Women's Hockey: 'Cats have a shot against BC

By Max Sullivan
On February 28, 2014

The UNH Wildcat's have a mountain to climb, but they have one thing going for them- they're not your typical eight seed. 

"I wouldn't want to be BC, having earned the number one seed, and they've got to play UNH in the first round," Northeastern head coach Dave Flint said after Sunday's UNH-NU contest. "Because [UNH is] a good team. They've got some good players."

That will be the matchup Friday in Chestnut Hill, Mass. where the Boston College Eagles will host the Wildcats, one of only two teams in Hockey East to have beaten them in the regular season.

In addition to that win at BC on Oct. 16, the Wildcats nearly took the season series on Jan. 26. They led in that game for most of the second period, and they did not allow BC to break the tie until the final two minutes. 

22 losses, injuries to key players and a fired head coach make for a heavy load on any team's back, though, and there's no telling whether or not that load will cripple the Wildcats in tonight's game. 

On top of their most recent woes, talented freshman forward Cassandra Vilgrain was injured last weekend and will not be available tonight. She scored three goals in three games against BC this year, as well as an assist.

On Sunday, Flint went on to say how bad seasons can snowball, demoralizing even the best athletes. Co-head coach Jamie Wood made similar remarks that afternoon. In that day's game, sophomore Alexis Crossley, one of the Wildcats' best offensive defensemen, had the puck stolen from her during a UNH line change, resulting in a breakaway by NU's Brittany Esposito. The Husky scored, adding to a 4-2 loss.

"A lot of the issues that we've had all year, and the fact that we have six of our regular players in the stands with injuries, ... we're just really, really physically tired today," Wood said after Sunday's loss.  "We just couldn't overcome that fatigue. ... Those are the kinds of mistakes that you make when you're not fresh, and normally we would never make a play like that, and it was a play that was one of our better players."

A similar play took place the Sunday before that, when Vermont's Brittany Zuback stole the puck on a lazy pass by junior defenseman Jess Ryan and skated up to UNH goaltender Marie-Eve Jean with no Wildcats in-between to defend. Zuback scored easily.

It appears that momentary lapses, rather than long periods of poor play, are what have killed the dinged up Wildcats this season. Many of their last 10 losses were victories that slipped through their grasps at the last minute.

Still, the UNH players remain hopeful that they can find luck in this week's one game quarterfinal. A win would save their season.

"[We need to] forget about everything that's happened this year, from this game to everything else," Broderick said Sunday after their loss to Northeastern. "We have one game left, and all we can really focus on is just going out with a bang and just keep on going out as far as we can. Nothing in the past really matters at this moment." 

The margin for error will be small Friday as BC has some of the best skill players in the nation. Haley Skarupa, Andie Anastos, Emily Field and Taylor Wasylk all rank among Hockey East's top 10 in point-scoring. Skarupa, who missed the last two games of the UNH-BC series, has the third most points in the conference with 23. Anastos is tied for fourth in assists with 21, and she just earned Hockey East Rookie of the Week for going 3-2-5 in two games against the No. 11 Boston University.

These players can be a handful, but the Wildcats say they have an idea of how to stop them. 

"We talk a lot about [beating these types of players] practice," Ryan said. "Stick on stick, body on body; so, basically, just watch the body and she's going to try and put it through your legs and everything, but if you just maintain her she can't really get anywhere."

"I try to stay patient with them and just try to stick to my plan," sophomore goaltender Vilma Vaattovaara said. "I really approach them just as I would any other player. Otherwise, I feel like I might let a fourth liner score, if I'm too focused on them or the other way around, if I get intimidated by them."

Vaattovaara will start her first collegiate post-season game for the Wildcats tonight. After starting in 16 games this season, Vaattovaara said she's learned a lot about mental strength. She cited her performance against Providence on Nov. 7, in which she gave up two soft first period goals. She admitted she was frustrated in that period, still dwelling on an exam she had taken hours before, but she managed to regain focus. As a result, she stopped all 17 shots she faced in the second and third periods. The Wildcats won that game 4-2, and the night still stands as a turning point in her mind.

The Finnish goalie learned she'd be starting about a week and a half ago, she said. After two periods on Saturday against NU, when the score was tied 3-3, co-head coach Jamie Wood pulled goaltender Ashley Wilkes so Vaattovaara could get one more period of preparation in before tonight's game.

On the other end of the rink, BC's Corinne Boyles boasts a conference leading 1.83 goals against average and a 22-5-1 record this season. In this year's Bean Pot final, she shut out two-time Bean Pot champion NU to give her team the win.

UNH's offense showed life this past weekend against NU. Senior forward Jessica Hitchcock scored two goals on Saturday and an assist on Sunday. Senior forward and captain Nicole Gifford notched three assists in the two games, two on Saturday, one on Sunday.

The Wildcats have plenty to overcome, but they don't feel hopeless.

"Anyone can win," Gifford said. "I'm not nervous. I'm excited for us. It's going to be a challenge, and I think we'll rise to it."

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