The final horn meant so much to the No. 1 Huskies. It marked their fourth straight Hockey East women’s championship with their 6-2 victory over Providence College in the title game Saturday at Matthews Arena. And it launched them on to what may be their biggest win of all.
On Sunday, Northeastern (20-1-1) was awarded the No. 1 seed overall in the eight-team NCAA Tournament, to be held March 15-20 in Erie, Pennsylvania. The Huskies had been anticipating the top seed on the basis of their current No. 1 national ranking—the first in program history—and their ongoing 20-game unbeaten streak, the longest in the country.
Northeastern will open the NCAA Tournament March 15 at 2 p.m. in a quarterfinal against No. 8 Robert Morris (16-7-1), which earned its automatic bid by winning the College Hockey America tournament Saturday with a 1-0 victory over Syracuse.
Wisconsin, the defending NCAA champion from 2019 and winner of five national titles overall, is the No. 2 seed. The NCAA Tournament was canceled last year in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hockey East, arguably the nation’s top conference, has never produced an NCAA women’s champion.
The Huskies, who have outscored opponents 90-13 during their unbeaten streak, have been driven all year by the hard luck that has set them back the past two postseasons. They lost their NCAA Tournament opener in 2019 after Alina Mueller was ruled out with a hand injury. Last year, the NCAA Tournament was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It means a lot to them and to me to be able to do it four times in a row,” Northeastern coach Dave Flint said of his team’s Hockey East run of titles. “Now we’ve got to focus on getting to the NCAAs and doing some damage there. The next goal is Frozen Four and national championship. I think we have the makings to do it this year.”
Senior goaltender Aerin Frankel, the nation’s leading goaltender who stopped 77 of 80 shots in the three-game tournament, was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament. She and three teammates—Mueller, Chloe Aurard, and Skylar Fontaine—made the All-Tournament team.
Frankel and Fontaine lead a senior class that is undefeated in Hockey East tournaments.
“We had a relentless effort and that’s what it’s going to take to win these big games,” Frankel said. “I’m excited to see what’s going to come as we hit the NCAA Tournament.”
Providence College (12-8-1), ranked No. 9 nationally and the third seed in the tournament, reached the finals despite having only 15 skaters available (five fewer than the Huskies). The Friars became the first opponent in 14 games to score more than one goal against Northeastern. Though they retained hope of an upset for most of the opening two periods, they left Matthews Arena having been outshot 47-31, and having been outscored by Northeastern in four games this season by a combined 19-3.
The Huskies were coming off an unusually tight 2-1 semifinal win Wednesday against Connecticut that was saved by an Aurard shorthanded goal with less than five minutes remaining.
Northeastern’s depth was crucial against the undermanned Friars, as the Huskies shared the puck with their trademark speed to divvy up the scoring. Fontaine’s empty-netter in the final moments was the only goal by one of their leading scorers.
“That’s what we’ve been doing most of the year, and that’s what we need going down the stretch here into the NCAAs,” said Flint, who was recently named the top coach in Hockey East for a third straight year. “We’re going to face tough opponents, and we’re going to need that depth.”
The Friars, who had only 15 skaters for this game (five fewer than the Huskies), became the first opponent in 14 games to score more than one goal against Northeastern. They retained hope of an upset for most of the opening two periods despite falling behind early.
Five minutes into the final, Northeastern’s Katie Cipra broke free and backhanded the opening goal. The Huskies went up 2-0 seven minutes into the second period when Tessa Ward brought the puck up the right side and skipped a shot from the blue line that sneaked past Providence goaltender Sandra Abstreiter’s right pad, banked off the post, and ricocheted off her skate for a 2-0 Huskies lead.
Providence responded moments later as Caroline Peterson put in the rebound on a long slap shot by Ariane Julien, giving the Friars hope as they pulled within 2-1.
The Huskies began to break the game open on a second-period power play when Fontaine fed Maureen Murphy—a former Providence star who transferred last summer to Northeastern—for a 3-1 lead that was celebrated wildly by her teammates.
“I was so excited for her, as everyone else was,” Frankel said of Murphy. “We have so many talented players on our team and adding her to the mix is huge for us.”
“I don’t take a lot of one-timers,” Murphy said during a NESN interview after the second period. “I was honestly yelling at Sky to shoot.”
Freshman forward Molly Griffin opened the third period by beating two defenders for a spectacular goal to make it 4-1. Four minutes later, Miceala Sindoris came around from behind the net for the Huskies’ fifth goal.
Giana Savastano, a Friars senior, scored her first career goal with seven minutes left.
Fontaine, Northeastern’s All-America defenseman, won a race to a loose puck—no surprise there—to finish the scoring into the empty net. Two minutes later, the Huskies were celebrating a fourth straight championship and drenching their coach with a water cooler.
“I can’t believe I fell for it,” said Flint, who found ice in his pockets afterward. “I was like, oh, they’re not going to do it this year. And they baited me—they handed me the trophy, distracted me, and I can’t believe I fell for it.”
It may sound like complaining. But he was actually looking forward to it happening one more time, two weeks down the road.