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Surging Huskies earn first-ever No. 1 national ranking

Photo courtesy of Northeastern Athletics

As the Huskies surged Sunday night to a decisive shutout victory over New Hampshire, senior forward and assistant captain Andrea Renner peered down the bench. She saw her teammates standing and cheering, with the Huskies firing on all cylinders and thrilled to be back playing playoff hockey after COVID-19 cut their postseason short a year ago.

Photo courtesy of Northeastern Athletics

“The energy was just so high the entire game,” says  Renner, who tallied three assists in the 7-0 win. “We were all just so happy and grateful to be playing in a playoff game.”

Now, the win has lifted the women’s hockey team (18-1-1) to the program’s first-ever No. 1 national ranking, in this week’s new USCHO poll. The Huskies will carry an 18-game unbeaten streak into their matchup with Connecticut on Wednesday in the Hockey East tournament semifinals.

“It’s obviously exciting news and something we’ve been striving for for a long time,” says head coach Dave Flint, who is a finalist for Hockey East coach of the year.

The Huskies have racked up scores of accolades this season. They are riding a national-best unbeaten streak and lead the country in numerous statistical categories, including goals, assists, and shutouts. Three players—forward Alina Mueller, goaltender Aerin Frankel, and defenseman Skylar Fontaine—are among 10 finalists for the 2021 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, given to the top NCAA Division I women’s hockey player, and are finalists for the Hockey East Player of the Year.

Renner said she learned of the Huskies’ historic ranking on Monday while doing homework for courses in her graduate sports management program. She said she and her teammates were elated, but hardly satisfied.

“It’s super humbling for our team and our program to be ranked No. 1 in the country,” Renner says. “With that being said, we all know too that there’s still a lot of work to be done. We’re not done yet.”

Amid a long unbeaten streak, a team can face mounting pressure or complacency. But Flint says that taking things one game at a time has been a primary focus this season. And the pandemic has actually played a role in keeping that focus. The Huskies have faced uncertainty and schedule changes all season.

“They’ve had to deal with a lot of adversity,” Flint says, “and there are a lot of distractions this year that can derail a team. The fact that they’ve stayed so focused through all those distractions and committed to being the best that they can be and continually playing as well as they have been, it’s a testament to the student-athletes that we have here.”

Adds Renner: “When I think about this team, the first thing that comes to my mind is how mentally tough we are.”

Mental toughness is a coveted characteristic in playoff hockey, when momentum can swing faster than a line change. To their credit, the Huskies also feature exceptional talent and depth up and down the roster.

Take their win against UNH. Frankel delivered her NCAA-best ninth shutout, and seven different Huskies scored goals. Renner calls it one of the team’s most complete games of the season.

The Huskies look to continue that effort Wednesday afternoon against Connecticut (9-9-1) at Matthews Arena, as they pursue a Hockey East title and, ultimately, an NCAA championship.

“They’re very disciplined. They’re well coached. They don’t get scored on a lot,” Flint says of Connecticut. “We need to be at the top of our game.”

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