ‘well.’ It’s that special place that as one might expect where a team seems to think as one and elevates their collective game to the highest level. We’ve all witnessed it. Some of us have been fortunate enough to have experienced it. It is the ‘Holy Grail’ of sport.
We have dealt with plenty of adversity this season. Losing Jonna Curtis and Heather Kashman for the entire season to injury has handicapped us offensively. But there is always a silver lining. Jonna will join next year’s freshman class and Heather returns as a sophomore next fall. That bodes well for next year’s journey.
I have loved working with and watching this unique group this season. They have grown immensely. The effort and determination that they’ve displayed has been inspiring. Our coaches are proud to be associated with this team. They have resolve and we are excited about the big challenges ahead. I’d be remiss not to congratulate senior Kristina LaVoie who tallied her 50th goal at UConn over the weekend. Great job Ti! Also, congrats go to freshman defensman Alexis Crossley for being named the Hockey East Freshman of the Month in December. Last but not least to sophomore Jenn Gilligan for being named Co-Defensive player of the week by Hockey East.