The Northeastern Huskies have been robbed of a chance at the national championship in women’s ice hockey for the past two seasons—in 2019 by an injury to their star, Alina Mueller, and last March by the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the cancellation of the NCAA Tournament.
Normally, the Huskies would be approaching this season with a heavy burden of expectations to fulfill around Mueller, a junior forward who may be the best player in the nation. But the circumstances are anything but usual. The Huskies can’t be certain that they’ll be able to compete on the ice this season—much less win the national title.
“We don’t know how the season is going to start or if we’ll be able to practice together,” Mueller says. “We have to take it day by day and just stay healthy, and then we can go on the ice sooner or later.”
Northeastern has suspended its fall sports programs with the goal of rescheduling them in spring 2021. Teams that compete in winter—including men’s and women’s hockey and basketball—are currently scheduled to begin their seasons on time, pending the developments of the pandemic.
Mueller, a two-time Olympian, is probably the most renowned student-athlete at Northeastern. She was the youngest of three finalists last season for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award that goes to the NCAA player of the year. The Huskies have gone 59-10-7 (including 32-4-2 last year) in Mueller’s two seasons.
After six months at home in Winterthur, Switzerland, Mueller returned to Boston last week and moved into a campus apartment that she shares with teammates Chloe Aurard and Skylar Fontaine in addition to Codie Cross, a fifth-year student who finished her playing career with the Huskies last season. As much as Mueller appreciated the time at home with her family, she is happy to resume her dual lives as an athlete dreaming of the championship and a student pursuing a degree in behavioral neuroscience. Mueller is hoping to attend as many in-person classes as possible.
“I’ve had a lot of time to get ready, a lot of time to just be painless,” says Mueller, who began working out in a local gym in May and was skating since July at the same facilities as her older brother, Mirco Mueller, who has played in the NHL for the past six years.
“It was a good summer of training,” she says. “But it was a long summer, and as a hockey player and as a student-athlete, I’m ready. I’m excited [to be back].”
Monthly team meetings via Zoom, in addition to more frequent messaging and FaceTiming with teammates, have helped keep the Huskies together. Mueller has been told to expect small conditioning sessions on campus of six or fewer players. Ice time may come later.
Coach Dave Flint has been encouraging his players to focus on the fundamentals of the COVID-19 era—behaving sensibly and staying safe.
“We haven’t really talked about a championship or goals for the season,” Mueller says. “We just want to work together to get it going, to be able to practice and play games. We have to be mindful about our decisions, because some stuff is in our hands—to make the right decisions.”
Mueller is looking forward to getting to know her new teammates in the weeks ahead.
“The freshmen are very impressive,” Mueller says. “They’re very nice people, and I’ve only heard great things about them on the ice, too. And [forward] Maureen Murphy, who transferred from Providence—she’s such a great person and great player, and I hope we can be on the ice together.”
Though Murphy will be eligible to practice, NCAA transfer rules will sideline her from games this season at Northeastern.
For the Huskies, the approach is to take nothing for granted and to focus on first things first.
“For now, I think we’ll be more successful if we don’t focus too much on winning games, but on loving to be together on the ice and creating these moments together,” Mueller says. “This summer, I was not just going on the ice because I have to; I was really going because I wanted to, and I used every minute I was able to use.
“I will be so thankful to be on the ice.”