The playoffs are finally here.
The Boston University women’s hockey team (11-19-3, 9-15-3 Hockey East) will host the Merrimack College Warriors (8-24-2, 5-20-2 HE) in the first round of the conference post-season on Wednesday night.
Head Coach Brian Durocher will be behind the bench for the last time at Walter Brown Arena following his retirement announcement on Feb. 15. After 18 years at the helm, the BU legend has one last run with a Terrier team that has gotten hot at the right time.
“I certainly get very proud to say there have been a lot of people touching base, a lot of people that have been a part of my life,” Durocher said of his retirement. “I said to a lot of them in response that the people, the peers and the student-athletes you coach are the real rockstars in this process. We’re only as good as the people around us.”
The Terriers found their footing in 2023 after a rocky start to the season. The group strung together a convincing six game win-streak starting in January, and while they just got swept by Northeastern, BU’s compete level has been much improved. There’s a heightened buy-in from the entire roster, specifically led by the Terriers’ veteran players.
Senior forward Julia Nearis has been an all-star –– per usual –– and tops her squad with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists). Her linemate, junior forward Lacey Martin, has also been a force on the scoresheet and has a team-high of 99 shots this year.
On the backend, captain Nadia Mattivi has blended well with rookie defenseman Brooke Disher. The always reliable duo does a good job of balancing out each other’s offensive instincts while ensuring coverage on the blueline.
Graduate goaltender Andrea Brändli has claimed the crease as BU’s starter these past couple months and gives her team a chance to win each and every night. She’s garnered a .932 save percentage and 2.31 goals-against-average in her first season on Comm Ave. She will likely get the nod against Merrimack.
The Warriors sit last in the Hockey East standings, but are coming off a Feb. 18 win over Maine after dropping 11 of their previous 12 games. This is a group that BU no doubt has the skill to beat, and they’ve got a new sense of confidence to help propel them to the second round.
“I think a lot of that has to do with the leaders –– the oldest kids on the team –– that they’re really stayed pretty grounded during our season when it hasn’t gone exactly how we want,” Durocher said of his team’s turnaround. “They’ve done a real nice job of keeping everyone together and sort of playing for the front of the sweater, playing for the team and playing for each other.”
Looking at the Terriers’ opponent, Merrimack has averaged 1.8 goals-per-game this year and have a slower-burning offense than other Hockey East competitors. Senior Katie Kaufman and sophomore Alexa Pongo have each netted 11 goals and will be two forwards BU needs to play tightly.
Between the pipes, senior Emma Gorski –– who has a .892 save percentage –– and freshman Calli Hogarth have been a netminder tandem in the second half of the season. Gorski made 35 saves in Merrimack’s most recent 3-1 victory against Maine and has postseason experience that Hogarth doesn’t. It will be up to head coach Erin Hamlen to name the better starter on Wednesday.
BU and Merrimack last met in late October for a series where each team came away with a 5-2 win on its respective home ice. The Terriers look like a very different group since then and now have a little extra purpose skating in their coach’s final Wally B game.
“I don’t think of myself as being anything special, but I’m super humbled and ever grateful for the opportunities I’ve had at Boston University,” Durocher said. “I’ll think about it more down the road, we’ve still got enough going on here (…) I’ve been lucky, I’ll keep it at that.”
The puck will drop at 7:00pm on Wednesday and The Boston Hockey Blog will have full, on the ground coverage of the game. Be sure to follow along on Twitter @BOShockeyblog and Instagram @boston.hockey.blog.