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Canton’s Hilary Witt right at home with Northeastern women’s hockey program

Hilary Witt

Witt right at home as coach at NU

The Northeastern women’s hockey team, unlike the men’s program, has been a force in the Beanpot since the tournament’s inception in 1979, winning 15 titles.

But the Huskies were in a bit of drought, last raising the trophy in 1998, the same season that Canton’s Hilary Witt (inset) closed out what was a magnificent career on the ice at NU.

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On Tuesday night, Northeastern claimed a nail-biting 4-3 overtime win over Boston University for the title, on a goal by junior captain Casey Pickett, which, as BU coach Brian Durocher pointed out, was no fluke, just a “real good hockey play by super hockey players.’’

But there’s more to the story than what happened on the ice at Walter Brown Arena that night.

In 2010, Witt decided to leave her post as the head coach at Yale, a position she had held for eight years (winning more games than anyone in program history) to join Dave Flint’s staff on Huntington Avenue. She also yearned to be back in the area, closer to friends and family.

“Hilary has helped us in so many ways,’’ said Linda Lundrigan, her fellow assistant coach at NU.

Before the 2010-2011 season, Pickett was starting to question her ability as a player. A graduate of St. Mark’s School (where she led the Independent School in scoring in ’07 and ’08), she had scored 10 goals the year before, her freshman season, but her lack of confidence was getting in her way. It’s not that she was playing poorly, but the potential her coaches once saw was still just that - untapped and waiting to be set free.

When Witt (the Huskies’ all-time leading scorer) returned to Northeastern and saw Pickett play, she couldn’t help but notice that potential.

“The first thing she ever said to me was, ‘You’re going to have to a 20-goal season this year,’ ’’ Pickett said. “And I just laughed at her. That was absurd.’’

Pickett netted just 20 points last season (10 goals, 10 assists). But what Witt saw from the 5-foot-4 forward in the later parts of last season - the stick work, decision-making, and finishing ability - convinced her that Pickettt was ready to be a star.

And this season, after two years under the watchful eye of Witt, Pickett has been sensational, with 16 goals and 22 assists in a 19-6-3 start for the seventh-ranked Huskies.

Her breakout moment came on Tuesday night, in overtime of the biggest game of the season, when Kendall Coyne fed her a pass to create a breakaway against BU goalie Kerrin Sperry.

“Last year, she was pressing,’’ Lundrigan said of Pickett. “She was just missing those shots. That’s another area where someone like Hilary has been hugely instrumental in boosting Casey’s confidence, telling her to be patient and calm.’’

“My big issue has always been confidence,’’ Pickett said. “And [Witt] always had more confidence in me than I’ve had in myself.’’

There was certainly no lack of poise in Pickett’s trophy-winning goal - a quick deke to her backhand before flipping the puck past the diving Sperry.

“I’ve been trying to work with her a little bit on her release and shooting the puck and trusting her offensive skills,’’ Witt said of Pickett. “And of course, being confident in herself.’’

Witt’s transition from head coach to assistant has been seamless. She can spend more time working with individual players on the offensive side and she loves it. Lundrigan said the two joke about it often - “Another time why I’m so glad to be an assistant,’’ they say.

But joking aside, Witt’s been quite the addition to the NU staff.

“She’s a great role model,’’ Lundrigan said. “She’s never claimed to be the prettiest player or anything, but when she’s the all-time leading scorer, I was excited for players to look up to her and say, ‘Hey, I want to be that.’ ’’

Loud voice suits Weymouth’s Carey

Weymouth’s Paul Carey (Thayer Academy) played a pivotal role in the Boston College men advancing to tomorrow night’s Beanpot final against BU.

In last Monday’s 7-1 win over Northeastern, Carey netted the first goal in an opening period which BC coach Jerry York thought was otherwise dominated by the Huskies. But Carey may have never scored if not for his loud mouth.

“I cut up the middle and Paul was just screaming,’’ said BC forward Johnny Gaudreau, who assisted on the goal with a no-look drop pass on a break-in. “I would’ve never known where he was if he didn’t use his mouth.’’

Carey, a senior assistant captain who was drafted by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, has 13 goals and 13 assists this season.

Here and there

Fontbonne Academy grad Taylor Shepherd is having an immediate impact on the Salve Regina women’s hockey team. The freshman (8 goals, 5 assists) from Quincy registered a point in all three games last week, including a team-high three goals.

Jeff Linn has been named executive director of the Weymouth Club fitness center. A Braintree resident, Linn has served as the Weymouth Club’s assistant executive director since 2006. He replaces Rich Synnott.

A tip of the cap to Oliver Ames senior wrestler Matt Harding (182 pounds), who is the first Ames grappler to earn 100 career wins. He also added a Division 2 South title at Whitman-Hanson this past weekend.

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