No. 2 women’s hockey poised for Hockey East playoff run and beyond

NU+women%27s+hockey+will+face+UNH+in+the+quarterfinals+of+the+Hockey+East+tournament+Sunday.++

Riley Robinson

NU women’s hockey will face UNH in the quarterfinals of the Hockey East tournament Sunday.

George Barker, news staff

At long last, the Hockey East postseason is upon us. Tonight, the No. 2 women’s hockey team will face the visiting UNH Wildcats in the Hockey East quarterfinals, a game that will hopefully be just a stepping stone to much greater glory for the reigning Hockey East champion Huskies. 

During NU’s (17-1-1, 17-1-1 HEA) final series of the season against UVM (6-4-0, 6-4-0 HEA), NU head coach Dave Flint noted that while another Hockey East crown and the work required to grab one are nothing to overlook, his team has a national title on their mind once again. Last season, NU burst through the Hockey East postseason with relative ease, claiming the conference title in a 9-1 rout over UConn and looking primed to compete in the Frozen Four before COVID-19 shut their plans down. NU only graduated three seniors after that cancellation, giving them the same core with the same aspirations this season.

The Huskies certainly delivered upon the expectations set by Flint and themselves and finished their regular season well ahead of any of their peers with 51 regular season points. While second-place Boston College (14-4-0, 14-4-0 HEA) claimed just 40 points and no other team had a points percentage anywhere near NU’s .895 mark, Hockey East still opted to not declare a regular season winner this year, providing the Huskies a bit of additional bulletin board material.  

“The team was disappointed with the decision [of not naming a] regular season championship this year, but I said, ‘Hey, listen, the regular season trophy is still here, and you know what? We earned it,’” Flint said. “People can say whatever they want to say, but at the end of the day, it was still a regular season championship in our eyes. It’s definitely added motivation for them.”

Currently, NU has a 17-game unbeaten streak, a 13-game winning streak and a three-year Hockey East championship streak. 

How did NU get here? 

The usual suspects delivered for NU, with junior forwards Alina Mueller and Chloé Aurard leading Hockey East in assists and goals, respectively, while senior defender Skylar Fontaine won the Hockey East defenseman scoring race with ease. Mueller finished with a scoring line of 9-22-31, Aurard carried one of 13-8-21, while Fontaine impressed with a 9-12-21 line. The trio were Hockey East’s top three point-getters per game. 

No discussion of NU’s dominance this year would be complete without mentioning senior goaltender Aerin Frankel, who started 17 games for NU this season and notched a shutout in eight of them en route to an absurd 0.65 GAA and .971 save percentage. Predictably, Frankel was named Hockey East Goaltender of the Year. 

The classic core four, who were all named Hockey East First-Team All-Stars, were aided by senior captain blueliner Brooke Hobson, who doesn’t notch the same lofty point totals as some of her D-partners, but brings a strong defensive presence alongside the aggressive Fontaine and was a part of arguably the scariest five-skater unit in women’s college hockey alongside the aforementioned Mueller, Aurard, Fontaine and redshirt junior transfer forward Maureen Murphy. 

Murphy got a later start to the season, but her insertion into the Huskies’ top line had a noticeable impact on how opponents played NU’s top unit. Murphy finished with a 5-9-14 line in 10 games, while Hobson earned a 2-11-13 line in 19 contests. With those five on the ice, opposing defenders were visibly more cautious and wary of protecting the front of their net, giving the Huskies pseudo power-play chances a few times a game. Hobson earned Second Team Hockey East All-Star honors, while Murphy was elected to the Third Team All-Stars.

“My philosophy has always been if you can load up one line and make a really dangerous line, I like to do that,” Flint said after the team’s 8-0 win over Holy Cross earlier this season, which he referenced as one of their most complete victories this season. “Every time they step on the ice, they make teams sweat. They work hard, they’re starting to get some chemistry now.”

In addition to the “fearsome five,” sophomore blueliner Megan Carter and sophomore center Katy Knoll took huge steps in their development this season after successful freshman campaigns. Knoll had the second most goals on the team with 10 while anchoring the second line, and Carter brought a top-tier two-way game to NU’s blueline with seven points in the team’s final five games. 

If their top scoring threats weren’t scary enough though, Northeastern carries enough scoring depth to roll four goal-scoring forward lines, so much that Flint doesn’t even consider there to be much of a difference in talent between their third and fourth unit.   

“Our players playing against the elite athletes on our team forces them to get better every day… It takes some of the pressure off of our top line and our top players to know that we can rely on other lines to score,” Flint said. “The nice luxury of having third and fourth lines that we can really rely on is it gives our top kids who are playing a ton of minutes a little more of a breather. They’re a little more fresh when they need to be on the power play or penalty kill.”

Who will the Huskies face first?

Like the regular season, the postseason comes with some extra COVID-19-induced challenges, mainly that every round of the playoffs will be single elimination, removing some of the protection afforded to top seeds like NU in the early rounds of past tournaments. UNH (7-13-1, 7-13-1 HEA) is one of just two teams to grab points against the Huskies in the regular season, as they played NU to a tie Jan. 9 and went on to win the ensuing shootout. 

Northeastern won their other three games against UNH 3-1, 6-1 and 4-1, and that 6-1 contest was realistically a 3-1 win for NU as the Huskies’ final three goals came in the last three minutes of the game, two of them on an empty net. UNH has played a physical brand of hockey this season, with 5’11” freshman forward Chavonne Truter, 5’10” senior defender Julia Scammell and 5’11” redshirt junior forward Paige Rynne giving the Wildcats quite a bit of size to work with. NU’s last game against UNH was one of the most physical games Flint had seen in a long while. 

They’re big, they’re physical, they’re going to try to slow us down. We need to move our feet, keep our composure,” Flint said. “They’ll take some penalties, and we need to take advantage when we get on the power play. I don’t think it changes our game plan at all; we’ll do what we’re going to do and make them adjust to us.”

Truter was one of UNH’s better scoring threats in addition to bringing a physical edge, but the Wildcats’ top scoring options are freshman forward Nicole Kelly (5-9-14), junior center Lauren Martin (5-6-11) and sophomore forward Tamara Thierus (4-5-9). 

Redshirt junior goaltender Ava Boutilier (2.43 GAA and .919 save percentage in 19 games) proved to be one of the more difficult dams to break for NU scorers this season, even if the games’ final scores don’t particularly reflect that and her defenders play tight around her net to block any pucks shot from the perimeter. UNH junior defender Emily Rickwood led Hockey East with 48 blocks this year, and outside of UVM, their defense was the only one that looked respectable against NU in 2021. 

I watched the game last night and Holy Cross was very perimeter and all the shots were from outside. She’ll stop those all day long, so we need to get into those dirty areas,” Flint said. “We need to get traffic in front of her. If we can do that, we’ll have success. If we play perimeter, we’re throwing shots from the outside, nobody’s driving the net, we’re going to have a tough time getting pucks by her.”