By Scott Jarosz ’21
The 2020-2021 season has been one to remember for head coach Matt Kelly and the Providence College Women’s Ice Hockey Team. After the team’s 2019-2020 campaign came to a close with a loss to the University of New Hampshire in the Hockey East Quarterfinals, both Kelly and his team were itching to get back on the ice to prepare for this season.
Unfortunately, due to the impact of COVID-19, the team’s return to the ice was delayed. The delay was certainly not what PC wanted, especially after the team’s early exit from the Hockey East Tournament. However, despite the team’s strange offseason, they made the most of it and focused on controlling what they could. Their hard work has produced great results thus far in the 2020-2021 season.
Despite the different feel of this season, Kelly approached the year with the same game plan as always. When asked about his approach, Kelly responded, “When it comes down to just the game and our game plan, it was the same mentality going into it. It’s ‘win as many games as you can, win the league, get to the NCAA tournament, and compete for a national championship.’” He continued, “Those are our goals every year and that’s our vision every year and we don’t waver from that.” Kelly has also ensured that his players and staff stay healthy, reiterating that everyone’s health during the pandemic is the top priority.
Kelly’s determined game plan paid off from the very start. PC began the season on a seven-game winning streak, starting 6-0-1 during that stretch. Kelly attributed much of the team’s success during those first seven games to an excellent power play and exceptional goaltending. Kelly emphasized, “Whenever you can chip in a special team’s goal and then you’re able to get two or three more five on five [goals], you’re putting yourself in a good [position] to win the game.”
He added, “We were getting great goaltending too. Great goaltending can take you a long way, especially early in the season.” Kelly explained that goaltending is especially important early in the season when other areas of the team’s game are still developing, and that a few extra saves can be the difference maker. Both an effective power play and great goaltending definitely gave PC a boost during the opening stretch of the season, and the team has continued to build off of that.
Sometimes, teams rely on one or two key players to propel them throughout the season and lead the team to victory. However, when asked if there was any one player on the team who has exceeded expectations this season, Kelly could not point to one specific player. “I would say everyone on our team [has exceeded expectations] from last year to this year. Their game has developed and grown.”
Elaborating on this point, Kelly said, “We talk a lot in our program about having a beginner’s mindset. Get better every day [and] learn something new every day.” Kelly concluded his response to this question by emphasizing how impressed he is by his players. “Each year that I’ve come back and started a season, I’m surprised by everyone.” He continued, “It’s fun to see as a coach that we have a group of [players] that are very dedicated to improving their craft and always getting better.”
While Kelly stressed that every single player on the team has done a great job of working hard and improving every day, he highlighted one player in particular that has truly been a catalyst for the team’s success this season. “To compete at a high level, to win a Hockey East Championship, to win a National Championship, you need an elite goalie, and I feel like she [Sandra Arbstreiter ’21] has been playing very elite this year and we’re very impressed with how she’s come along over the last two years.”
Arbstreiter’s statistics certainly prove that she has performed at an elite level this season. Through 17 regular-season games, Arbstreiter has recorded 424 saves and boasts an impressive save percentage of 92.8 percent. PC has won 10 of those 17 games and Arbstreiter’s excellent goaltending has been a major reason for PC’s success.
The Friars finished the regular season with a record of 10-6-1, good enough to rank No. 10 in the country and also earn a No. 3 seed in the Hockey East Tournament. As a No. 3 seed, PC was matched up against No. 6 seed Boston University in the Hockey East Quarterfinals.
This matchup between PC and BU marked the first time the two teams would meet this season. When asked what his team would need to focus on to be victorious over BU, Kelly spoke highly of the visiting Terriers. “They’re a really good team. They’ve got really good goaltending and they have a very high-end forward in Jesse Compher. I know Brian Durocher, the coach, very well…and he always has his team prepared and ready to go, so we [need] to make sure we’re ready to go too.”
In addition to preparing to combat BU’s strengths, Kelly discussed the importance of focusing on his own team’s strengths, as well. “Defense is huge,” he emphasized. “You want to limit their opportunities and chances. [Our defense] has been good all year but [we want to] keep tightening that up and working on that.”
Along with focusing on the team’s strong defense, Kelly explained the importance of staying competitive during the final stretch of the season when teams begin to get fatigued. He explained that everything comes down to, “Are you willing to outcompete your opponent every shift, every puck battle, every period, every minute of the game?” He concluded, “If you’re willing to do that, more times than not, you’re going to come out on top.”
When asked what his biggest takeaway from the regular season was, Kelly expressed how proud he is of his team for what they have accomplished and how they have adjusted. He continued, “They’ve been incredible at doing all the right stuff to get us to this point… Some teams out there don’t have this luxury to be playing this weekend in the playoffs. I’m just super proud of them and all they’ve done and overcome this year to get to this point.” Kelly certainly has a great deal to be proud of with his team. Not only have they exceeded and outperformed expectations on a daily basis, but they have also done everything in their power to beat adversity in an unprecedented season.
With all of this, PC entered their Hockey East Quarterfinal matchup on Feb. 28 ready to play. PC took the lead over BU at Schneider Arena just two minutes into the first period thanks to a wrist shot goal by Brooke Becker ’24. PC did not slow down from there, as Caroline Peterson ’22 notched the second goal for the Friars just over two minutes later. Then, on a power play in the second period, Hayley Lunny ’21 scored PC’s third goal of the contest.
Entering the game, BU had killed off a remarkable 97.1 percent of opponent power plays, making Lunny’s goal all the more impressive. The Terriers scored the following goal in the second period, but Peterson answered with her second goal of the game to extend PC’s lead to 4-1 heading into the third period. BU attempted a comeback, scoring two goals in the third period to cut the score to 4-3. However, BU’s valiant effort proved to be too little too late, as the Friars secured the victory by a final score of 4-3.
The impressive win earned PC a spot in the Hockey East Semifinals, where they will take on the University of Maine. PC will look to continue to build on its already impressive season by making a deep postseason run, as they are now just one game away from the finals. Doing so will mark a great success for a team that has exceeded expectations all year, just as coach Kelly emphasized.
“This article was printed prior to the semifinal game against UMaine. You can visit Friars.com for full results”