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Defensive-minded Huskies chase elusive NCAA title with Gwyneth Philips, the best goalie in women’s college hockey

One year after Philips exceeded all expectations, the new-look Huskies are counting on her leadership

Gwyneth Philips in hockey gear.
“I remember doubting myself,” says Philips as she looks back on last season. It culminated in her winning the national goaltender award. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Twelve months ago Gwyneth Philips was the subject of uncertainty. She was getting her long-awaited chance to start at Northeastern after three years as a backup to Aerin Frankel, the top goaltender in NCAA women’s hockey. 

“I was so nervous,” Philips admits.

Her anxiety was as easy to understand as it was irrelevant, ultimately. Philips went on to lead the nation in goals-against average (a preposterously low 0.87), save percentage (.960) and victories (34). She outperformed her predecessor statistically while succeeding Frankel as national goalie of the year.

This season the plot has shifted. Following the departures of Alina Mueller, Chloé Aurard and Maureen Murphy — one of the most prolific scoring lines in NCAA history with 669 career points between them — the Huskies are reinventing themselves with a defensive-minded team built around Philips and a backline that returns seven of eight contributors.

The Huskies, ranked No. 7 in the U.S. College Hockey Online poll, opened the season with a 5-1 record, including a sweep of Boston University. Their next home game is 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 27, vs. Holy Cross.

There can be no selling Philips short after she turned her own doubts into record-setting performances last season. The fifth-year industrial engineering student enters her final season as the anchor that enables the Huskies to confidently pursue a second straight Women’s Beanpot title, a seventh consecutive Hockey East championship and a fourth Frozen Four appearance in as many years — with the dream of a national championship looming as the ultimate prize. 

“I always preach defense wins games,” says forward Katy Knoll, the top returning scorer with 18 goals and 34 points last year. “I can’t even imagine what it was like for Gwyn stepping into that role last year. She’s very different from Aerin, but in a weird way they have the exact same effect on our team — a calming presence back there.”

Though her coaches and teammates expressed confidence in Philips, who had posted sensational numbers as a backup, she naturally wondered if she was up for the challenge one year ago.

“I didn’t want to leave my team feeling vulnerable and that left me pretty nervous,” Philips says. “I remember doubting myself a little bit in the first games, like, ‘Would Aerin have made that save?’ That was the standard she had set. So I wanted to at least hit that standard.

“And then I found, one, that wasn’t fair to myself, and two, how Aerin would play it isn’t how I would play it. And so I just tried to take that pressure off myself — to compare myself — and just focus on my game.”

Philips allowed six goals (never more than one per game) during the Huskies’ 8-1 start last season. 

The Huskies finished 34-4-1 while earning a No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament. Philips continued Northeastern’s domination of the national goalie of the year award, won by Frankel in its two inaugural years. (Frankel was also named national player of the year in 2020-21.)

Lily Shannon headshot

Lily Shannon

Sophomore Forward

Taylor Guarino headshot

Taylor Guarino

Junior Defender

Tory Mariano headshot

Tory Mariano

Junior Defender

Katy Knoll headshot

Katy Knoll

5th Year Forward

headshot of Molly Griffin

Molly Griffin

Senior Forward

headshot of Kristina Allard

Kristina Allard

Senior Defender

headshot of Holly Abela

Holly Abela

Senior Forward

headshot of Mady Cipolla

Mady Cipolla

Freshman Forward

headshot of Ellie Mabardy

Ellie Mabardy

Freshman Forward

headshot of Lily Yovetich

Lily Yovetich

Senior Defender

headshot of Mia Langlois

Mia Langlois

Senior Forward

headshot of Becca Vanstone

Becca Vanstone

Graduate Forward

headshot of Abbey Marohn

Abbey Marohn

Senior Defender

headshot of Allie Lalonde

Allie Lalonde

Freshman Forward

headshot of Peyton Compton

Peyton Compton

Freshman Forward

“It was maybe the first five or six games until I was feeling pretty confident in my ability and that my team was feeling like I was going to be able to give them a good chance to win,” Philips says. “As I saw my teammates seeing my success and getting trust that I was going to make that save, everything settled in a lot. So we just kept going, building confidence in each other, seeing them have confidence in me.”

The goalie inspires

Philips enters her final season with extraordinary career stats — a 0.81 goals-against average, .962 save percentage and 47-4-1 record. 

“Most of those numbers are more testament to my players in front of me,” says Philips, an assistant captain by team vote this season.That relationship is reciprocal. The narrative of Philips filling Frankel’s skates inspires her teammates as they seek to fill the scoring void left by the three departed stars, all chosen in the initial four rounds of the inaugural Professional Women’s Hockey League draft on Monday. Mueller, Northeastern’s all-time leading scorer, was the No. 3 pick overall (by Boston), followed by Murphy in the third round (by Montreal) and Aurard one round later (to New York).

Gwyneth Philips hockey goalkeeper with arms raised in celebration.
The Huskies look forward to more celebrations this season. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

Previous to the draft, Frankel (Boston) and fellow Huskies legend Kendall Coyne Schofield (Minnesota) were signed by PWHL franchises. In all, nine Northeastern players have been linked to the new pro league — a sign of the Huskies’ powerhouse status.

Much as Philips was able to make the most of her opportunity in goal, so too does Knoll believe the lessons of Mueller, Murphy and Aurard will help her fill in for them this season. 

“It’s the way they act on and off the ice in an elite and professional manner,” says Knoll, who has scored 50 goals (103 points overall) in 138 games at Northeastern. “A lot of people don’t realize everything that goes into it away from the rink. I was fortunate enough to live with Alina and Chloé, and I know Murph pretty well — we’re both from Buffalo — and it’s just seeing how all of them live their lives. 

“That’s what it takes to be at the highest level. If I want to be the best I can be, I need to do the same, and I strive to do that every day. And then build off of that and teach that to our younger group.”

The newcomers include freshman forwards Alexandra Lalonde and Peyton Compton, who won bronze medals for the U.S. at the Under-18 Women’s World Championship in January in Sweden. Joining them is graduate transfer Becca Vanstone, who scored 38 goals (65 points) in four seasons at Yale.

headshot of Peyton Cullaton

Peyton Cullaton

Graduate Forward

headshot of Rylie Jones

Rylie Jones

Freshman Defender

Megan Carter

Graduate Defender

headshot of Ella Blackmore

Ella Blackmore

Freshman Forward

Paige Taborski

Junior Goaltender

headshot of Gwyneth Philips

Gwyneth Philips

5th Year Goaltender

headshot of Jules Constantinople

Jules Constantinople

Senior Defender

headshot of Taze Thompson

Taze Thompson

Junior Forward

headshot of Lily Brazis

Lily Brazis

Senior Forward

headshot of Mattie Robitzer

Mattie Robitzer

Freshman Goaltender

headshot of Skylar Irving

Skylar Irving

Junior Forward

headshot of Peyton Anderson

Peyton Anderson

Graduate Forward

headshot of Avery Anderson

Avery Anderson

Senior Forward

headshot of Alyssa Antonakis

Alyssa Antonakis

Senior Forward

Though Northeastern was picked by rival coaches to win Hockey East again this season, Knoll acknowledges that the Huskies are likely to be underrated nationally as they transition to a new era built around defense.

“I like that for our team,” says Knoll of their underdog status. “It’s a good spot to be in — and maybe a little rare for our returners, we’re not necessarily used to that. It’s the perfect spot to start the season, a prove-yourself mentality. But we also know that we’re just as good as we were.”

‘That one stumps me’

The Huskies also draw from an ironic source of inspiration — their season-ending 3-0 loss to Ohio State in the national semifinal last March.

“That one stumps me a little bit,” says Philips, whose Huskies were outshot 53-15 that day in Duluth, Minnesota. “I faced [more than] twice as many shots as my season average, which was something I wasn’t used to. And I think I made some really good saves; my team helped me out tremendously.

“I can still see my goals against and I think, why didn’t I stop that? I had some really good shots against me in that game and those three [goals] weren’t necessarily a part of those. I wasn’t exactly thrilled with the goals that I let in that game. So that’s what sticks with me. But that was just a really tough game all around. It got worse and worse as the game went on and our emotions got the better of us.”

This year’s team may benefit from that loss, says assistant coach Lindsay Berman.

“In the moment it’s tough to realize that there could be a silver lining,” says Berman, who served as a U.S. assistant at the Under-18 championship. “But as a [coaching] staff we take a step back and we feel like we have to lose that game to win that game.”

The hard-earned experiences from falling to Ohio State — which went on to lose the NCAA final to Wisconsin — may help strengthen the Huskies in their ambition to go further this season.

“The unfortunate part that people don’t really understand is that it takes a full year to get back to that game,” Berman says. “So you have to take care of business on a daily basis. 

“For the players the silver lining is that they still have a bad taste in their mouth about the way that our season ended. I think that fuels them, that there’s a fire under them, that there was doubt among others that we didn’t belong there. And they know that we did. So I think that our group is going to try to continue to prove that until we get what we are striving for.”

Philips is looking sharper than ever after a summer built around her ascension within USA Hockey. She won two games as the U.S. swept a three-game collegiate series against Canada in August — another challenge met.

“I think she might have been a little bit surprised by how much she’s relied upon at that level,” Berman says. “Just being around the best and getting that experience playing against Canada, there’s a little more adrenaline, there seems to be some added pressure. And she handled it probably better than she expected to.”

Philips will feel plenty of support from a defensive unit that loses only Maude Poulin-Labelle, who was drafted in the 10th round by Montreal this week. Among those returning include All-Hockey East selections (and new team captain) Megan Carter and Abbey Marohn.

“The relationship is very symbiotic,” Marohn says of the success she and her fellow backliners have experienced with Philips. “It’s like an unspoken connection, a trust. One of my goals is to put my [defensive] partner and my goalie first.”

The Huskies may need much of this season to develop their new dynamic. On the eve of their opener, they were planning a team dinner in the apartment Marohn shares with Carter, Knoll and Vanstone.

“The freshmen will bring cups and plates and utensils,” Marohn says. “Somebody will bring a salad; we always run out of salad, there’s never enough salad. Our room will cook the actual dish and then someone will bring the desserts.”

The discussion of those plans reminds Marohn of another tradition — a separate dinner for the defense and goalies.

“I’ve forgotten about this until now,” Marohn says. But it’s a long season with plenty of meals to come.

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