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Northeastern women pursue seventh straight Hockey East title after 4-1 semifinal win over UNH

Lily Shannon scored the game-winner with 1:45 remaining to secure the Huskies’ eighth consecutive trip to the conference final.

Northeastern womens hockey player taking a shot on net.
Peyton Anderson would score the opening goal in Northeastern’s semifinal win at Matthews Arena. Photo by Alyssa Stone/Northeastern University

The Northeastern University women’s hockey team is a win away from one of its most inspiring achievements yet.

The Huskies (25-10-3 overall, 17-8-3 in conference) beat New Hampshire, 4-1, Wednesday in a Hockey East semifinal at Matthews Arena that was far more dramatic than the score implies.

The victory advances Northeastern to the tournament’s final for an eighth straight year — a preposterous record.

It also positions the Huskies to earn what would be their seventh consecutive Hockey East championship. With that would come another automatic bid to the 11-team NCAA tournament. 

And if all of that happens the triumph will be celebrated in a context far different than its predecessors.

The second-seeded Huskies will play for the championship at noon Saturday at top-seeded Connecticut (24-7-5), a winner over fourth-seeded Boston College by 2-1 in the other semifinal match. Northeastern Global News will be providing live updates and analysis before, during and after the game, which will be televised by ESPNU.

Northeastern, ranked 13th nationally, survived an excruciating semifinal challenge from UNH, which tied the game with 6:33 remaining. 

But the Huskies responded with three goals in the final 105 seconds, beginning with Lily Shannon’s winner on Northeastern’s fourth and final power play.

Peyton Anderson opened the scoring with a virtuoso goal early in the final period. Skylar Irving and Shannon added empty netters to finish the Huskies’ long, circuitous journey to a horizon that seemed beyond their reach three months ago.

They began this season struggling to overcome the departure of one of the most prolific scoring lines in NCAA history, with Alina Mueller, Chloé Aurard and Maureen Murphy (all starring now in the new Professional Women’s Hockey League) combining for 669 career points to help drive Northeastern to the NCAA Frozen Four for the past three years.

The Huskies staggered to an 8-8 start (4-6 in conference) while striving to reinvent themselves. Since Thanksgiving they’ve rallied together, defending their Beanpot championship before more than 10,000 fans at TD Garden while going 17-2-3 overall to surge to second place in the Hockey East regular season.

“The team could have doubted themselves,” Northeastern coach Dave Flint said. “They could have packed it in — and we would have had a very average season. But they didn’t. They chose the path that they wanted to go and they came together and worked hard. And I think they found their identity.”

The Huskies had gone undefeated against UNH in the regular season, though all three victories were by a single goal — the latter two going to overtime after furious Northeastern comebacks from two-goal deficits. The third-seeded Wildcats (18-16-2) approached this semifinal rematch with a sense of unfulfilled purpose, their confidence fueled by an ongoing five-game winning streak.

“We knew it was going to be a battle,” Flint said.
Both sides had multiple chances through two scoreless periods. Midway through the second, Northeastern’s Katy Knoll knocked down a UNH outlet with her stick in midair and controlled it before firing a shot from just beyond the crease that was saved by UNH star freshman goaltender Sedona Blair (28 saves).

At the other end, an apparent UNH goal was negated when it was found to have been kicked in.

The third period had barely started when an Irving shot bounced behind the net to Anderson, who showed why she has emerged as the Huskies’ leading goal scorer. Spinning and feinting to dodge two defenders with 18:34 remaining, she reached out and slipped in her 15th goal of the season behind the left skate of Blair, who was unable to pivot in time.

Seconds later, UNH’s hopes were lifted by a Northeastern penalty. The Huskies were more than a minute into killing the power play when Northeastern captain Megan Carter, Hockey East’s best defender, was assessed a five-minute major for high sticking (after a UNH challenge). 

Over the next 5 minutes and 42 seconds the nation’s third-best penalty killing unit held the Wildcats scoreless as Gweneth Philips (28 saves) made eight stops, including one frantic sequence that ended with her falling to clutch the puck like a recovered fumble.

“That shows the grit and the character of our players,” Flint says. “Gwyn comes up with some big saves … she’s so focused and she makes some saves that are really hard look easy.”

It was an extended moment of resilience for a team that has been forging its own hard-earned identity. But it was far from the final test.

Entering the final stretch, a knuckleball shot flipped toward goal by UNH’s Chavonne Truter was misplayed by Philips. It deflected off her glove and into the furthest corner of the net. The Huskies’ best player skated alone to the corner, unable to believe what had happened.

“Everything was positive,” Flint said. “Gwyn came over and said, ‘Sorry, guys, that was my fault.’ She took full responsibility and the team was like, ‘Yeah, we got you. We got you.’ Nobody was hanging their heads. So that’s what made me feel good. I felt confident, like they know what they need to do.”

The Huskies attacked with newfound energy.

“They ramped it up,” Flint said of Philips’ teammates. “They know that she’s bailed them out a bunch of times this year. And so they wanted to do that for her. And they did.”

Less than two minutes from potential overtime, Northeastern’s Peyton Compton fired a shot from the bottom of the left circle. It rebounded to Shannon, who from the crease’s edge pried in the goal that would send the Huskies to their dreamed destination.

Shannon, like so many of her teammates, had struggled in the early going of the season. Now she and her third line were helping to define the new means of their team’s success.

“For a lot of years we’ve relied on one line,” Flint said. “And now it’s different players at different times.”

The Huskies have had a lot to celebrate over the years. But a win on Saturday will be an entirely different kind of triumph for a team that has fought so hard to define itself on terms all its own.

“It probably would be one of the most special ones,” said Flint, who has now won 23 straight Hockey East tournament games. “The other years with the talent we had, people were like, well, you should win. And now, the way the season started and then to bounce back and get to this point, it’s pretty remarkable.”