‘She looked at the whole picture.’ Patience pays off for Northeastern hockey goalie Gwyneth Philips

Gwyn Philips wearing her hockey goalie mask stares into the camera
Gwyn Philips has been waiting three years for her chance to lead the Huskies. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Gwyneth Philips is replacing the dominant goaltender in women’s Division 1 ice hockey. It is a fact that she acknowledges. A challenge she’s been waiting years to take on.

“I feel a lot of pressure because I’m stepping into a new role,” says Philips, a senior, as the Huskies open their fall training camp. 

Philips is taking over from Aerin Frankel, the Huskies’ starter for the past five years (which includes an extra season sanctioned by the NCAA amid the COVID-19 pandemic). Frankel established all of the career records at Northeastern while earning the inaugural Goalie of the Year awards nationally over the past two seasons. She received the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the sport’s top player of 2020-21.

There are no bigger skates to fill in women’s hockey this season. The Huskies are confident that Philips can help them contend for a sixth straight Hockey East title and their first national championship—despite the departures of Frankel, her fellow All-American Skylar Fontaine, and 10 other veterans who have moved on from last year’s 31-5-2 team that reached a second straight Frozen Four.

“It’s a lot of pressure on her from the outside,” says Northeastern coach Dave Flint. “But I don’t think there’s any pressure inside our team. We all know how good she is.”

In 20 appearances (including 13 starts) over the past three seasons, Philips went 13-1 overall with a .969 save percentage, a goals against average of .64 and six shutouts—numbers that compare favorably to Frankel’s.

“It was the most popular question this summer: ‘What are you going to do in goal?’” Flint says. “And I just said, ‘I’ve got a really good goalie, she’s been a saint for being patient and waiting for her time, and we’re in a really good spot.’

“I’ve said all along that if she had left here, she could have started for almost any team in the NCAA.”

More than 9,500 Division 1 athletes transferred schools in 2021 alone, thanks to the “transfer portal” that has allowed free movement since 2018. The Huskies are relieved that Philips withstood that trend when Frankel returned last season to Northeastern after trying out for the U.S. Olympic team.

“A lot of kids would have been out the door,” Flint says. “She thought, ‘Aerin’s going to make the Olympic team so now it’s my time.’ And then all of a sudden Aerin doesn’t make the Olympic team, she’s back, and it’s like the rug was pulled out from under. But Gwyn showed up every day, she worked hard, she kept a positive attitude and she never once said anything to me about transferring.”

It wasn’t easy. “Especially when everyone tells you you could be somewhere else playing,” Philips says. “But it never crossed my mind to leave, just because I love this school, I love the program, I love the girls. Even though I didn’t play that much my first three years, I still have two more years to get a lot of ice time in.”

She says she wanted to see through the investment she has made in her degree in industrial engineering, which will have included two co-ops by the time she graduates.

“She’s extremely bright and she understands the value of an engineering degree from Northeastern,” Flint says. “Where most kids might have made a rash decision, like, ‘I just want to play hockey,’ she looked at the whole picture.”

The past three years have strengthened her in all kinds of ways, she says.

“Just taking time to learn a lot about my relationship with hockey,” Philips says. “There’s some girls that need and want to be in the rink 24/7; in between classes, they go to the rink. I’m not one of those kids. So I’ve been working on my balance between work, hockey and life. When things are thrown at me with hockey, when I’m the starting goalie and I’ve got two games back-to-back, I know how to take a step back and relax because I’ve spent three years figuring out how I can recenter and what makes me calm.”

Philips catches with her right hand, which is unusual among goalies, and at 5 feet 7 inches she is two inches taller than Frankel. That advantage in size enables her to stay closer to the line, whereas Frankel ventured out to cut off angles.

“Aerin plays a little bit more aggressive than me; I play a little bit more compact,” Philips says, “One part of my game is I make things look easy and simple, and from what I’ve seen in past years, that makes my teammates feel comfortable. When I’m looking like I’m not breaking a sweat, usually they don’t get too nervous. So I think that’s something I bring to the table.”

Philips says she learned much from studying Frankel, who earned a silver medal at the recent World Championships as a Team USA backup. 

“She’s just consistent in her preparation, and I think that’s important,” Philips says of Frankel. “I’ve seen her preparation the night before the game, her meals, her sleep regimen, how she takes care of her body between practices and between games.” 

Flint acknowledges that national expectations for the Huskies may be slightly diminished after the losses of team leaders like Frankel, Fontaine and Brooke Hobson, last year’s team captain and four-time Hockey East All-Star from the back line. But they’re bringing back a prolific front line of graduate students in new captain Alina Mueller, who may be the best player in the nation; Maureen Murphy, who led Division 1 with 30 goals last year; and Chloé Aurard, who ranked in the top three nationally last year with 10 power-play goals and three shorthanded goals.

“We play a style where we’re a little more wide open and we take some chances because we trust who we have in goal,” Flint says. “And I don’t think that changes at all this year. I think they have as much faith with Gwyn as they did with Aerin. She’s one of those kids that’s just really liked by her teammates.”

The Huskies open Sept. 30 at Matthews Arena against Long Island University.

“I’m just going to be hungry,” says Philips. “And we’re going to be excited.”

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