‘It’s the Beanpot and anything can happen.’ After 2022 upset, Northeastern women chase championship

hockey players reaching for beanpot trophy
The Huskies are reaching for another Beanpot trophy to culminate the high-scoring era of Alina Mueller, Chloé Aurard and Maureen Murphy. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

One year ago, Maureen Murphy and her highly-ranked Northeastern teammates were skating off their home ice in shock, having lost their women’s Beanpot semifinal, 3-1, to Boston College.

On Tuesday, the No. 5 Huskies (24-2-1) will renew their pursuit of the Beanpot with a 4 p.m. semifinal against Boston University (televised by NESN and ESPN+). The tournament, culminating with the final on Feb. 14, is hosted by BC, which may evoke regrettable memories for Northeastern. But the Huskies’ current mission isn’t focused on vengeance or atonement so much as it’s about making the most of the time they have left.

This will be the final Beanpot for the prolific top line of Murphy (15 goals and 37 points), Chloé Aurard (14 goals and 38 points) and team captain Alina Mueller (17 goals and 39 points), who recently became Hockey East’s all-time leading scorer.

“It’s not even the big moments,” Murphy, who last season led the nation with 30 goals, three hat tricks and 13 power-play goals, told Northeastern Global News. “It’s practice—how many more times am I going to lift with this team or get on the ice? How many more pregame skates do we have? But I find that the more I focus on it, the more I don’t appreciate what’s happening.

“There is a clock ticking down for sure. But for me it helps if I don’t think about it.”

The zen approach to living in the moment has enabled the Huskies to overcome the loss of a dozen players from last year’s Frozen Four team—including the two-time national goalie of the year Aerin Frankel, as well as four-time All-American Skylar Fontaine and team captain Brooke Hobson, the anchors of the defensive line.

“Everyone was like, ‘How are you going to be defensively?’” coach Dave Flint says. “But our defensive numbers are better than last year at this time.”

The Huskies are No. 1 nationally in team defense, allowing 0.85 goals per game. They’ve yielded fewer than 20 shots per game and just a half-dozen power-play goals overall (while scoring six shorthanded goals themselves). Senior Gwyneth Philips, who was Frankel’s understudy for three years, is the Division 1 leader in goals against average (0.81), save percentage (.961), wins (24) and shutouts (9).

“I had no doubt that she would step in and fill that role from Aerin,” Mueller says. “She’s such a hardworking kid. She gives us a chance to win every game and we definitely need that.”

Murphy says the energy of 10 new players, including eight freshmen, has inspired her experienced line.

“This team is less mature, but there’s this newfound excitement over everything we do which I don’t think we had last year,” says Murphy, who transferred from Providence College in 2020-21. “There’s a lot more teaching and coaching that’s involved.”

“I would say last year we had a more-skilled group,” says Mueller, who last week moved past the Hockey East record of 167 career points held by former Northeastern star Kendall Coyne Schofield. “But this year we have an even closer group. It feels like everybody wants the team to succeed and that’s the ingredient you need to be successful in the important games—that everybody goes for everybody and leaves their heart out there. So that’s why I feel really confident that we can achieve all our goals.”

The end of COVID-19 restrictions has helped propel this team, says Flint.

“In the season when we made the national championship, they basically went to their rooms and to the rink,” Flint says. “So how close could you be when you don’t get to hang out together?

“Now they do team meals once a week and they’re hanging out a lot more together. That’s a credit to the leadership and the culture and how it builds every year. It’s getting better and better.”

Mueller’s experienced front line has helped bridge the Huskies to their new era. Mueller, Murphy, Aurard and senior Katy Knoll (17 goals and 28 points overall) are the top four scorers in Hockey East play this season. They recently clinched a fourth straight regular-season conference championship and next month will be pursuing a third straight NCAA Frozen Four appearance.

“You look at what’s been accomplished since they arrived at Northeastern and how many points (418 total) the three of them have,” Flint says. “It’s pretty amazing.”

For all of their success, they’ll approach the semifinal against BU (10-15-2) with a bit of an underdog mentality based on their upset Beanpot loss last year.

“It was pretty upsetting because we felt like we let people down,” Murphy says of the semifinal upset at Matthews against BC goalie Abigail Levy, who made 49 saves. “But it’s the Beanpot and anything can happen.”

The Huskies were without Mueller, who was leading Switzerland to fourth place at the Olympics in Beijing. Because the tournament was canceled in 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Mueller will be experiencing her first Beanpot since 2020, when Aurard was named MVP following the Huskies’ 4-3 championship victory over BU on the Terriers’ home ice.

Much of their success revolves around Mueller. When she scores a point, the Huskies are 20-0-0 this season as well as 106-7-7 over her Northeastern career.

“We are very hungry at the moment,” says Mueller. “We are on a curve upwards, the team is learning every day and it’s just really, really cool to see that we are getting better.”

This Beanpot will be the first step in ending the Mueller era. But she doesn’t approach it sentimentally.

“I’m just so thankful that we got the extra year,” Mueller says of the additional year of eligibility granted by the NCAA in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “It could have been over a year ago. Thinking about the added time that I’ve got helps me to be relaxed, enjoy every game and make every day count.

“I know that it’s over soon. But so far I have no regrets—and I’m sure I won’t have any at the end of the season.”

Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at i.thomsen@northeastern.edu. Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.