STATE COLLEGE, Pa.—With the little bit of energy left in their legs, her teammates skated over to Aerin Frankel, the two-time national goaltender of the year who had come within inches of extending the Huskies’ season.
The blistering final shot grazed off Frankel’s right hip and caught a corner of her goal near the end of a second overtime of the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four semifinal on Friday at Pegula Ice Arena. After 98 minutes and 15 seconds of exhausting elimination play, the reality of Northeastern’s 2-1 loss to underdog Minnesota Duluth fell like dominoes.
The No. 3 Huskies (31-5-2) weren’t going to fulfill their dream of becoming the first Northeastern team to win an NCAA championship. They weren’t going to return to the national title game for a second straight season. Their five-year run of unprecedented achievement—led by Frankel and 11 teammates who had returned for an extra year of NCAA eligibility because of the COVID-19 pandemic—was over.
“It’s unfortunate that a team had to lose today,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint. “It was a great hockey game and it could have gone either way.”
The Huskies won five straight Hockey East titles and NCAA bids, earned a vault full of trophies, and elevated Northeastern to the highest level of women’s ice hockey.
“There’s not a lot to say at the end of a game like that and the season that we had,” Flint said. “I’m sorry that they didn’t achieve what they wanted to, but it’s nothing they should hang their heads about. They’ve accomplished so much and they’ve left it all on the ice, and that’s all I’ve ever asked of my team, for any game, is give me your best effort. Play your hardest. And you guys watched it. They played hard. I’m proud of all of them.”
Both of Northeastern’s Frozen Four losses have been suffered in overtime. The Huskies’ 2-1 loss to Wisconsin in the NCAA title game last year helped drive their mission to go one step further.
In a quarterfinal last weekend at Matthews Arena, the Huskies avenged themselves with a 4-2 victory over Wisconsin. But the coincidences caught up with them in this semifinal rematch with Minnesota Duluth, the team the Huskies beat at the same stage of the tournament one year ago. That loss helped the Bulldogs by inspiring them to beat Northeastern this time.
“We put in so much work in the offseason,” said Naomi Rogge, who scored the winning goal after Duluth pounced on a mid-ice turnover. “Our goal from the start, when we all got together as a group, was to make it to that [championship] game. For it to come true with this group of girls, it’s just so incredibly special.”
The rematch was elevated by a goaltending duel between Frankel, who had 48 saves, and Emma Soderberg, who stopped 46 shots for Duluth. Soderberg, a senior, returned to her team last month after starring for Sweden at the Beijing Olympics. She is 4-1 in NCAA tournaments over the past two years and has led her Bulldogs (27-11-1) to upsets of No. 2 Minnesota and No. 3 Northeastern over the past two rounds.
“When you’re in double overtime and people are getting tired and wearing each other down, you know that something good is going to happen,” said Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell. “You just don’t know what side it’s going to be [for]. This is probably the best moment I’ve ever had in my career.”
Minnesota Duluth, seeking its sixth NCAA title (and first since 2010), advanced to the championship game on Sunday, when it will meet No. 1 Ohio State, a 2-1 semifinal winner over Yale.
Will Duluth be exhausted? Its semifinal was a clean, hard-hitting game between two teams with long memories. Duluth controlled the first period, Northeastern dominated the second, and the third was predictably frantic as the underdog Bulldogs pushed for and produced the equalizer to force overtime.
Much as in last year’s semifinal, when the Huskies struggled to adapt to the speed of the game, Duluth took it to them early. In a span of 11 desperate seconds Frankel survived three shots from close range—one straight on, the second with her left leg, the third sprawling to her right—and as the puck was finally cleared to the other end, she leaned back and exhaled.
During first-period timeouts, while the other 11 players rested near their benches, Frankel stayed put around her goal, skating circles, refusing to leave it unprotected as Soderberg glanced her way from the far blue line.
The Huskies broke through first. They had been outshot 14-6 overall by the fifth minute of the middle period when Northeastern forward Maddie Mills fired twice on goal. The second rebound was advanced in the melee by forward Katy Knoll and slammed in by freshman Skylar Irving for her second NCAA tournament goal in as many games.
Irving’s goal punctuated the shift in momentum that had already been veering Northeastern’s way. Led by Knoll, who was sensational with the puck, the Huskies upped the pressure. They couldn’t convert a power play, and Soderberg made a sensational save of a weak-side blast by Fontaine, but the Huskies were feeling good nonetheless about their one-goal advantage entering the third.
It didn’t last. With 9:55 remaining, the spell was broken when a faceoff was converted by Duluth’s Taylor Anderson into a shot that Frankel couldn’t see until it was whizzing past her left knee. The Bulldogs nearly surged ahead three minutes later, when a two-on-one attempt by Clara Van Wieren struck the far left post.
Frankel rescued the Huskies at the end of the first overtime when she dove left to knock down what should have been the winner by Duluth senior Gabbie Hughes, the player-of-the-year finalist who was expecting to score her fifth goal of this tournament point-blank from the far post.
By the second overtime, the exhaustion of the second-longest game in the history of the Women’s Frozen Four was obvious—fumbled pucks, slowed transitions, everything happening at a slightly lower gear. The mainstays were Frankel and Soderberg, who took turns staving off attacks. When the final shot slipped through, team captain Brooke Hobson was left to emotionally sum up the Huskies’ time together after her final Northeastern game.
“I was saying, ‘I’m super proud of this group,’” Hobson said. “I was fortunate to be here for five years, and I’ve watched our team develop greatly. Obviously, we’ve been performing well on the ice, but a lot of people don’t know how great the culture is behind the doors. This program is in good hands. I have nothing but faith for Northeastern hockey in the future.”