Kennedy Rink in Hyannis hosts the women’s Hockey East Tournament this weekend. Call it destination hockey, as all four teams take to the road in search of the conference championship.
Three nationally ranked squads spice the tournament: No. 4 Boston University takes on unranked Providence at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in one semifinal, and No. 2 Boston College faces No. 10 Northeastern at 3:30 in the other.
Only the winner gets an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The others will have to wait for the selection committee to fill out the eight-team field.
In the first game, regular-season champion and top seed BU (24-5-3, 18-2-1) charges in on an 18-2-2 run, including a six-game winning streak and a 5-1 victory over Connecticut in the quarterfinals, while the Friars (15-5-5, 8-10-3) approach less securely with four losses in their last six games. But Providence’s comeback victory in overtime against New Hampshire put the fifth seed into its 11th straight Hockey East semifinal. So, while the team is young, with eight freshmen and six sophomores, coach Bob Deraney’s program has history. Senior Nicole Anderson leads the offense with a career-high 35 points, including 19 goals.
Defending champion BU, meanwhile, has depth on the front line; five of the top nine conference scorers are Terriers, led by Marie-Philip Poulin with 11 goals and 22 assists (15 goals and 31 assists overall).
BU has been consistently strong this season; its only two losses in the last 15 games came at the Beanpot, and those missteps were difficult for the seniors, who have reached the NCAA Tournament for three straight years and coveted the midseason trophy.
“They were gunning for that [Beanpot],’’ said coach Brian Durocher. “And when it didn’t happen, it really carried over. There was definitely a feeling of frustration and pressure. Since that time, I feel like we’re playing pretty well.’’
That’s not good news for Providence, which lost to BU three times during the regular season, giving up 17 goals. Poulin and Jenelle Kohanchuk have been the fuel in BU’s last four games, Kohanchuk collecting seven goals and four assists and Poulin a goal and eight assists.
“In some ways, [the Friars] are playing with a little bit of house money,’’ Durocher said. “People know the other three teams have been ranked all year.’’
Providence won’t surprise BU. “We’re a bit of a veteran team,’’ Durocher said, “and that’s helped us with ups and downs during the year.’’
The second semifinal between second-seeded BC (26-5-3, 17-2-2) and third seed Northeastern (22-10-2, 13-7-1) is a rematch of the Beanpot final, won by the Huskies, 4-3. The rivalry is highlighted by two of the nation’s top scorers, soon to be teammates on the United States squad for the world championships. BC’s Alex Carpenter (31 goals, 37 assists) is strong and smart and seems always to be in the right place and NU’s Kendall Coyne (35 goals, 30 assists) is a dynamic skater, never in one place for very long.
The sophomores were 1-2 in conference scoring, with Carpenter first at 25-23—48 and Coyne just behind at 21-22—43. Carpenter’s linemate, Haley Skarupa, whose overtime goal saved BC in its 2-1 quarterfinal victory against Maine, is third at 15-22—37, and Coyne’s linemate Casey Pickett is fifth at 15-16—31. The game may be determined by which offense is able to shake loose first.
“[Coyne’s] line can be a game-changer,’’ said Northeastern coach Dave Flint. “They’re explosive and dynamic, one of the best lines in the conference, if not in the country.’’
After withstanding a slew of injuries, the Huskies have peeled off an eight-game winning streak, claiming everything since their Beanpot title, and outscoring opponents, 38-13. They dispatched Vermont, 5-1, in the quarterfinals, Coyne collecting four points.
Still, BC is the team to beat. The Eagles are second only to Minnesota’s juggernaut in scoring at 4.5 goals per game. The Beanpot loss is long gone, if not forgotten.
“I think we’ll probably be a little more prepared,’’ said BC coach Katie King Crowley. “[NU is] definitely a feisty team and they have a lot at stake in these games relative to the national tournament. So do we, nothing is guaranteed. I’m confident of our kids’ competitiveness. I expect nothing less from them.’’