There is no need for endless talk. Alina Mueller and Chloe Aurard have neither the time nor the inclination. The two leading scorers of Northeastern’s elite women’s hockey team communicate with their eyes. Their imaginations. Their hearts.
“They’ve made some plays that just amaze me,” says coach Dave Flint, whose Huskies (14-2) are ranked No. 4 nationally this season. “No-look passes where they know the other one’s going to be there. Those are things that I can’t teach them. Being good friends definitely, definitely helps with that.”
Before they arrived at Northeastern last year, Mueller and Aurard were asked if they would like to room together. It was a natural suggestion. As the only Europeans on the team, they appeared to have much in common. But their pre-existing relationship was distant, and sprung from their competitive natures.
“We had played against each other for five years,” Mueller says. “But we didn’t know each other, like, in person.”
Who could have guessed that they were going to get along so well?
“I didn’t like playing against her,” Mueller says. “I love playing with her.”
Mueller, of Winterthur, Switzerland, is one of the world’s best players. At age 15, she scored the winning goal in the bronze-medal game of the 2014 Olympics that made her the youngest player ever to medal in women’s hockey. Four years later, she earned the “Best Forward” award of the Olympics with a tournament-leading 10 points in six games. Her older brother, Mirco Mueller, is a defenseman for the NHL’s New Jersey Devils.
As much as Mueller generates promise and production for Northeastern, her elite talent also creates pressure on Flint and his staff to make the most of her presence. He has drawn from the experience of coaching Kendall Coyne, who left Northeastern in 2016 as the national player of the year.
“You want to make them feel like they’re developing and getting better, because they’re so competitive and they want to be the best,” Flint says of Mueller and Coyne. “And my job is to help them get there—without putting too much emphasis on them and forgetting about everybody else.”
Aurard, a fellow sophomore forward from Villard-de-Lans, France, has provided balance to Mueller’s line. Aurard leads Northeastern with 12 goals, and her 23 points overall rank second on the team to Mueller’s 32. Northeastern’s lone two Europeans have combined for 21 goals and 34 assists in 15 games.
“Teams are probably thinking, if we can keep those two off the board, that’s how we have a chance to win,” Flint says. “So Alina and Chloe are playing the other team’s top defenders, they’re going to get double-teamed, and it’s just a matter of them battling through that.”
The inherent frustration of carrying so much responsibility against focused opposition leaves Mueller and Aurard grateful for each other’s company. Because each understands what the other is going through.
“Both are really hard on themselves, and we’re still working with Chloe on that,” Flint says. “On not getting too down, and staying positive. And I’m seeing improvement in it.”
Mueller has something to do with that. Sometimes, during tight games, she will communicate with a tap of her stick; Aurard, too, will do the same for her line-mate when Mueller is having a hard time.
“I’m not saying anything—I know she needs her space because I will need my space, too,” Aurard says. “Just tapping on her pads means, ‘I know you’re frustrated, but we’ve got to do this together.’ I’m not going to say it, but she’s going to know what I mean by tapping her pads.
“The fact that we do that together and not involve any other players on the team—it’s our emotions and we’re not spreading them around. Because I know that sometimes if I get frustrated, other players on the team would too. I’d rather just be frustrating myself than put the team down.”
The Huskies, brimming with talent at both ends of the ice, are aiming for nothing less than the national championship. That mission helps strengthen the relationship between Mueller and Aurard—not only because they create opportunities for each other during the games, but also because they are learning how to help and push each other to keep improving.
“We think the same, and that really helps us,” Aurard says. “She knows when I’m having a bad day. So she comes on the ice and tells me, ‘Let’s have a good practice today.’ It tells me that she knows I’m not doing well, but I’ve got to work hard for her, and then we’ll both be better today. Playing together, living together, we learn about each other more every day.”
Fans, friends, and teammates may congratulate them after the games. But Mueller and Aurard will often have a different take.
“We know how good we can be,” Mueller says. “And maybe other people think it was good enough. But we think it was not. And so we talk about it together, and not with other players. And that’s also how we build our bond even more.”
Last March, during a Huskies’ power play near the end of their 3-2 semifinal win in the Hockey East tournament, Mueller punched down the puck with her glove. An X-ray suggested no meaningful damage, and the next day her goal helped Northeastern earn a second straight conference championship. But her hand was swollen after the game, and a more sophisticated scan revealed a broken knuckle.
Without Mueller, the Huskies lost in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament, 3-2, in overtime to Cornell at Matthews Arena.
“Maybe it was beneficial for us that we did not make it the Frozen Four,” Mueller says. “Because now we really know we can make it, and we really want it so bad.”
The loss has carried a silver lining into this season. When the Huskies fell, 1-0, at Providence in October, Flint focused on “grit” as their priority. They started doing competition drills to instill a sense of purpose that nothing is going to stop them this season.
They’ve outscored opponents 64-13. When the Huskies suffered their second loss last month, they replied five days later with an 11-0 win against Holy Cross.
Aurard and Mueller share an apartment with three teammates: Skylar Fontaine, a junior defenseman from Rhode Island who, like Mueller, was second-team All-American last year; Codie Cross, a senior defenseman from Canada; and Sydney Herrington, a sophomore forward from New Hampshire. They have a kitchen—which is an upgrade over the unit Mueller and Aurard had last year—but there isn’t a lot of time for shared meals.
“Everyone has their own schedule, so it’s hard to cook together,” Mueller says.
“And when we have the time, we just don’t have the energy,” Aurard says. “You just want to get on your computer, do your homework, and go to bed. Because you have a long day the next day.”
And what is there to say anyway? Each understands that she is not alone. Mueller and Aurard both know, when the next day brings them closer to the ultimate goal, that they will have each other.