As their season approaches, the University of New Hampshire’s (UNH) women’s hockey team has their expectations set high. Head coach Hilary Witt is back at the helm for her eighth season and is looking to bounce back after last season’s struggles. The ‘Cats finished their abbreviated season with a record of 7-14-1.
“Obviously our record wasn’t what we would’ve liked it to have been last year,” Witt explained. “This year we want to build on the momentum we had last year. We have a lot of young players that now have a bit more experience and we are just going to build off our successes.”
Speaking of young players, sophomore forward Nicole Kelly kicked her first-year off with a bang as she led the team with nine assists, 14 points and 79 shots. Kelly was named Hockey East Rookie of the Month for December and was voted to the league’s All-Rookie Team.
Returning to the net is senior goalie Ava Boutilier. She started 20 out of 22 games last season and played 86.4% of the minutes. Boutilier also ranks in at fourth in shutouts, fifth in saves and seventh in minutes on the national leaderboard. Boutilier said that the team showed, “flashes of brilliance” last season and that she believes the team falls into the underdog category expressing that the roster is fired up to get out on the ice and compete with some of the top teams in the league.
Witt is thinking the same way and explained why she thinks every game this season should be exciting to watch.
“I think our league is really strong and so every game is going to be very competitive, tough, and fun to watch. I just think Hockey East is the best league in the country and we are excited to be a part of it,” Witt said. “Our players are excited to represent UNH and to show everyone what we can do. I think we’re going to surprise a lot of people, I am really excited and I think the fans should be too.”
Also returning to the ‘Cats offense is junior forward Jada Christain and sophomore forward Avery Meyers. Christain put the puck into the net six times in their 22 games and was the team’s leading goal scorer. Meyers recorded a team high .235 shooting percentage having four goals in 17 shots.
Senior defender Maddie Truax and sophomore defender Emily Rickwood both return to the team after impressive statlines last season. Truax recorded 49 blocked shots which ranked her at second on the Wildcats and third in Hockey East. Meanwhile Rickwood led both Hockey East and UNH in blocked shots with 59.
Four talented newcomers are joining the team as well this year including first-year forward Kira Juodikis who helped lead the Team Ontario Red Team to a gold medal in the National Championship.
First-year forward Shea Verrier earned her team’s Offensive Player of the Year award in the 2019-20 season after recording 16 goals and 23 assists at Cushing Academy.
First-year defender Marina Alvarez managed to score 11 goals with 10 assists in her senior year.
First-Year orward Brooke Hammer was the leading scorer the past two years for the Belle Tire program.
These players are not the only thing returning to the Whittemore Center this season, as fans are officially welcomed back. Witt is ecstatic for their return.
“It is just going to be nice to see people,” coach Witt expressed. “I think having that support, having the Whitt have some noise, and also being able to show the fans the talent we have is going to be so exciting.”
The Wildcats kick off their season off Sept. 31, at 6 p.m. when they host Boston University in their season home opener in the Whittemore Center.
Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics