Two wins away from an NCAA title, Northeastern women’s hockey team looks ahead to its ultimate challenge while basking in national awards by Ian Thomsen March 16, 2023 Share Mastodon Facebook LinkedIn Twitter The fifth-seeded Huskies practiced Thursday at AMSOIL Arena on the eve of their NCAA semifinal against defending champion and top seed Ohio State. Photo by Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics DULUTH, Minnesota—Even as Northeastern’s head coach and players were sweeping up national awards, the fifth-seeded Huskies were preparing for their NCAA women’s hockey semifinal as underdogs against the dominant team of the past two seasons. Northeastern (34-2-1) takes on defending champion and No. 1 seed Ohio State (32-5-2) at 3:30 p.m. ET Friday at AMSOIL Arena (streaming on ESPN+). The Huskies are two wins away from earning the first NCAA championship for Northeastern in any team sport. The Huskies aren’t lacking confidence while carrying a 22-game winning streak into their third straight Frozen Four. But they received a jolt of affirmation from the news Thursday that senior Gwyneth Philips had been named women’s goalie of the year by the Hockey Commissioners Association. Philips leads the nation in goals-against average (0.81), save percentage (.961) and wins (34). Philips and forward Alina Mueller were also recognized Thursday as first-team All-Americans by the American Hockey Coaches Association. Dave Flint was named national coach of the year for the second time in three seasons. And for a third straight year Megan Carter earned the NCAA Elite 90 award for the highest grade point average (4.0) at the Frozen Four. Carter, a senior defender and assistant team captain, is majoring in biology. On the eve of their biggest game, the individual honors were set aside as the Huskies looked ahead to their showdown with Ohio State, which is also making a third straight trip to the Frozen Four. Photo by Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics Photo by Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics Photo by Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics Photo by Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics “We’ve been in this position the last couple of years and we know what to expect,” said senior defender Megan Carter on the eve of the Huskies’ third—and potentially triumphant—NCAA Frozen Four. Photos by Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics Northeastern enters the weekend as the hottest team in the country. The Huskies lead the nation in defense, they have one of the most productive scoring lines in the history of the sport—graduate students Mueller, Maureen Murphy and Chloé Aurard—and their blend of talents is driven by a hunger that has been building for three years. Their team leaders are driven by bitter memories of an overtime loss to Wisconsin in the 2021 NCAA championship game, followed by a double-overtime defeat to Minnesota Duluth in the national semifinal last season. The stubborn ambition is turbocharged by an understanding that few observers expect the Huskies to knock off Ohio State. “They won the national championship last year,” said Carter, acknowledging that the Buckeyes have earned their high standing. “So the roles are reversed now. The whole season [in Hockey East], we’ve had the targets on our back. But now we can put a target on their back. It’s going to take our best effort, but at the same time I know that we’re up for the challenge.” The Huskies expressed respect—but no awe—for their accomplished opponent. “They’re very good, they’re fast, they’re tenacious—but there are ways you can break them down too,” Flint said. “They have one speed, one mode, and if you let them push you around, you’re going to be in trouble. But if you push back, I think it will be a good hockey game.” “The coaching staff prepared us really well,” Mueller said. “We did a lot of video. We know they’re fast. We also know their weaknesses and want to capitalize on them.” The Buckeyes have embraced the opportunity to earn two national titles in a row. “A lot of teams can win one, but can you defend it?” Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall said. “It makes it more challenging, getting everybody’s best.” Muzerall and her staff have broken down Northeastern’s strengths at both ends of the ice. “I told the girls—I gave them a wake-up call—this might be one of the best offensive lines you’ve seen all year,” Muzerall said of the Huskies. “And we know they’re going to be a very defensive team as well. I think it’s going to be a battle.” The opening minutes will be crucial, said Flint, referring to the Huskies’ slow start in their 4-1 quarterfinal win at fourth-seeded Yale last Saturday. “One thing I like about our team is, no matter what happens, they don’t get rattled, they don’t get flustered, there’s never panic on the bench,” Flint said. “The one thing I know will happen tomorrow: The first five minutes Ohio State is going to come at us like it’s 10 players on the ice. We need to be ready to weather that storm.” Philips has been building toward this moment. She has yielded five goals in six tournament games over the past half-dozen weeks (Beanpot, Hockey East and NCAAs), culminating in a career-best 38 saves—17 in the final period—at Yale. “A good word to describe her is unflappable,” Flint said of Philips. “She’s just the most calm kid you’ll ever meet. That’s what you love in a goalie: If you’re calm in the net, the rest of your team is calm. And she just doesn’t get rattled. She’s laser-focused and she competes like crazy.” Flint has been counting on the upfront leadership of experienced players like Carter and their top scorers. Mueller, Aurard and Murphy (who transferred to Northeastern from Providence College in 2020) have combined for 669 career points, making Northeastern the second school in Division 1 history to have a trio of active 200-point scorers. The trio ranks among the nation’s top-eight scorers this season. “The key is that you prepared for this before today,” Mueller said. “We’ve done a great job preparing as it’s a championship game every weekend. We treated every day like it’s the last day of the year. So we’re not nervous. We’re very confident, very calm, very excited.” Mueller, the team captain and all-team leading scorer at Northeastern, is used to long odds. In each of her three Olympic appearances she has helped lead Switzerland into the top five of the women’s hockey tournament. At age 15, she scored the winning goal in the bronze-medal game of the 2014 Olympics which made her the youngest player ever to medal in her sport. Four years later, she earned the “best forward” award of the Olympics with a tournament-leading 10 points in six games. Last year in Beijing, she was the only Olympian from outside Canada and the U.S. to rank among the top nine in scoring, with four goals and six assists in seven games to help carry Switzerland to the bronze-medal game. Mueller is among three finalists for the Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award that will be presented to the nation’s top player at a nationally televised ceremony (NHL Network) at 12:30 p.m. ET Saturday. Opposing Mueller for the award—as she will for a berth in the NCAA title game—is Sophie Jaques of Ohio State, along with Danielle Serdachny of Colgate. Northeastern is 30-0 this season when Mueller scores a point. She has scored in her last 11 games, she ranks No. 1 nationally with nine game-winning goals and she’s played a hand in 23 of Northeastern’s game-winning goals. “We’ve been preparing for this for the past five-plus years,” said Carter, referring to the experiences of Mueller’s line. “Obviously there’s some unfinished business. We’ve been in this position the last couple of years and we know what to expect. We’re very confident.” In the other Frozen Four semifinal, No. 2 Minnesota (which knocked off Ohio State in the recent WCHA tournament final) will take on No. 6 Wisconsin at 7 p.m. ET Friday. The national championship game is 4 p.m. ET Sunday (ESPNU). Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.