‘Respect the past, represent the future,’ is Tara Watchorn’s message as she enters her first year as head coach of Boston University’s women’s ice hockey team.
“It just felt so applicable to where we’re at as a program,” Watchorn said. “It’s so foundational, and it’s like, everything that we’re building on top of it.”
The motto, which Watchorn acknowledges isn’t an original creation, has an ear-worm quality.
Everything down to her office seems to embody this motto, albeit likely not intentionally. Hanging above the desk in her office is a shelf full of trophies and plaques, including those commemorating the years at BU where she won two Hockey East titles in a four-year collegiate career.
“We have an amazing history now for a relatively young program to celebrate,” Watchorn said.
Becoming only the second coach in this program’s history is obviously a difficult task. But it was made easier because Watchorn returned to BU only two years removed from being an assistant coach.
“I didn’t have to learn 27 new names, it was the perfect place to start,” Watchorn said.
In the time between serving as an assistant for BU and returning to her alma mater, she had a year’s experience as the head coach at Stonehill College. The team played their inaugural season in Division 1 last year and had a 19-16-2 record.
“I think there was a lot of things about that opportunity that were the right fit for me in the timing of my career,” Watchorn said of her time at Stonehill.
While still working as an assistant for BU, Watchorn said she began to think of ideas for what her own team and program could look like.
“All of those experiences, I didn’t realize, were slowly building my vision that I had for a hockey program and how to run it,” she said.
When she began her tenure as coach after her hiring in April of last year, Watchorn started to take stock of what pieces of the program’s history and culture were essential for keeping.
“I know they were all really excited for a fresh start, but with that being said, it’s reflecting on what’s the good we want to bring with us,” she said.
After these initial meetings focusing on ‘respecting the past’— which included Zooms and coffee dates with individual players and group meetings with team leadership — Watchorn pivoted towards ‘representing the future.’
“Now all the focus has been on how do we want to represent the future?,” she said, “What do we want BU women’s ice hockey to look like, sound like, feel like? How do we want to leave this program in a better place.”
Senior Terrier captain Madison Cardaci, in an interview on Terrier Hockey Talk in early September, said, “the energy changed so much” when Watchorn became coach.
“Even just the past two weeks I’ve never experienced this much positive culture and this much improvement … it’s such a testament to Tara and who she is as a person,” Cardaci said.
A lot of the focus in offseason work and early practices has been on improving the Terriers’ scoring. This approach is something that Watchorn has employed out of necessity.
“In a lot of ways for us with a brand new coaching staff, our preseason is like short-term competition. We can’t cover everything in four weeks,” she said.
Learning from her work with Hockey Canada’s U18 roster this summer, who only had one practice before the beginning of tournament play, Watchorn decided to teach offense in practice and let defensive work come in the film room.
“I’ve coached D-zone and [penalty kill] so much of my career, I really feel like you can teach so much of that through video. So if I think about the practices and the time that we have to really get the group going … I think you get so much more out of your practices when you’re talking about offense,” Watchorn said.
On her approach to defense in general, Watchorn believes that the most effective learning happens when you preach identity and mindset — which she believes is “a lot of the times more than half the battle” — before teaching strategy and concepts.
“Especially with women, I find if you give them too much, they’re gonna do everything you ask them to do, but all too often, they don’t know why,” she said.
Despite all of her experience, the unique task of being a head coach at Boston University will still be a challenge. Especially given the high expectations for the program under new leadership, something BU’s Athletic Director Drew Maracehllo emphasized at Watchorn’s introductory press conference when he said there were “national aspirations” for the program.
“It’s just everything on a bigger scale, yeah, there’s more eyes on the program,” Watchorn said of the challenge of coaching at BU.
“It’s hitting me more and more how big hockey is here, seeing it through this lens,” she said.
“I think it’s just everything’s bigger at BU, in the best way.”
This article is part of the 2023-2024 printed “Hockey Issue” that will be available on campus Oct. 27 and at opening night at Agganis Arena.