By James Duffy, deputy sports editor
A historic season has come to a heartbreaking end. The Northeastern University (NU) women’s hockey team had the best season in school history this year, winning a program-record 28 games and securing its first ever berth in the NCAA tournament.
The tournament appearance, however, was bittersweet, as the Huskies fell in the first round to a familiar foe – the Boston College (BC) Eagles.
The No. 1 Eagles netted two goals in the opening period and skated to a 5-1 win, advancing to the Frozen Four for the fourth time in the last five seasons.
“I’m happy that we got here, but I’m disappointed with the outcome,” head coach Dave Flint said following the loss.
BC has been the Huskies’ kryptonite all season, handing them five of their nine losses. En route to an undefeated season, the Eagles served as a spoiler for the Huskies, putting a damper on an incredible year.
“I haven’t seen an NCAA team as good as this [BC] one,” Flint said. “They have so many weapons and so many ways to beat you.”
The NCAA selection committee announced a surprising first-round matchup, as most pundits had pegged the Huskies to take on the University of Minnesota or the University of Wisconsin in the opening round.
“I was obviously excited to get into the NCAAs,” Flint said in an interview with GoNU after the matchup was announced. “I’m a little confused to why we went in as the eight seed when we were locked into the six spot.”
Despite ending the season ranked No. 6 nationally, the selection committee dropped the Huskies down two spots to eighth.
The Huskies had a chance to control their own destiny and lock up a higher seed in the national tournament by succeeding in the Hockey East Playoffs, but a semifinal loss to Boston University (BU) sealed their fate at No. 8. BU sophomore goalie Erin O’Neil was solid in the 4-3 win, making a career-high 54 saves to carry her team to victory.
Sophomore forward Shelby Herrington tried to spur on the Huskies by notching two goals, but her efforts weren’t enough for the team to advance to the Hockey East Final. Sophomore defenseman Ainsley MacMillan tacked on a goal in the loss as well.
Following BC’s victory over the Terriers in the conference final, the matchup between NU and BC was set for the tourney.
The Eagles came out of the gate firing and lit the lamp just 50 seconds into the game. Sophomore defenseman Megan Kelly scooped up a rebound on the left side of the net and put the puck past freshman goalie Brittany Bugalski to give her team the early lead.
Later in the first, sophomore forward Tori Sullivan found a loose puck in front of Bugalski and cleaned up the trash to put the Eagles up 2-0.
Sullivan’s goal ended up being the game winner, as sophomore goalie Katie Burt stayed stellar between the pipes for BC. She made 21 saves on 22 shots to secure her 34th win of the season.
In the loss to BC, senior forward Kendall Coyne potted her 50th goal of the season, the most in the nation. The tally was just another historic mark for Coyne, who has rewritten the NU and Hockey East record books over her career.
50 goals in 37 games – eat your heart out, Dany Heatley.
For her efforts this season, Coyne was also honored as a top-three finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award, given annually to the top women’s college hockey player. The winner will be announced on Saturday, March 19.
After the game, an emotional Coyne reflected on her career and the season.
“It’s been a tremendous honor just to see this program grow,” Coyne said. “There’s only one team that doesn’t end their season with a loss, so it’s tough to swallow, but I’m so blessed for the opportunity I’ve had here.”
Reaching the national tournament was a goal both Coyne and Flint had set before the season. Fighting back tears, Coyne talked about how important Flint has been to her in her time at NU.
“With my family far away, it means a lot to have someone like Coach Flint,” she said. “He treats us like people, not hockey players, and that’s the one thing that’s really kept me going for the past five years, knowing I have him along the way.”
The team now looks ahead to next season, where it hopes to be able to build upon this year’s massive success.
As the graduating captain, Coyne said that she told her returning teammates to look back on their experience in the tournament and aim to advance further next season.
Flint, too, was optimistic for the future, saying he was excited to see what this team can do next year.
“I think moving forward, there’s a lot of good things on the horizon for Northeastern women’s hockey,” Flint said.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics