There’s a new energy around Walter Brown Arena ahead of the Boston University women’s hockey team’s 2023-24 season.
Following the retirement of Brian Durocher in February and the hiring of new head coach Tara Watchorn in April, the program is officially entering its next era, spearheaded by the leadership group of co-captains Nadia Mattivi and Madison Cardaci as well as assistant captains Lacey Martin and Catherine Foulem.
The Terriers took the offseason to reimagine what it means to wear the BU jersey and discuss the tangible steps they are going to take to add the competitive edge and spark – which had been seemingly missing last year – back into their game.
“We started having team meetings really early on to try to build that culture that maybe we kind of lacked a little bit last year,” Foulem said. “Just making that transition way easier, making sure the freshmen feel comfortable early on so that when we do arrive on campus we’re ready to go.”
Foulem described the culture the team is building as “family,” and it’s something that Watchorn has been insistent about since walking through the locker room doors for the very first time.
As an alumna of the program, Watchorn not only has the Terrier pride, but knows what it takes to win in Hockey East. The former star defender skated on the BU blue line from 2008-12 and played a major role in clinching the program’s first two conference titles in 2010 and 2012.
Working off the foundation that Durocher built, Watchorn has set standards high this season and it seems her players have embraced it.
“The moment she stepped into the locker room for the first time, we knew this was going to be a new era of BU women’s ice hockey and just a new light,” Cardaci said. “The energy changed so much. Even just the past two weeks, I’ve never experienced this much positive culture and this much improvement.”
By the end of the 2022-23 campaign, it was clear something had to shift for the Terriers. Finishing with an 11-20-3 overall record and losing in the first round of the Hockey East Tournament, BU struggled to find consistency and one true identity.
Last year’s lack of success is part of the reason Mattivi decided to come back for her fifth-year; she believes in the group and knew they could find ways to win, especially with a new voice in Watchorn.
“Our senior year was kind of a roller coaster in terms of coaching changes and just not having the best season. I thought about other opportunities, but I’ve always wanted to come back. You can’t get what we have here anywhere else I don’t think,” Mattivi said.
“When I found out that Tara was going to be the head coach –– I had already accepted a fifth-year –– but I was like, it was the right decision.” “So happy to be back.”
Now, before the players and coaching staff address the product on the ice, it’s all about the strength of their relationships off the ice. Foulem said integrating the six new freshmen and three transfers has been “really great” so far because of the culture work they’ve been implementing.
“They’re willing to take that extra step to make sure they’re into the team, and we’re also helping them and making sure they feel included,” Foulem said. “I could talk to literally anyone on the team and it just feels like a big family.”
While this season will be Foulem’s first stint in the leadership group, Cardaci was an assistant captain her junior season and was recently elevated to ‘C’ status with Mattivi, expanding her role on a roster she has hoped to lead for quite some time now.
“When she [Watchorn] asked, it was the easiest yes I could give because I’ve already thought about it and I’ve wanted that position pretty much my whole life,” Cardaci said. “Like I’ve dreamed about being a Division I women’s ice hockey captain. It’s kind of sappy.”
The newly-minted captain has played both the forward and defense spots for the Terriers the past three years, but said with the way Watchorn coaches, strict positioning is not the main goal. By focusing on attention to detail in all three zones, BU will look to get all five players involved in the rush, working as a unit.
Coming into preseason practices, Watchorn started the group with offense –– most teams start training with defensive work. The Terriers slumped with scoring last year and it sunk them in tight conference matchups. As they look ahead, burying the puck will be a priority.
“I think this year, especially in practice the past three weeks, you can see that the intensity’s up,” Martin said. “We go hard in, hard out every drill we do, we stop at the net. I think those little habits will translate to a very high compete level in a game.”
Martin is poised to have a breakout performance this season in a new system that’s wired to fuel offensive production. Martin let off 101 shots last year and created many of the Terriers’ high-danger opportunities but only cashed in for 18 points (fives goals, 13 assists) through 34 games.
The senior forward is entering her second year as an assistant captain and said she’s feeling a lot more comfortable with the responsibility. As part of her leadership position, Martin got to be an important voice in the conversations that have and will define her squad’s new chapter.
In their potential final run on Comm Ave, Mattivi, Cardaci, Martin and Foulem are determined to reinstill a winning, competitive culture not just for themselves, but for the women who come after them. That’s the ultimate goal.
“I think all four of us are really excited to take responsibility and start the change,” Martin said. “I hope to see the program in a way better place in five to ten years, and I know Tara and the rest of the coaching staff will be able to do that so I’m very confident in us as a group and them going forward.”