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‘The best team’ on ice

Photo by Jim Pierce.

Last season, the Northeastern University women’s hockey team climbed to No. 10 in the nation, and fell just one game short of winning Hockey East and clinching a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association tournament.

This season, head coach Dave Flint says, “the sky’s the limit,” for the No. 12 Huskies. “We have to take the success we had last year and carry it over into this season,” he says. “Knowing what we are capable of accomplishing makes us hungrier.”

College hockey experts pick the club to finish in third place in Hockey East. The red and black will have their first chance to show off their talent when they open the regular season today against Syracuse University at 3 p.m. at Matthews Arena.

“On paper, this is the best team I’ve had at Northeastern,” Flint says. “If we stay healthy, we can pick up from last year.”

The Huskies will depend on the team’s top four scorers from the 2010 campaign —including junior forward Rachel Llanes, who scored 12 goals and 19 assists in 37 games — to put the puck in the back of the net.

But forward Kendall Coyne, one of the club’s nine freshmen, should also figure prominently on the score sheet. She helped the United States National Team win the gold medal at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships in Zurich, Switzerland.

As Flint puts it, “Kendall makes everyone around her better. In practice and in games, her work ethic is second to none.”

He praises the team’s depth and balance. “We don’t have any superstars,” he says, “but if we roll four lines and play the way I want us to play, we will win games by wearing teams down.”

Flint calls goaltender Florence Schelling “the backbone of our team.” The senior from Oberengstringen, Switzerland, sports a miniscule 1.88 goals against average and .936 save percentage in 68 career games.

“When everything is on the line, a hot goalie is the one who usually wins games,” he says. “We expect a lot out of her.”

Flint can’t wait to find out where the Huskies rank among Hockey East contenders. His club begins its conference schedule on Oct. 28 at Maine.

“Every night in Hockey East is tough, so you can’t take a night off,” he says. “Anybody can beat anybody and that’s the exciting thing.”