Huskies open their ice hockey seasons with high hopes

Northeastern's women's hockey team celebrates on the ice.
Northeastern’s ice hockey teams will have their home openers Saturday—with the women among the favorites for a national title. Photo by Jim Pierce for Northeastern University

The new ice hockey season has arrived as an early sign of the coming winter, and both Northeastern teams have high hopes for the months ahead.

The women, who are ranked No. 2 nationally after losing the national championship in overtime last March, launch their season Friday night at Holy Cross. The home-and-home series will culminate with the Huskies’ Matthews Arena opener on Saturday at 2 p.m.

The men, who are coming off a season heavily influenced by injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic, are seeking a fourth-straight Beanpot and a return to the NCAA Tournament with a deep roster for Jerry Keefe, the newly-elevated coach. They’ll begin the season at Matthews Arena Saturday at 7 p.m. against Bentley.

Both squads will compete at the World University Games in Lucerne, Switzerland, Dec. 11-21, making Northeastern the first university to represent the U.S. with men’s and women’s teams.

The disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic influenced the NCAA to offer student-athletes an extra year of eligibility, and seven Huskies took advantage of it to pursue a women’s ice hockey national championship—including goaltender Aerin Frankel and defenseman Skylar Fontaine, the top players nationally at their positions. In all, 26 Huskies have returned to take the final step following a heartbreaking 2-1 loss to No. 2 Wisconsin in the NCAA Final.

How many of those players were inspired to return by their unfinished goal of winning a national title?

“That’s a great question,” says Dave Flint, the reigning national coach of the year. “Maybe we got so close that it left them hungry to get back and finish the job. I think [losing in the final] probably made them want it even more.”

In addition to their national championship ambition, the Huskies (22-2-1 last season) will be pursuing a second straight Beanpot title around the leadership of:

  • Frankel, who won the Patty Kazmaier award as national player of the year while leading the nation in all of the major goaltending categories and setting Northeastern career records with 28 shutouts and 78 wins. 
  • Alina Mueller, the senior forward who shared the Hockey East player of the year award with Frankel while leading the nation with 26 assists and 38 points. The Huskies are 33-0-1 when Mueller scores a goal.
  • Fontaine, the speedy two-way All-American defenseman whose unit led the nation with 10 shutouts and 0.84 goals per game. Fontaine led all defensemen nationally with 30 points, and all scorers with six power-play goals.
  • Chloé Aurard, the senior forward who led the NCAA with six game-winning goals and three short-handed goals. She also led Northeastern with 15 goals overall.

The Huskies had gone unbeaten for 22 straight games and earned their first-ever No. 1 ranking before the season-ending loss to Wisconsin. Flint acknowledges that the desire for ice time will drive the Huskies—and may at times be difficult to manage for such a deep team.

“We have a 31-player roster, so it’s a competitive environment,” he says. “Ultimately, players want to play.”

For Frankel, this bonus season gives her an extra year to win the ultimate championship … 

“I’m incredibly grateful to be here,” says Frankel. “We didn’t get the outcome that we wanted last year, but we came pretty close and made history for the university. So we’re all pretty proud of that. But we do have some unfinished business, and you can definitely feel that in the locker room. It’s always in the back of our minds that we want to win a national championship this year.”

The men are coming off a truncated 9-9-3 season that was out of step with their recent tradition. In one of his first moves as Northeastern’s new athletic director, Jim Madigan—who restored the hockey program to local and national prominence over the preceding decade—elevated his longtime assistant, Keefe, to take over as head coach.

“We’re a hungry group because we didn’t finish the way we wanted to last year,” Keefe says. “I think you’ll see a fast team with a lot of hockey intelligence and a lot of compete. It’s a deep team, and we’ve got a lot of guys that want the puck on their stick and they work hard to get it back.”

Eight current Huskies have been drafted by NHL teams, including goaltender Devon Levi, who led Canada to the final of the 2021 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Levi, whose NHL rights are held by the Buffalo Sabres, suffered an injury during the tournament that prevented him from playing for the Huskies last season.

Senior forward Jakov Novak, a high-scoring transfer from Bentley, was a 2018 pick of the Ottawa Senators. Freshman forward Jack Hughes, a potential top-20 pick in the NHL draft, joins his older brother, Riley, a Huskies junior forward and assistant captain whose rights are held by the New York Rangers.

The Huskies will be led by senior captain Jordan Harris, a candidate for the Hobey Baker award that goes to the national player of the year. He and his teammates have been focused on spending more time together in order to strengthen bonds after enduring last season amid the pandemic.

“The core of the team was here for summer school—we were working out five days a week and taking classes, so that was really good for our group,” says Harris, who ranked third among Hockey East defenseman with 19 points last season despite playing in 10 fewer games than the players who finished ahead of him. 

“We didn’t get the results that we wanted last year, but each week guys were practicing hard, and there was always the belief that we were just waiting for that spark—and it’s even more so this year.”

Can the men and women sweep the Beanpot trophies for a second straight year? 

“We’re already hearing from people around campus,” says Harris of the Beanpot. “They’re saying, are you going to keep it here? So it’s exciting—we go to Switzerland, then the Beanpot, and then hopefully the NCAA Tournament.”

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