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Northeastern’s record run of six straight Hockey East women’s titles ends with OT loss at UConn

Northeastern was seeking a seventh straight NCAA tourney bid while playing in its eighth straight Hockey East final. Upending the champs amounted to a program breakthrough for UConn which won its first Hockey East title.

Northeastern womens goalkeeper saving a shot by UConn.
Gwyneth Philips made 51 saves to keep Northeastern alive for almost 80 minutes. Photo by Jim Pierce for Northeastern University

STORRS, Conn. — It ended cruelly for the Northeastern Huskies after 79 minutes and 25 seconds of excruciating playoff hockey. 

Top-seeded Connecticut beat the defending champions, 1-0, on a deflected shot in overtime of Saturday’s Hockey East women’s final. 

UConn (25-7-5) advanced to the NCAA tournament, while second-seeded Northeastern’s record streak of six consecutive conference championships came to an end.

Gwyneth Philips, the reigning national goaltender of the year, had made a career-best 51 saves and was on the verge of carrying Northeastern (25-11-3) to a second OT session when UConn dug out the puck from behind her goal. 

It was relayed out to Ainsley Svetek at the top of the zone and her shot was deflected by Megan Woodworth as the Toscano Family Ice Forum erupted in roars.

Philips skated out alone from her net and fell to her knees, emotionally exhausted after doing so much to keep the Huskies’ dreams alive. Soon her teammates were gathering around her, consoling each other at the end of a remarkable and inspiring season while everyone else around them was celebrating. It was the final game at Northeastern for Philips, a fifth-year student.

Woodworth was initially concerned that she might have been in the crease, which would have disallowed her goal. But an extended review upheld UConn’s victory 35 seconds before the overtime intermission.

“I really thought we were going to get a goal,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint, who found himself recalling a 50-save high school shutout victory cast by Philips years ago against the No. 1 team in the country. “I didn’t think they were going to beat her today.”

Northeastern was seeking a seventh straight NCAA tournament bid, while playing in its eighth straight Hockey East final. Upending the champs amounted to a program breakthrough for 10th-ranked UConn, which won its first Hockey East title.

“They paved the way showing us how to do that,” UConn’s 11th-year coach Chris Mackenzie said of 13th-ranked Northeastern. “It was our time.”

Flint’s confidence in his team was renewed in the third period by an extraordinary seven-minute performance by Philips and her penalty-killing unit, which is ranked third nationally. 

The period was 90 seconds old when Northeastern suffered a sequence of misfortunes. The Huskies found themselves at a 5-on-3 disadvantage after Tory Mariano (cross-checking) and Kristina Allard (tripping) were called for dual penalties.

They had survived all but seven seconds of that power play when more disaster struck. A flurry in front of Northeastern’s goal resulted in a five-minute major for contact to the head as well as a 10-minute game misconduct penalty assessed to team captain Megan Carter, resulting in ejection for the best defender in Hockey East — and leaving the Huskies to deal with a five-on-four disadvantage for almost five minutes.

Altogether it resulted in a virtuoso seven-minute stretch for Philips, who showed why she is among the three finalists to defend the national Goalie of the Year award that she earned one year ago.

She saved point-blank shots to her right and left. Slap shots were knocked away. At one point she reached back to grab the crossbar for balance; later she fell across the legs of teammate Jules Constantinople while making another save.

Northeastern womens hockey player shooting the puck.
Both teams developed multiple scoring opportunities throughout the game. Photo by Jim Pierce for Northeastern University

So did Philips stand her ground like a Game of Thrones hero endlessly fending off the marauding White Walkers.

“They were all coming together as a group,” Flint said. “They kept their composure, they didn’t get flustered and they battled the whole time. I do think it tired us a little bit.” 

It was a gritty performance by the Huskies, who were forced to reinvent themselves this season after losing historic numbers offensively. Current Professional Women’s Hockey League stars Alina Mueller, Chloé Aurard and Maureen Murphy had helped drive Northeastern to the past three NCAA Frozen Fours while combining for 669 career points.

In their absence the Huskies struggled to an 8-8 start amid inconsistent scoring.

“We were 4-6 in the league and things weren’t going well for us,” Flint said. “And on top of that Carter went down with an injury and [starting defender] Lily Yovetich was out with an injury. We were kind of flailing and trying to figure out which way to go, and the leadership group picked the team up. Our fifth-year players got them on track and we finished what some would consider a really impressive season.”

The renewed Huskies went 17-3-3 after Thanksgiving, rising to No. 2 in the conference and on Saturday creating multiple scoring opportunities that might have sent them back to the NCAA tournament — if not for 38 saves by UConn’s all-tournament goalie Tia Chan. (Constantinople and teammate Peyton Anderson were voted to the all-tournament team.)

So ended Northeastern’s 23-game winning streak in the Hockey East tournament.

“They’re one of the winningest classes ever at Northeastern,” Flint said of his departing fifth-year players. “I just told them in the locker room there’s a lot for them to be proud of. We’ve accomplished so much. They’ve won four Hockey East championships. They’ve played in five championships.”

The enduring bittersweet image is of Philips, enervated and unable to make sense of the sudden end.

“It was all that she’s put into this program and into the game today,” said Flint, himself a former goaltender. “As a goalie, sometimes it’s a lonely place, especially after a game like that. But her team was around her and picked her up and that just goes to show you the group that we have.”