Women’s hockey: Seven seniors leave program on the upswing

The women’s hockey team lost to Connecticut 4-1 in the Hockey East quarterfinals at Matthews Arena Feb. 27. It was the second straight season the Huskies fell in the Hockey East quarterfinals, with last season concluding with a 2-1 loss at Boston University Feb. 28. The UConn loss was the final game in a Husky uniform for seven seniors.
By Jason Mastrodonato, News Staff

The Northeastern women’s hockey team saw its season come to an abrupt end two Saturdays ago, falling to No. 9 University of Connecticut 4-1 in the Hockey East quarter finals.
The Huskies (17-9-7, 9-6-6-4) hadn’t lost to UConn (21-9-7, 10-5-6-1) in three previous season matches, winning twice in a shootout and once in regulation. But UConn jumped out to a quick lead, scoring three goals within 1:25 in the first period and held on the rest of the way.
“We’re disappointed,” said co-interim head coach Lauren McAuliffe. “We didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs. I think everyone in that locker room is disappointed.”
The loss capped off a season of highs and lows for the Huskies, who finished the year ranked No. 10 in the USCHO.com/CSTV Division I Women’s Poll.
Northeastern began the season 7-1-1 and lost just five of its first 26 contests. But a 2-1 loss to Providence on Feb. 6 began a downward spiral as the team finished the season with just one regulation win in the final seven games.
With eight freshmen on the roster, co-interim head coach Linda Lundrigan said she believes the Huskies benefited from showing a new look in the beginning of the season, something that changed though as the year wore on.
“It’s very difficult to beat a team three times in a row,” she said. “The competition gets tighter as you move on. They don’t know who your players are, then in February they know your players and what they need to do [to stop them]. It allows some teams that haven’t beaten you yet to beat you.”
The freshmen played a big role in the Huskies improved offense this season. The team jumped from scoring 63 goals a season ago to netting 78 in the recent campaign. Forwards Brittany Esposito and Casey Pickett, both freshmen, were tied for second on the team with 10 goals each.
But as the competition got harder at the back end of Northeastern’s schedule, scoring was scarce. The Huskies averaged just one goal per game in their last seven contests.
“The offense wasn’t working,” McAuliffe said. “We adjusted the lines, that didn’t work, went back to the original lines, that didn’t work either. We never really found our stride after that.”
The strong freshmen class that paved the way on offense this year will undoubtedly benefit from a year of experience though, leaving their coaches with hope that next year will bring even brighter fortunes.
“They’re a great class that we were really excited about getting in and seeing what they could do on the college level,” McAuliffe said. “None of them disappointed. They did more than they were expected to and they’re only going to get better.”
The goaltending, led my sophomore Florence Schelling and junior Leah Sulyma, anchored the Huskies all season. The two racked up Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week honors, collecting the award 12 times collectively. Schelling was named Hockey East Co-Player of the Year.
“We’re kind of known for that,” McAuliffe said of the two goaltenders. “Florence and Leah are two of the best in the league, two of the best in the country I’d say. To not have to worry about that is a relief for a coach.”
The coaches made strides of their own this season.
After ending the 2008-09 campaign with a losing record of 12-20-3, head coach Dave Flint stepped aside to help coach the women’s U.S. national team. Lundrigan and McAuliffe took over the head coaching job as a tandem and guided the Huskies to their first season with at least 17 wins since 2001-2002.
“This year was a learning year for us,” McAuliffe said. “I was never concerned that we were going to tank it, you give them the worst coach in the world and those kids would have done a great job.”
Flint returns next season and while the coaches will have a different role ahead of them, they’re excited to get him back.
“He coached with Mark Johnson [the women’s US national team head coach and a member of the 1980 US “Miracle on Ice” Olympic squad] this year,” McAuliffe explained. “So he’ll clearly have picked up more knowledge. We’re excited to get back on track.”
Seven seniors leave the Huskies next year, paving the way for a new generation of recruits. But they have left an ever-lasting mark on their teammates, their coaches, and the entire program.
“When I came in as a freshman, they were the ones I looked up to,” said junior forward Kristi Kehoe. “They knew they were going to be that class that changes something. With the history that Northeastern has had in years past before they got there, that was a difficult thing to do.”
The Huskies had won eight games the year before the current senior class arrived. And just three the year before that. But following a season that re-established the Northeastern women’s ice hockey program, the seniors can leave knowing they played a great role in the team’s redirection.
“The seniors will be very tough to replace, but the experience that they were able to get this season was huge for the growth of our program,” Lundrigan said. “It was a very successful year.”