One night after winning a record fifth-straight Hockey East title, the Huskies learned Sunday that their path to the national championship may include a familiar foe.
As expected, Northeastern (30-4-2) earned a No. 3 seed and a first-round bye in the NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Championship. The Huskies will open with a quarterfinal on Saturday at 1 p.m. at Matthews Arena against either Clarkson or defending champion Wisconsin—which last year beat Northeastern 2-1 in overtime of the NCAA championship game.
Winning that quarterfinal at home this weekend will advance Northeastern back to the NCAA Frozen Four, to be held at Penn State March 18-20.
In the opening round, Clarkson (22-11-3) will meet Wisconsin (25-7-4) on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Matthews.
It was a momentous weekend for the Huskies, who earned their latest Hockey East title with a 3-1 come-from-behind victory over Connecticut at Matthews on Saturday night.
“This is a step on our road to the national championship,” said senior forward Alina Mueller, who scored two goals to drive the Northeastern comeback. “We prepared for this like a normal game. The mentality of the whole team is [we’re] going to Penn State and winning the national championship.”
In the larger context, the Huskies’ unprecedented run of Eastern dominance looks very much like a bridge they’ve been building on their way to national preeminence.
“As a coach, you win, you enjoy it for about 15 minutes, and then you think about the next game,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint, who in the postgame celebration was chased down by his players for an ice-bucket dousing. “I want them to enjoy this, but they know that we’ve got bigger accomplishments to take care of.”
Top-seeded Northeastern, coming off a third successive Hockey East regular-season title, was making its sixth straight appearance in the final. The hometown Huskies (as opposed to the Huskies of third-seeded UConn) made it hard on themselves, relying on Mueller’s two goals—spanning 39 seconds across the second and third periods—to transform their early deficit into the record-setting victory.
With three minutes left, senior forward Chloé Aurard clinched the title with her 20th goal of the season (with an assist from Mueller).
Mueller was named Most Valuable Player of the Hockey East tournament. Four teammates joined her on the all-tournament team: goaltender Aerin Frankel, forward Maureen Murphy, and defensemen Skylar Fontaine and Brooke Hobson, the team captain.
“I’m excited for this crew,” said Flint, whose Huskies have beaten UConn in three finals amid this run of titles. “Especially our fifth-year kids—five championships in a row. I don’t know if too many teams can say that.”
Northeastern maintained steady pressure at UConn’s end throughout the opening period—until a Fontaine lateral was picked off at the blue line by UConn forward Morgan Wabick less than two minutes before intermission. Wabick converted the breakaway to give the visitors a stunning 1-0 advantage, despite being outshot 16-5.
The trend of frustration continued well into the middle period, as Northeastern added to its self-made angst by killing a trio of penalties.
“We just told each other we need to be patient,” said Mueller, referring to the faith in each other that has developed over the years. “I knew once we’d get that first goal it would be more fun to play.”
Not until 17.8 seconds remained in the second period did the home team equalize on a back-and-forth exchange involving Fontaine, whose return pass was finished by Mueller from the right side.
At the other end of intermission, Fontaine fed Mueller again—this time for a low blast that squeezed between the knees of UConn goalie Megan Warrener to put Northeastern up 2-1.
Warrener, a freshman, had stopped Northeastern’s initial 27 shots to create hopes of the upset. Everything changed on the back-to-back goals by Mueller, fresh back from affirming her international stardom at the Beijing Olympics. Despite that absence as well as an early-season injury, Mueller has generated 38 points (10 goals and 28 assists) in just 19 games.
“Honestly, I was more nervous or excited in this game than I was in the Olympics,” said Mueller, who was inspired by the noisy crowd at Matthews after two years of COVID-19 restrictions. “It was really special, and so different compared to last year when we had nobody. It was so much fun. I’m so thankful.”
Fontaine was a dynamo over the final two periods, powering Northeastern in transition and facilitating from the top. Frankel, the reigning national player of the year, had 27 saves to go 18-0-0 in Hockey East playoffs.
Northeastern entered the final as the national leader in winning percentage (.857), shutouts (14), scoring defense (1.00) and power play goals (43). Based on their talent, depth, and experience, including the year-long hunger that has followed their painful NCAA championship loss, the Huskies appear more formidable than ever.