BOSTON, Mass. – If the annual Hockey East pre-season poll released on Tuesday is any indication, it should be an exciting year for women’s hockey in Boston. All three intra-city teams were ranked atop the conference, entering its 10th-anniversary season.
With six of the eight first-place votes, the Boston University Terriers were selected as the favorites to win the league title again this year, edging out rivals Boston College and Northeastern. The Eagles garnered 51 points to BU’s 55 while taking the other two top votes.
BU earned its second-straight slot in the NCAA Tournament and advanced to the Frozen Four for the first time in school history, but ultimately lost to Wisconsin in the title game.
The Terriers return senior Jenn Wakefield and sophomore Marie-Philip Poulin, a pair of Canadian skaters who finished second and fifth in league scoring, respectively, last season. North Reading, Mass. native Kerin Sperry returns to Commonwealth Avenue for her sophomore season after a stellar rookie campaign that ended with the league’s Goaltending Champion award.
“Obviously, I think we’ve got a little bit of the target on our backs,” head coach Brian Durocher said during Tuesday’s media teleconference. “To have six people that have been around college hockey for a long time, I’d like to think that we are going to have some excellent leaders.”
Durocher, a former goaltender and later assistant coach under the legendary Jack Parker, had high praise for his senior sniper from Pickering, Ont.
“I don’t really see her role changing drastically,” Durocher said of Wakefield. “She’s somebody who has now been a three-year fantastic player in this league…I think it was 32 goals last year. That’s a career for most people, maybe two careers.”
On the other end of the street, BC captured their inaugural WHEA title last year with a win over Northeastern and enters the new season with seven of their eight leading scorers returning to The Heights. Senior Mary Restuccia collected 22 points in 21 league games last season and is the Eagles’ top returning scorer from a season ago.
The Pennsylvania native joins Reading, Mass. and Governor’s Academy product Alex Carpenter, who will quickly become one of the conference’s top rookies. She is one of seven newcomers to the squad that will still have big shoes to fill with a pair of American Olympic players departing.
“Obviously, we lose two great players in Molly Schaus and Kelli Stack,” said BC head coach Katie King-Crowley, a former Olympian in her own right.
“We have a great core group of players coming back, who played a lot of minutes for us last year and with the addition of our seven new players, I really just like our team. They’re good kids and hard workers.”
The Northeastern Huskies received the highest ranking in program history after finishing third in the poll, just nine points back of BU.
Head coach Dave Flint returns to Huntington Avenue full time for the first time in two years after taking a leave of absence to be with USA Hockey as part of the Women’s National Team.
“This being my fourth year, we probably have the most talented team at least on paper,” Flint said. “We had an exciting finish last year, making it to the Hockey East championship game. We’re looking to build off that.”
The Huskies return 16 players from last season’s team that made its first-ever WHEA title game appearance, including the defending conference Player of the Year in goaltender Florence Schelling.
“This year, we have nine freshmen coming in,” Flint added. “I feel good about where we’re at and where the program has come over the last four years, so I am really looking forward to the season.”
Flint’s recruiting class of nine is headlined by Women’s National Team prospect Kendall Coyne, a native of Palos Heights, Ill., and local Winthrop, Mass. product Chelsea Goll.
Perennial WHEA power Providence places fourth in the ranking, while Connecticut and Vermont snuck into the fifth and sixth slots.
New Hampshire and Maine finished in the poll’s final two spots, which would miss the playoffs at the end of the season.
The league’s season commences on Friday night as Maine hosts Sacred Heart in a two-game series at Alfond Arena. For the first time ever, the 2012 WHEA Championship Tournament makes an appearance at a neutral site on March 3-4 at the Hyannis Youth and Community Center.
Joshua Kummins is the associate editor of BostonSportsU18.com and an InsideHockey.com Hockey East contributor. Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaKummins and contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.