When you watch Boston College play, you’ll probably get a glimpse of Caitrin Lonergan dancing around a defender with a toe drag, or Daryl Watts bursting away on a shorthanded break, or any one of their three Olympic defenders making a seamless pass in transition. It’s a roster oozing with talent, line after line, and if your first impression is of a skilled team, you wouldn’t be wrong.
But, if they’re playing at their best, senior captain Makenna Newkirk doesn’t think that would be your lasting impression of the Eagles.
“Just a hard working, physical, relentless team,” she said. “I think we’re one of the most skilled teams in the country, but what I really want out of this team is for people to know that we have the most heart.”
There’s been no shortage of talent to play with since Newkirk joined the Eagles in 2015-16, and they boast plenty of it this season. With Olympians Kali Flanagan, Megan Keller, and Cayla Barnes holding down the blue line, and Watts, last year’s Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award winner, leading the way up front, this is a group that’s plenty capable of bringing Boston College its first national championship in women’s hockey.
Newkirk herself is certainly on that short list of difference-makers. As a freshman, she capped a 49-point campaign with Hockey East Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Year honors. In the few years since then, she’s developed into a well-rounded, reliable player in all situations, while scoring at a point-per-game pace her entire career.
“I think I take a lot of pride in not only producing, but also the defensive side of the puck,” Newkirk said. “Especially switching to center and having that role of kind of that third defenseman is huge for me. I think that blocking shots and just being accountable in the D zone goes pretty far especially in big games, and those tight games.”
Before she started college, she participated in USA Hockey’s National Development Camps from 2011-14, but she never represented the U.S. at the Under-18 level. In her final year at Pomfret School (Conn.), she was named the NEPSAC Division I Player of the Year, awarded to the best prep school player in New England.
Newkirk took an interesting path to get there, too – and that’s probably putting it mildly. She’s from Arizona, but started traveling to play more competitive hockey at the U14 level, joining a team in Colorado first and then playing in Pittsburgh for a few years. All of that travel was understandably difficult for her and her family, though, so she decided to enroll at Pomfret and finish out her high school career there.
Since starting at Boston College, she’s worked her way into the bigger USA Hockey picture, representing the U.S. at the Under-22 level and participating in Olympic tryouts last summer.
“I think the program here at BC is everything,” Newkirk said. “To play under Katie [King Crowley] and [Courtney Kennedy] for four years is huge, and I can’t credit them enough. They’re the reason why I’ve raised my game to another level.”
She also credits her teammates, and the chance to learn from Boston College greats like Alex Carpenter, Haley Skarupa, and Dana Trivigno as a freshman, for making an impact early in her career.
“Especially freshman year, coming in and just trying to fight for playing time, I had no idea what kind of role I’d have on the team,” Newkirk said. “Being able to play with Carps, Skarupa, Dana, and just have them kind of take me under and teach me the ropes of college, and then the coaches there to back me up and continue to push me each and every day, I think a lot of the credit goes to them.”
Newkirk is also a two-year captain for the Eagles, which is a pretty rare honor. As a first-year captain last year, she says she learned a lot once again from her teammates about how to handle that kind of leadership role.
“Being a captain, you have a different relationship with the coaches and just being able to have that first year under my belt and know what to expect and how to handle different situations is huge,” Newkirk said. “Going into this year, I’m not really too concerned about the leader aspect because you’re chosen for a reason, but it’s more so just holding everyone else accountable and holding yourself accountable, and getting the most out of each and every person on the team and making them feel important to ultimately reach that end goal.”
She is undoubtedly a leader on the ice for BC, too. Through the first seven games of the season, Newkirk has two goals and six assists for eight points, which leads the Eagles.
The team’s leading goal scorer to start the year is a familiar one, though she’s only a sophomore. Daryl Watts has four goals so far, and she has quite a freshman season to follow up; she became the first rookie to win the Patty Kazmaier last year after leading the nation with 42 goals and 82 points.
“I think Daryl’s obviously a great player but an even better person. Just having her in the locker room, I can’t say enough about her character and just the personality she brings,” Newkirk said of her teammate. “I think that she’s continued to grow each and every day and she’s playing with an edge this year that I haven’t seen necessarily, so personally, I’m really happy with how she’s playing and I think that she’s only going to get better.”
BC’s formidable offense has been tested early and often this season. In their opening series, the Eagles were swept on the road by Minnesota Duluth, losing by scores of 4-2 and 2-1. They’ve rattled off five straight wins since then, including two straight overtime wins against a tough St. Lawrence team two weeks ago.
“I don’t think the two losses at the beginning of the season define us at all,” Newkirk said. “I think it was a little gut check but that’s fine to have, and I’d rather lose those games than the last one.
“Not only are they [Minnesota Duluth] a great team, but we still have to grow and come together as a team as well. So we’re just trying to stick together, stick to the process and really focus on playing both sides of the puck and ultimately producing more.”
BC had more to show for that in the series against St. Lawrence. Both games were low-scoring, ending in a 2-1 score each time. In the second game, the Eagles were held off the scoreboard until there were 28 seconds left, when Barnes netted the tying goal. Grace Bizal scored 1:43 into overtime to end it.
“I think for us to come in after that first initial series and get those two wins shows a lot about our team, and a lot about the character and the heart that we have on this team,” Newkirk said. “I couldn’t be more happy about pulling them out. Yes, it’s frustrating getting so many shots and facing a hot goalie and not being able to score, but I think that for us to mentally stay in check, stick together, and pull those out is huge. It’s something we can definitely build on.”
With so much firepower in the line-up, Boston College is a sure contender for a national championship, just as they have been for the last few years. When Newkirk was a freshman, the team defeated Clarkson in the Frozen Four semifinals to advance to the national championship game, but they fell just short of winning it all. Still, she says it’s her proudest moment of her career so far. As a senior, it’s a stage she’d love to reach again, and an experience she’d treasure with her teammates.
“Personally, I think everyone in the senior class, we want to be that first team to win a national championship here,” she said. “Over the course of the four years, we’ve grown a lot as people and we’ve been able to play with some amazing players, but also get to know and grow from a lot of our old teammates and coaches. When we leave Boston College, I think that we just want to remain friends with everyone on the team. I think that one of the most important parts about being a teammate is you have these relationships for life. So I think that that’s something I’d like to take away.”
If the Eagles finally win it all this season, what will be the biggest reason why? When asked this question, Newkirk doesn’t mention talent or individual performances. Instead, she has a simple answer: team chemistry.
“I think that ultimately the team who wins the national championship or wins any major championship, it’s whoever’s the closest team and whoever sticks together and has each other’s backs,” she said. “Yes, you have to be skilled, you have to be hard-working…but the team that cares the most about each other and plays for each other is going to be the factor in that.”
Series to Watch
Boston College at Maine: BC plays at Holy Cross on Friday, and then faces off against Maine for their biggest Hockey East game of the young season. The Black Bears are a capable opponent, but were shutout by Northeastern, 3-0, last Friday. If they can get a few goals, they’ll make this an interesting game, but BC’s depth will be a huge factor. As noted in the feature above, Newkirk has been great early on for the Eagles, but I’ve also been impressed with Lindsay Agnew. She scored one of the overtime winners against St. Lawrence and in her first year with the team, the junior transfer so far has seven points in seven games.
Minnesota at Wisconsin: The undefeated Badgers welcome Minnesota to Madison for the year’s first Border Battle. I had said last week that I thought Minnesota looked like the number one team in the country, and I’m still leaning that way. The Gophers split with Ohio State last weekend at home, but the Buckeyes have proven to be a strong team, and Andrea Braendli was sensational in net for them, stopping 40 saves in the win. Wisconsin picked up a sweep against Princeton last week, and freshman Sophie Shirley was excellent in that series. Both teams have gotten their offenses going early on this year; Wisconsin is scoring 4.25 goals per game, while Minnesota is averaging 3.88 goals. The Gophers’ penalty kill could stand to see some improvement, as their opponents are scoring at a 29.4% rate on the power play. I’d expect special teams and strong defensive zone play to go a long way in this series.
Ohio State at St. Lawrence: The non-conference slew of games is always exciting, and this series is no different. Both teams earned a huge win over a top conference opponent last weekend. Ohio State took down Minnesota on the road, while St. Lawrence defeated Clarkson in overtime at home. The Saints have kept nearly all of their games close this season, and we should see two more tight battles this weekend. Braendli has been really strong in goal for the Buckeyes, and up front, Emma Maltais hasn’t disappointed as a sophomore. She’s currently ranked second in the country with 12 points off of three goals and nine assists. Keeping her in check will be key for St. Lawrence this weekend.
Harvard at Cornell/Colgate: The Ivy League is officially in action, and Harvard has a good test in their second weekend of play with games against Cornell and Colgate. It’ll be a good gauge for the Crimson to see where they stand after several down years. For Cornell, we’ve seen Colgate stumble a bit out of the gate and Clarkson go down to St. Lawrence. The Big Red have an opportunity to start the year off strong and get firmly in the running for tops in the ECAC.