Sophomore jinx? Nah, won’t happen, says Ava Boutilier.
In fact, the University of New Hampshire (UNH) goalie is attacking her second season on the women’s Wildcats with gusto.
“A lot of people say stuff about a sophomore slump, but so far I’ve had a great summer of training and it hasn’t been through my mind at all,” Boutilier said in a recent interview from Durham, N.H.
To avoid the possibility, the Charlottetown native hit the gym, often twice a day during the summer, making herself bigger and stronger, focusing on upper-body strength, and priming her mind with the intricacies of the women’s game.
“The girls here are really smart. Where you think they’re going to shoot, they’ll pass it and you’ll get beat back door, whereas guys will try and muscle it through you. So, I’ve worked on opening up my peripheral vision, worked on stopping the back-door plays, watched film of the other teams,” she said. “Everyone here is thinking a step ahead, so you have to be a step ahead. I’ve become much more a student of the game.”
That student part of university hockey, Boutilier admitted, proved difficult last season. Soon to be 19 years old (her birthday is in November), she headed south at 17, fresh out of Colonel Gray High School to huge adjustments in lifestyle, academics and the sport.
But with that under her goalie pads, the two-time invitee to Hockey Canada’s national goalie camp is ready for Season 2.
“Year 1 was a mental challenge. Last year, I didn’t really know what to expect. Moving away from home, carrying a full course load. A lot of challenges off the ice,” she said. “(But now) I absolutely love it here. I’m used to being away. Not worrying about anything else and not feeling any pressure.”
NCAA Division 1 rules don’t allow for organized practices officially until two weeks before the season starts (UNH begins the Hockey East regular season Friday, Oct. 5), but skills work and skating aren’t off limits, so Boutilier and her mates have been on the ice.
So far, she likes what she sees for 2018-19, if only very early, for a team that went 9-10-5 in conference play, 14-15-7 overall and exited in the first round of the playoffs. And, Boutilier said, she’s lasered in on earning a conference crown before her time at UNH is up.
“I really think the team is a lot stronger this year. Ninety per cent of our scoring is back and there’s an unbelievable rookie class. Crazy, crazy good,” the 2017 Spud hockey tournament MVP said, adding the playoff loss hurt after what she called a good season. “Oh, for sure. Last year, we did better than most people predicted we would do. Realistically, I have three years of hockey left so I’m making the most of those three years but having fun at the same time. I’m probably one of the most competitive people most people know, and I won’t settle for anything else than Hockey East title.”
UNH hosts the UNB Varsity Reds women’s team in an exhibition match Saturday, Sept. 29.
Who Is This Woman?
A look at goalie Ava Boutilier’s first season with the University of New Hampshire Wildcats women’s hockey team.
– Recorded first career shutout versus eighth-ranked Providence on Jan. 22.
– Started in 32-of-36 games going 12-13-7 with a .929 save percentage and a 2.13 goals-against average.
– Made 30-plus saves 15 times, including 33 against nationally ranked Northeastern, 34 in an upset of No. 1-ranked Boston College and season-highs of 39 versus Vermont and Connecticut.
– Three-time Hockey East defensive player of the week and was named Hockey East rookie of the week for week of Jan. 29.