The UConn women’s hockey team got hot at the right time to defeat two goliaths in No. 10 Providence and No. 3 Boston College to advance to the Women’s Hockey East Championship game. They went on to lose to Northeastern 2-1 in the do-or-die match, but the Huskies are focusing on a bright future despite losing eight seniors.
“We have a strong culture where everyone respects each other and works hard towards our goals,” UConn head coach Chris MacKenzie said. “The team chemistry will be different, but the attitude and everyday work ethic should remain consistent.”
UConn (16-14-9, 7-11-6 WHEA) will be losing the anchor of the defense, goalie Annie Belanger. She led the conference in goals against average (1.84) and save percentage (.938). Belanger was named the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year for her efforts and the defense finished first in goals allowed per game (1.95).
Belanger said she expects the team to pick up where they left off this season.
“I think the team will be just fine next year,” Belanger said. “There are a lot of young players that have big roles on the team and they have done a tremendous job on and off the ice.”
As to who Belanger thinks will step up as a leader next season, she had one player in mind.
“I think it's fair to say that Natalie (Snodgrass) will be a big leader on this team,” Belanger said. “She already was on the ice this year with really huge goals for us and now she's going to step up in the locker room and off the ice. I'm excited to see what they can do as a group.”
Snodgrass was electric on the ice for the Huskies as a freshman. She finished eighth in the conference with 38 points and sixth with 21 goals, which was good for second among all freshmen. She was named to the Pro Ambitions All-Rookie Team for her terrific production.
Snodgrass said the team went into the playoffs feeling confident and the team continued to fight as they did throughout the season.
“I think we came into playoffs with the thought that rankings and records don’t matter,” Snodgrass said. “Playoffs are a completely new season and it’s anyone’s game. We went into each game knowing that it could be our last, so we competed for our lives and looked forward to the challenge.”
Heading into their winter break in December, the Huskies were 4-7-7, going winless for over a month. MacKenzie said it was time for the Huskies to play desperate, and they responded bigtime. They would go on to win 12 more games in their season.
“We never stopped believing in ourselves and our process of preparation,” MacKenzie said of overcoming a slow start to the season. “Going winless wasn’t ideal but many of the games were ties against good opponents. We just weren’t finding a way to win those games.”
While the Huskies will be losing Leah Lum and Theresa Knutson, to go along with Belanger, the team will retain Morgan and Taylor Wabick, Kayla Mee, Jaime Fox and Briana Colangelo.
“There is depth in all our classes, who all contribute to our success,” Snodgrass said. “And I’ve also heard great things about the incoming freshmen, so we’re excited to see how they’ll play a role in next season as well.”
MacKenzie said there are aspects he wants to see this team work on before next season.
“We will have a smaller roster and more players will have to play multi-dimensional roles such as power play and penalty kill,” MacKenzie said. “Our team needs to be ready physically and mentally for next season.”
Michael Logan is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.