Boston is known as a college hockey town. But in the 14-year history of the NCAA women’s ice hockey championship, no team from the area has won the title.
This year that could change. Three local squads are currently ranked among the top seven in the nation: No. 7 Boston University, No. 6 Harvard and No. 1 Boston College.
Beyond The Beanpot
Since 1979, four colleges from Boston have competed in the Beanpot Tournament to determine which women’s ice hockey team is the best in the city.
You’re jockeying for who's gonna win that first national championship.BC Coach Katie Crowley
But this season, there seems to be even more at stake.
"You’re jockeying for who's gonna win that first national championship," said Boston College head coach Katie Crowley, whose Eagles are undefeated this season.
The high expectations can be largely attributed to the return of five players from the 2014 Sochi Olympics in Russia. Of the seven skaters from the American and Canadian national teams who are now back in the U.S. playing college hockey, five are in Boston: one at Northeastern, one at BU, one at BC and two at Harvard.
But at the Olympics in February, they were all competing on hockey’s grandest stage.
In the gold medal game, the U.S. took a 2-0 lead, but Canada scored twice in the final five minutes of regulation to force overtime. In the extra period, Canadian forward Marie-Philip Poulin netted the game-winner, giving Canada its fourth straight gold medal.
"It was really fun to bring back the gold to Canada that’s for sure," Poulin said. "It’s always special. I think you don’t realize how many people you touch in their lives. It puts me right on Cloud Nine every time I get to talk about it or think about it."
Poulin’s gold medal is stashed back home in Quebec, but she’s now in Massachusetts skating for Boston University, where victory has been elusive in NCAA championship games.
She’s reached the title game twice with BU, but both times the Terriers fell to teams from the Midwest: first Wisconsin in 2011 and then Minnesota in 2013.
Those two teams, along with Minnesota-Duluth, have combined for all but one of the 14 NCAA titles.
"The Midwest has, you have to say, dominated that national championship," Crowley said. "That’s definitely something that I know a lot of East Coast teams think about and want to keep here."
What explains the Midwest’s reign atop women’s hockey?
Playing style is a factor. While Eastern teams are known for speed and finesse, Midwestern squads tend to play a more physical and aggressive game. But Boston's teams may now match up better physically.
Boston College and Team USA forward Alex Carpenter says the Olympic training has better prepared her for a more physical game.
"I remember my first couple games with the national team I would get knocked around," Carpenter said. "So that was one of main focuses was not to get knocked around like that and I think now that I’m more sturdy both on and off the puck that will be an advantage for myself."
Two U.S. Olympians have returned to Harvard: forward Lyndsey Fry and defender Michelle Picard. But the team’s biggest plus is arguably the return of head coach Katey Stone.
[sidebar title="Room For Growth" width="630" align="right"]Pioneering women’s hockey coach Digit Murphy and U.S. captain Meghan Duggan joined Bill Littlefield to discuss the future of women's ice hockey.[/sidebar]After 19 consecutive seasons with the Crimson, she became the first woman to coach the U.S. National Team at the Olympics.
Stone says her two former Olympians bring more than just physical skills.
"The best part of it is that we’ve got kids that have played at a high level with tremendous experience and that’s contagious," she said.
Harvard junior forward Miye D’Oench, who led the Crimson in scoring last season, agrees. She’s glad to have Fry and Piccard back on her side.
"When they step into the ice it's business," D'Oench said. "They do what they need to do and they never take a shift off or a day off or anything and that’s a great example to set for everyone else."
Harvard will get a chance to see just how much that added leadership helps next weekend when they take on Northeastern and top-ranked Boston College.
Crowley says her players have been eyeing that game against the Crimson.
"I know our kids know on the schedule where Northeastern is, where BU is, where we play Harvard," she said. "Everyone’s trying to be the best in Boston."
And this year, for the first time in NCAA women's hockey history, being the best in Boston could mean a national championship.
This segment aired on November 22, 2014.