MINNEAPOLIS - When the No. 2 Boston University women's hockey team scored just 13 seconds into its NCAA semifinal game against Mercyhurst University Friday evening, the goal represented more than just an early lead.
As junior co-captain Marie-Philip Poulin made a no-look pass over to senior forward Jenelle Kohanchuk, the duo created a glimpse at something the Terriers did not have for the majority of last season -- two of their best players.
Now, back in the Frozen Four title game for the second time in three seasons, the Terriers can rely on these first-line forwards that only played a combined 23 games last season.
"Everybody thought we were going to lose a lot of goals [this season]," said BU coach Brian Durocher, as he talked about the team no longer having leading goal-scorer Jenn Wakefield after she graduated last year. "We did, but between [Kohanchuk] and [freshman] Sarah Lefort and Poulin playing more than 12 games, that's a good uptick for us despite losing a great player."
During the 2011-12 season, the Terriers needed to rely on Wakefield. As a team with several offensive threats, BU found itself maimed by injury just days into the season. First, Poulin ruptured her spleen in the second contest of the year, and remained out with that injury for the duration of the first semester. Then, Kohanchuk, who had scored nine points in her first seven games of the season, suffered a concussion.
Suddenly Kohanchuk, who appeared to step up her game in Poulin's absence, went from helping her team to nursing a head injury that lingered on throughout the duration of what should have been her senior year.
Every time the Terriers' injury luck appeared to turn around, like when Poulin finally returned to action on Jan. 15, BU became snake bitten once again. The same day that she returned to play, Poulin fractured her wrist, and missed even more games in her already shortened season.
Yet, due to what Durocher called the timeliness of Kohanchuk's concussion, this season the Terriers suddenly had the duo back. Since Kohanchuk only played in seven games, she returned to BU, and racked up her most impressive season of her career thus far.
"It's definitely hard to come back after a year off," Kohanchuk said after Friday's game. "Success that I've had this year, I just owe to everyone of my teammates and everyone who's had my back."
Poulin, who managed just 16 games last year, significantly increased her point production, and stayed healthy for the duration of the season, playing in a career-high 34 games.
Combined, the forwards have dominated offensively, and Friday's game against Mercyhurst was no exception.
"They've got great vision," Durocher said of his first line, which includes Poulin, Kohanchuk and Lefort. "They can play at a certain tempo that not everybody can play at."
Poulin and Kohanchuk showed off that vision during the Terriers win on Friday, just as they have throughout the season, when they teamed up to score the first goal 13 seconds into the contest.
Later on in the game, Kohanchuk helped out on senior defenseman Kathryn Miller's decisive goal that gave the Terriers a 3-0 lead. Then Poulin scored a goal of her own to give BU just a little more of a cushion over the Lakers.
After their game on Friday, Kohanchuk now leads the Terriers with 24 goals this season, and Poulin continues to lead the team in points with 53.
"I'm humbled," Kohanchuk said. "I feel definitely accomplished to have the success that I've had this season, and the team having success this season."
As much as each player is aware of the significant improvements they've made this year after missing so much time from injury, however, their focus is not on their own records. Instead, they now look to defeating a team that has remained unbeatable for the entire season in No. 1 University of Minnesota and taking home the program's first national championship title.
"We're really aware [that Minnesota has] a great team, great goaltending and three Patty [Kazmaier finalists] out there," Poulin said. "I think we come in as a team and don't put pressure on ourselves when we know they are undefeated this year, but act as an underdog and just keep working hard."