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Defending champion Northeastern seeks TD Garden final in Women’s Beanpot

The women’s final will be held for the first time at the NHL arena. The Huskies open with a semifinal Tuesday at Harvard.

Northeastern's women's hockey team holds a trophy together in a circle while cheering.
The Huskies hoisted the Women’s Beanpot trophy for a record 18th time last year. Will they go back-to-back? Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The Women’s Beanpot is always a priority for defending champion Northeastern University, which has won two of the past three tournaments and a record 18 overall. But the goal of lifting the trophy means even more to the Huskies this year knowing that the Jan. 23 final will be held at TD Garden for the first time.

The Huskies (13-9-1), who have overcome a difficult start to the season, open the 45th Women’s Beanpot with a semifinal against host Harvard (3-12-1) at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at Bright-Landry Hockey Center.

“It’s an unbelievable experience,” junior forward Skylar Irving says of playing at TD Garden, which she experienced in a high school state championship game. “It’s special because you see your [NHL] idols playing there — and now you’re playing on the same [ice] sheet that they play on. It’s just awesome.”“It’s an opportunity that a lot of young women don’t get, so they’re all fired up about it,” says Northeastern coach Dave Flint. “Obviously we want to put our best foot forward in the semifinal game to make it to the championship game.”

A hockey player with the title "Irving 88" on their jersey chases a puck on ice.
Skylar Irving has helped drive the Huskies’ resurgent offense. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Those chances have been improving. After a frustrating 8-8 start, the Huskies have suffered just one loss in their last seven games heading into the Beanpot semifinal.

It was never going to be easy to replace the nation’s top scoring line of Northeastern’s all-time scoring leader Alina Mueller, Maureen Murphy and Chloé Aurard, who departed last March with a combined 669 points after driving Northeastern to three straight Frozen Four appearances. The Northeastern graduates are now starring in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League.

“I knew it was going to be a transition but I didn’t know to this extent,” Flint says. “We’ve had probably more injuries this year than in the last seven years.”

The casualties have included top defenders Megan Carter (team captain) and Lily Yovetich. Flint says their absence increased the burden on Gwyneth Philips, the reigning national goalie of the year.

“Gwyn got a little tired and a little frustrated when we were having trouble scoring,” Flint says. “I think she felt a lot of pressure, like, if I’m not perfect tonight, we don’t have a chance to win. And that’s a lot for a goalie to handle.”

The Huskies fought through those early-season difficulties. Carter and Yovetich have returned, the Huskies’ defense has been renewed — and at the other end they’ve been developing a new scoring identity while relying on a variety of options. Peyton Anderson, a graduate student, leads the team with 10 goals, while Irving tops Northeastern with 15 assists and 20 points.

“We had a little bit of a learning curve with the younger kids and people finding new roles in the team, so we all had to elevate our games,” Irving says. “We were gripping our sticks too tight at the beginning of the year. But you can finally see people are a little bit looser on the ice, just being able to play their game and not tense up.”

The Beanpot is being held a month earlier than normal — a move that Flint welcomes, especially now that his team appears to be turning the corner.

“In the past it felt like the Beanpot was crammed into the last two weeks of the season when you’re trying to make a push with the playoffs coming up,” Flint says. “So it was always a lot to handle.”

The Huskies’ victory last year earned Northeastern a sweep of both Beanpots. Last year several men’s players arrived with their Beanpot trophy to cheer on the women. 

“I remember we looked up and saw them. It was cool to have their support,” recalls sophomore defender Jules Constantinople, who was making her Beanpot debut. “Everyone used to tell me how exciting the Beanpot was, and I didn’t really realize what they meant until we were in the final game.”

A victory at Harvard — on the rise lately after going winless in its first nine games — will earn the Huskies a new experience. Most of them have never played in the NHL arena.

“Playing at TD Garden gives us a little bit more fire this year,” Constantinople says. “It fuels us even more.”

Flint hopes the midseason tournament — unique to college hockey in Boston — will inspire the Huskies. “We still haven’t played our best hockey,” he says. “So I’m hoping that it’s going to come here with the Beanpot.”