BU Today

Sports

Building a winner

The following story is part one of a three-part series on women’s hockey at BU. Parts two and three will be published Wednesday, October 12, and Thursday, October 13, respectively.

Freshman Gina Kearns shrugs and smiles when she is called a pioneer, but the fact remains that she is one of the “founding daughters” of the BU varsity women’s hockey program. Indeed, this year she was the first player on the team to accept a full scholarship from the University.

Kearns (CAS’09), one of five scholarship players on the squad, knows the Terriers probably won’t hit their stride until her senior year, when BU will have the NCAA maximum 18 scholarships. In the meantime, she’s looking forward to helping Coach Brian Durocher (SED’79), a former Terrier goaltender and men’s team assistant coach, build a winner on Babcock Street.

“It’s exciting to be a part of BU’s first varsity women’s hockey team,” says the forward from Norwood, Pa. “I wanted to step in and contribute right away as a freshman. That was a big factor in why I chose to come here.”

The thrill of starting from scratch is also one of the reasons Durocher accepted the job, and he’s confident that by his fourth season “we’ll have a very competitive team that will challenge in Hockey East and hopefully be on the national map.” He predicts that the Terriers’ progression will mirror the rise of such new teams as Clarkson University and the University of Connecticut. Clarkson posted a respectable 2004-2005 record of 13-15-17 in its second year in Division I and qualified for the Eastern College Athletic Hockey League playoffs in its first year as a member of the 11-team league.

“UConn, in its fourth year in Hockey East last season, made it to the conference championship game,” Durocher says.

Kick-starting a team

“The upgrading of women’s hockey to varsity status has been a round-the-clock investment of the department of athletics’ time and resources,” says Mike Lynch, assistant vice president and director of athletics. “So much goes on behind the scenes. Repairs had to be done to Walter Brown Arena to ensure that it will remain a first-rate facility for Division I women’s hockey. We also had to put together marketing and promotion plans, set ticket prices, print tickets and programs, purchase uniforms and equipment, and hire a head coach and assistant coaches. And I am confident that we’ve hired a superb coaching staff.”

As far as recruiting is concerned, it takes aggressiveness and cunning to compete with the more established programs, but as an assistant men’s coach, Durocher has nearly three decades of experience luring players to BU, American International College, Colgate, and Brown. “I like to think that in my years of recruiting I’ve gained a lot of knowledge in this aspect of hockey,” he says. “In college sports, recruiting is your lifeline, and time will tell how well we’ve done this year.”

Durocher looks for both talent and character in his players. After all, a quick skater with good hands does the team no good if she’s selfish and uncoachable. He has much praise for Kearns and the four other scholarship players, Cara Hendry (CAS’07), a junior transfer center from Minnestoa State Mankato, freshman defenseman Amanda Shaw (SMG’09) from St. Thomas, Ontario, freshman forward Erin Seman (SMG’09) from Anoka, Minn., and freshman goaltender Allyse Wilcox (CGS’07) from Grand Blanc, Mich. Durocher says that Seman is a gifted scorer with a rugged style he compares to former Boston Bruin Cam Neely. He is also impressed with Shaw’s experience playing for Michigan’s powerhouse Honeybaked under-19 team.

Any questions Durocher might have about launching a varsity program could probably be answered by Nancy Feldman. When she was hired as BU’s first women’s varsity soccer coach in 1995, she was determined to take her Terriers to the NCAA Tournament in five years. And it almost happened. A 2-1 postseason loss to Hartford in 1999 foiled her plans, but the following year BU was not to be denied. Feldman’s team made back-to-back appearances in the NCAA Tournament in 2000 and 2001 and then went back to the dance in 2003.

Feldman says that building a new program into a national power involves recruiting players “who will help establish a winning environment.” In evaluating a potential Terrier, she looks also for a student “who is a good fit for BU. It’s not going to help a new team or the University if the student-athlete is here for a year or two and then she flunks out or transfers. Fortunately, we had a solid group in our first three years. They weren’t as strong as some of the players we’re recruiting now, but they had great personalities, were good students, and they were determined to make their mark.”

The right stuff?

Durocher is pleased with the group of Terriers chosen to get BU’s varsity hockey program off the ground. Although some of the nonscholarship players are unknown commodities, so was a men’s hockey Terrier by the name of John Curry (CAS’07). The walk-on goaltender, recruited by Durocher, played a little more than five minutes as a freshman third-stringer. Last season, however, after stellar performances against Michigan, Boston College, and UMass, the sophomore earned top billing at BU and ended up regarded as one of the best goaltenders in the nation. Similarly, Durocher is hoping that some of his less-heralded woman players are diamonds in the rough who will shine in the spotlight.

Still, as more women’s hockey scholarships are implemented in the coming years, Durocher points out, some of the nonscholarship players will be challenged by recruits with more impressive high school hockey résumés. Although BU will reach the NCAA maximum 18 scholarships by the 2008-2009 season, he encouraged BU’s former club players to try out for the team, and three of them made the final cut this year. After all, the Terrier club team had beaten most of its club and Division III competition in recent years and had played many Division I squads. But Durocher can’t make any guarantees to the former clubbers or the nonscholarship players. Many were stars on their high school girls teams, but their highly touted teammates played with prep school powers and have national experience with select under-19 teams.

“The question will be, can some of these players play at an elevated pace?” he says. “By next year, we’re not going to be at the level of Dartmouth, Harvard, or Minnesota, but we’ll be getting better.”

Expectations will be greater in each coming season, but the true test of Durocher’s ability to judge talent in women’s hockey will come in four years. That’s when he hopes the Terriers, with a completely recruited roster, will challenge Hockey East teams New Hampshire and Providence. These programs have evolved into national powers — but Durocher is diving into their recruiting pool, hoping to come up with a few pearls.

Lynch likes what he sees so far. “Brian has been diligent in his recruiting,” he says. “He has been beating the bushes to get the right combination of players, and I think he’s done well.”

Captain Cara Hendry (CAS’07) (left) and Caitlin Reddy (CAS’09) are pictured above at a recent practice. Photo by Kalman Zabarsky