Get to Know: Women’s and Men’s Hockey add new faces to coaching staff

There are some new faces on Comm. Ave this season for both women’s and men’s hockey. With the addition of Kerstin Matthews and Mollie Fitzpatrick at Walter Brown Arena and the entry of Jay Pandolfo at Agganis Arena, the BU hockey program has gained some real talent behind the bench. 

Tara Watchorn and Liz Keady Norton left their positions with the women’s team this summer, as they were both offered head coach spots elsewhere. Watchorn will spearhead Stonehill College’s women’s program as the first head coach for the team that will compete in the New England Women’s Hockey Alliance this season. Keady Norton headed to New Hampshire for the boss job at Dartmouth and will act as their 11th head coach. 

Filling their shoes are Matthews and Fitzpatrick, who have both made a seamless arrival to the Terrier family. It’s somewhat of a homecoming for Matthews who, with current head coach Brian Durocher, transitioned the women’s team to a Division I level program during her time at BU from 2003-08. Thirteen years later, she’s back for more. 

When Matthews left BU, the team was still trying to find its identity as it entered Hockey East. Now, as a profoundly established program that has produced high-class players, the Terrier team is ready to soak up all the new experience Matthews is coming back with. The associate head coach said she’s excited to return to such a thriving hockey community.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to come back to Comm. Ave is the support that BU puts into its hockey program — there’s nothing better than being at a school that supports hockey the way Boston University does,” Matthews said.  

Although Matthews and Durocher have worked together before, Matthews said she’s a much different coach than she was 10 years ago. There will still be a familiarity between the two, but this time around Matthews is a more well-rounded leader with the lessons from her 13 years as head coach at Saint Anselm in her back pocket. Matthews emphasized she and Durocher still have the same shared goals. 

“If you take care of them [the team] as people, they will develop into really good hockey players to go with it. I think working with someone who shares those values is really important to me, and Brian obviously does,” Matthews said. “Our values and our beliefs are very well aligned and still the same and I have the utmost respect for him as a mentor.”

Matthews has another full-circle moment coming up on her calendar. As a Providence College graduate and captain of the 1999 team, she’ll be returning to her alma mater as a Terrier instead of a Friar on Oct. 31 at Schneider Arena. Reflecting on being back in Hockey East, Matthews showed an appreciation for the history of the league she once played in and now coaches in. 

“Having that tradition with you every day reminds you of how far the women’s game has come and how far we will continue to push it,” she said. 

Fitzpatrick, the new women’s assistant coach, is seeing BU with a fresh set of eyes as she comes to the program after six seasons with Norwich University, where she aided her squad in winning four straight NCAA tournaments. Following that success, Fitzpatrick said she was in a place in her life where she was ready to move on and take the next step in her career. 

“BU is a place that I know can be super successful. For me, it was like okay, how can I take what I’ve done at the college level, at the division three level, and see if it can transfer over to the division one level — and I was fortunate enough to be given this opportunity,” she said. 

In terms of her coaching style, Fitzpatrick said everything she does is for the women. Describing herself as a “player-oriented coach,” she believes for a team to be accomplished the players have to be supported in all capacities of the game and life. With the season’s recent start, she’s working on building those connections and being there for whatever her group may need. 

“I put my head on the pillow and go great, I did everything to the best of my ability for them whether that’s advocating for them, whether that’s pushing them, whether that’s having those hard conversations,” she said. 

Durocher expressed his excitement around his new coaching staff during an Oct. 1 postgame press conference. He spoke specifically about how Fitzpatrick’s past is going to positively impact the future of BU women’s hockey.

“Mollie is somebody who has eight or nine years of experience and has been successful wherever she’s been. Having that success and being with other good coaches who have taught her is only going to help us and I see a good karma, good chemistry with the team,” he said. 

The three women’s coaches have worked well together to get their team to a highly competitive level to start their season, and their expectations are high for what this group may be capable of in their upcoming campaign. 

On the men’s side of things, they had a big hire in the absence of associate head coach Paul Pearl, who left this summer to take the leading position at Cushing Academy. Joining head coach Albie O’Connell behind the bench this season is Jay Pandolfo, the former captain of the ‘96 Terrier team who has spent the past five years as an assistant coach for the Boston Bruins following a successful career playing in the NHL. 

Having an NHL veteran and a guy that has previously been a tremendous leader of the hometown favorite Bruins no doubt excites the BU men’s locker room. The next step in these Terriers’ careers is the NHL, so Pandolfo’s expertise and background in the professional league are invaluable to these budding players at the collegiate level. 

Additionally, having played for BU and captained his team, Pandolfo knows a thing or two about Terrier pride and what it means to put on the scarlet and white sweater night in and night out. It’s a special program to be a part of, and the new associate head coach now gets to be on the other side of things on Comm Ave. O’Connell only had good things to say about Pandolfo in an Oct. 2 postgame press conference. 

“He’s professional in everything he does. He has a good mind for the game, he’s a very good coach. He’s pretty light, too — guys really like him and it’s pretty exciting to have not only Jay but Doug [Friedman] on the bench too,” he said. 

Friedman, is the men’s director of hockey operations who was also hired this summer. Friedman and Pandolfo were teammates at BU, and Friedman held captaincy in ‘94 before graduating. Most recently, he was the program director for USPHL Twin City Thunder and had a seven-season playing career in the NHL prior to that. 

It’s safe to say the men’s team has added great depth to their coaching staff heading into the 2021-2022 season and has a refreshing NHL perspective to guide them to victories this year and beyond. 

The summer hires for both sides of BU hockey put on display the prestige of the program and the want to be part of the Terrier family. Matthews, Fitzpatrick, and Pandolfo all have something special to offer to their teams and it will be exciting to see how they execute their individual talents as the season progresses.

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