‘It was a track meet.’ Northeastern falls to No. 1 Ohio State, 3-0, in NCAA women’s hockey semifinal

northeastern womens hockey player shooting the puck
Team captain Alina Mueller and her Huskies had chances against the top-seeded Buckeyes. Photo by Jim Pierce/Northeastern Athletics

DULUTH, Minnesota—Three straight visits to the NCAA Frozen Four. A program-record 34 wins, including 22 straight. Beanpot and Hockey East titles. The top goalie in Division 1. The nation’s highest-scoring line. And maybe a national player of the year award for team captain Alina Mueller.

For all of those achievements, the fifth-seeded Northeastern Huskies’ ultimate aim was to win the women’s hockey national title and earn the university’s first NCAA team championship. Their failure to do so, at the hands of the defending national champion, goes down as a lone shortcoming in an otherwise spectacular season. 

The Huskies (34-4-1) lost to top-seeded Ohio State, 3-0, in an NCAA semifinal Friday at AMSOIL Arena. 

“It was a track meet and we couldn’t keep up,” said Dave Flint, who Thursday was named national coach of the year for the second time in three seasons. “We have fast players. But [the Buckeyes] come at you with everybody. And they’re relentless.”

As Flint had predicted, the speedy and experienced Buckeyes came out hot. They seized control with a demoralizing goal in the 76th second and outshot Northeastern, 12-0, in the opening nine minutes.

The Huskies had three excellent chances to equalize, and appeared to do so near the end of the first period on a Chloé Aurard goal that was disallowed.

But the experienced Buckeyes, featuring 10 players who were making a third straight Frozen Four appearance, affirmed their status as favorites to defend their national title while outshooting Northeastern, 53-15 overall. 

Ohio State coach Nadine Muzerall said her team may have played its best game across all areas.

“That is the best hockey game I’ve ever coached in terms of pride in what my team accomplished,” she said. “Against a really good opponent, we controlled the game and pace. To be that relentless but composed at the same time spoke volumes about our mental and physical ability.”

It marked a third straight defeat at the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four for the Huskies, who suffered losses in overtime of the 2021 championship game and in double overtime in a national semifinal last year.

Flint praised Gwyneth Philips for keeping the Huskies close for most of two periods.

“She showed why she’s the best goaltender in the NCAA,” Flint said. “It could have been 6-0.”

It was an especially sad outcome for the seven players who were ending their Northeastern careers—led by graduate students Mueller, Chloé Aurard and Maureen Murphy, the nation’s most accomplished front line this season.

It was also the final Northeastern game for Mia Brown, Kate Holmes, Alexa Matses and Maude Poulin-Labelle. Altogether that group contributed to an ongoing run of six straight Hockey East titles and NCAA tournament bids.

The loss closes a sensational 86-10-4 run by the Huskies over the past three years. They had entered this season in need of replacing a dozen players, including their three best at the defense end: Aerin Frankel (the national player of the year and two-time national goalie of the year), four-time All-American Skylar Fontaine and team captain Brooke Hobson. 

The Huskies quickly rebuilt the nation’s leading defensive unit around Frankel’s longtime understudy Philips, a senior who on Thursday was named national goalie of the year after leading the NCAA in goals-against average (0.81), save percentage (.961) and wins (34). 

On eve of the semifinal, Flint had predicted that “Ohio State is going to come at us like it’s 10 players on the ice” in the opening minutes, and so the Buckeyes did. Third-line forward Kenzie Hauswirth fired the game’s opening shot off Philips’ pad and freshman Sloane Matthews put away the rebound for a 1-0 Ohio State lead in the second minute.

The stunned Huskies worked their way back into the game via a Murphy breakaway that helped settle them down. They appeared to score an equalizer with 5:39 remaining when Aurard put away a centering pass from Murphy. But Muzerall challenged the goal, and after an extended video review it was determined that Mueller—who ignited the play with a hard mid-ice check—had advanced the puck with her hand while laying on the ice.

The Huskies might have survived those two lost opportunities had they made good on some of their four power plays, including a two-skater advantage for 85 seconds in the second period. But their attack turned tentative after their top line of Mueller, Murphy and Aurard went to the bench. 

“One of the things we talked about is you have to do everything quicker,” Flint said of the game plan against Ohio State. “When you’re used to having an extra second to make a play and all of a sudden that window is gone, it’s hard. They just swarm and swarm and swarm, and it’s like they get more energy when they get you penned in.”

In one game, Flint said, the Buckeyes forced more turnovers between the circles than the Huskies had surrendered over the entire second half of the season.

Having squandered their few chances to pull even, the Huskies watched as Ohio State pulled away on goals by Makenna Webster and Hadley Harmetz in the final nine minutes of the second period.

As the final horn sounded, the Huskies watched from their bench as Ohio State celebrated its opportunity to defend the national title. Moments later, senior defender Megan Carter could be seen embracing Muller.

“We really believe in each other and the culture that we’ve built,” said Carter, an assistant captain who for a third straight year earned the NCAA Elite 90 award for the highest grade point average (4.0) at the Frozen Four. “

“Our seniors and fifth-years have done so much,” she said. “It stings seeing them end their careers at Northeastern like that. You wish you could have done a little bit more. We love them so much. They’ve left such a huge impact on the program and it’s going to last a very long time.”

On Saturday the team will attend the announcement of the Patty Kazmaier award in support of Mueller, who leaves as Northeastern’s all-time leading scorer with 254 points. Mueller, Aurard and Murphy (who transferred to Northeastern from Providence College in 2020) combined for 669 career points, making Northeastern the second school in Division 1 history to have a trio of active 200-point scorers. 

“They may be the winningest group to ever leave Northeastern, and nobody can ever take that away from them,” Flint said of his legendary front line. “As good hockey players as they are, they’re even better people. They are going to be missed.”

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