Northeastern team, coach and mascot cheer in the arena as recent teammates Alina Mueller and Aerin Frankel make pro hockey history.
LOWELL, Mass. — One of the most promising weeks in the history of women’s sports continued Wednesday night with an opening game of the long-awaited Professional Women’s Hockey League — a groundbreaking event that also served as a Northeastern University reunion.
A crowd of 4,012 arrived at the Tsongas Center to cheer for the host franchise, PWHL Boston, which features two recent stars from Northeastern in Alina Mueller and Aerin Frankel.
They were taking on the white-clad visitors of PWHL Minnesota, led by a fellow pair of Huskies, team captain Kendall Coyne Schofield (recently inducted in the Northeastern Athletics Hall of Fame) and her former Northeastern teammate Denisa Krizova.
Cheering them on while occupying three rows in the end zone stands were the current members of the Northeastern women’s hockey program — including coach Dave Flint, the reigning national goalie of the year in Gwyneth Philips and, of course, Paws, the Huskies’ ubiquitous mascot outfitted in his signature No. 99.
Even referee Kelly Cooke had Northeastern ties, having graduated from the School of Law in 2019.
Minnesota prevailed, 3-2, despite being outshot 35-16 by Boston and surviving a home-team rally in the final three minutes.
The six-team PWHL, featuring the world’s best players with experienced management and strong financial backing, opened to excited crowds with games in New York and Ottawa earlier this week.
“It’s super inspiring to see all these people here today,” said Northeastern sophomore defender Kristina Allard, who was wearing a No. 11 Huskies jersey in honor of her former teammate Mueller. “Growing up as a kid who has always aspired to be a professional hockey player — to see this happening today is incredible.”
After just six months of preparation, the PWHL hurried to open in this New Year in order to meet the demands of star players who were hungry to play professionally — while also being treated as professionals. The urgency to start-up sooner than later left league officials with no time to come up with nicknames for the original six teams. The absence of PWHL mascots meant little to performers or their audience, which included a number of female youth, high school and college hockey teams.
“Now there’s this option to play professionally after college,” Flint said. “In previous years players were saying, ‘I hope I can make a national team; if not, I’ve got to get a job in the working world.’ And now there’s this opportunity to play hockey and make a living doing it. So it totally changes their perspective.”
The new league’s physical style of play was inspiring to Katy Knoll, a fifth-year senior forward who hopes to play in the PWHL next year. The hard hits were an expression of this dream coming true.
“I’m the kind of player who likes a more physical game, so I think that’s exactly what the game needs — in a smart manner, obviously,” Knoll said. “For players my age, for younger players and for young kids who are in youth hockey, I think [the PWHL] is so important and really exciting.”
The anticipation was recognized by a pregame ceremony that included spotlit introductions for each player of the home team. As Mueller and Frankel skated across the ice in their mint-condition green jerseys, each responded to the cheering section of their former Northeastern teammates.
Mueller left Northeastern last year as the program’s all-time leading scorer. That record had previously belonged to Coyne Schofield, who, like Frankel, had been named national player of the year at Northeastern. Frankel additionally was a two-time national goalie of the year for the Huskies.
The ceremonial pregame puck drop was performed by recently retired Boston Bruin captain Patrice Bergeron, accompanied by his three little children and met at center ice by Coyne Schofield.
Her visiting team was ready for the challenge as Minnesota seized a 2-0 lead in the opening eight minutes on goals by Taylor Heise and Sophia Kunin. After an exchange of scores in the second period, Mueller appeared to bring Boston within a goal 30 seconds into the third. Her shot from between the circles was first ruled a goal but upon review was disallowed.
Mueller was highly active all night, assisting on Boston’s final goal (a 6-on-4 power play with 2:40 remaining) while creating multiple chances as Boston tried to rally back.
“To see how many Huskies that are playing in this league among the best players in the world is something I’m super proud of,” Flint said. “And I’m so excited to see what lies ahead. This is a great first night, so I think they’re on the right track and they’re doing it the right way.”