The most experienced scoring line in women’s ice hockey is driving Northeastern’s dream of a national championship. In the middle of it is Maureen Murphy, entering her sixth college season as the nation’s reigning leader in goals.
“It feels like I’m cheating,” says Murphy with a laugh as she looks forward to the Huskies’ opener at 6 p.m. (Eastern Time) Friday at Matthews Arena in Boston against Long Island University (streaming on ESPN+).
This is Murphy’s sixth year because she benefited from a redshirt season in 2019-20 at Providence College that ended after 11 games because of injury. After her transfer to Northeastern, she and her teammates were granted an additional year of eligibility by the NCAA due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Joining her upfront are team captain Alina Mueller, third all-time at Northeastern with 194 points (positioning her to overtake Kendall Coyne Schofield, the Huskies’ leader at 249) and Chloé Aurard, who ranks 10th in program history with 150 points. In the company of Murphy, they’ve reached the past two NCAA Frozen Fours while coming within overtime of a national title in 2021.
The experience of their prolific front line casts the Huskies as the No. 3 team nationally and favorites to win a sixth straight Hockey East title—despite the departure of 12 players, including two-time national goalie of the year Aerin Frankel and the back line of All-American Skylar Fontaine and team captain Brooke Hobson.
“If we didn’t have those three, we’d be relying heavily on young kids this year,” says coach Dave Flint, who has built a national power over his past 12 seasons at Northeastern. “Having them here gives the young kids a year to acclimate and learn from these veterans who are among the best players in the world.”
Murphy humbly suggests that she is an outlier among Mueller and Aurard.
“I’ve never had the privilege of playing with two high-caliber players such as them. It’s really fun and it challenges me every day,” Murphy says. “I wasn’t always the most skilled player. If I didn’t have that work ethic, I don’t think I would have gotten to where I am now. Somebody like Alina, her skill is significantly higher than mine.”
The numbers tell a different story. But when you mention that she managed an NCAA-leading 30 goals (and 56 points overall) in 37 games last season, Murphy deflects.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know that I was up there,” she says. “And I don’t know if I could do it again. Like, it’s something that just happens, but I try not to focus on those things.”
The point being that there’s no sense in celebrating the past when her future is so exciting. The Huskies start the season with another strong freshman class to go with a couple of star transfers in Maude Poulin-Labelle, a four-year regular at Vermont and second-team All-American who is expected to fill in for Fontaine; and sophomore forward Taze Thompson, who scored two goals in Harvard’s Beanpot triumph while leading her conference in freshman scoring with 20 points.
Those talented newcomers will benefit from the experiences of Murphy and her elder teammates, whose ambitions have been strengthened by their near-misses in the past two NCAA tournaments.
“The first time we went to the Frozen Four, I think everyone was kind of shell-shocked—we were new, we hadn’t experienced any of it,” Murphy says. “There was definitely a new feeling when we went [back to the Frozen Four] last spring that we deserve to be here. Ultimately we fell a little short, but having that experience is not nothing. There are some things you can make up for. But that’s not one of them.”
Murphy says she transferred from Providence in 2020 based on Northeastern’s big-city environment, its co-op program, a number of family members who live nearby—and of course the state of the Huskies program. It didn’t take her long to fit in.
“I’m kind of annoying,” she says. “People know when I want the puck.”
How do they know?
“I yell at them,” Murphy says. “Like, I’m really loud. I just usually yell their name. But it helps, because I think some girls are afraid to communicate.”
Taking advantage of her ability to find space is Murphy’s way of helping Mueller and her other teammates.
“Coach once said, ‘Nobody’s going to lose track of Alina Mueller. So you might as well be loud and tell your teammates where you are,’” Murphy says.
Murphy finds her knack for scoring difficult to explain. Flint raves about the extra hours she puts in to develop her “heavy” slap shot. Murphy, for her part, says she tries to not think when the opportunities arrive.
It was a lesson confirmed last March when the No. 2 Huskies lost the NCAA semifinal, 2-1, in overtime to Minnesota Duluth.
“I was way too tense,” says Murphy, who went scoreless on six shots. “I was trying to do so many things instead of letting go and just playing. And it was one of my worst games of the year for sure.
“It’s something I’m trying to work on mentally with the sports psych coaches. Just because it’s not a physical skill. And I can talk to any of our coaches about it too.”
Such are the experiences that may elevate the nation’s leading scorer and help make the Huskies’ dreams come true. That simmering ambition merged with the promise of a bonus season—which Murphy and her teammates earned while enduring the difficulties of the pandemic—inspires her to make the most of this final run before she leaves Northeastern.
“I’m trying to not look too far forward and just appreciate every practice,” Murphy says. “Because I know, whatever professional league there is for women, it won’t be the same as this.”