No. 1 seeded women’s hockey faces familiar, experienced UConn in Hockey East semifinals


Sarah Olender

The two Huskies will battle one another tonight for the Hockey East quarterfinals, a rematch of last year’s Hockey East Championship games.

George Barker, news staff

After a dominant 7-0 win over UNH in the Hockey East quarterfinals, the No. 1 seed women’s hockey team will face the Huskies from the “South” in a 4:30 p.m. contest tonight. The game against the No. 7 seed UConn will be a rematch of last year’s Hockey East Championship game, which NU won 9-1

UConn (9-9-1, 9-9-1 HEA) has played spoiler in postseasons past, and this is the second straight season that they’ve upset the Boston College Eagles (14-5-0, 14-5-0 HEA), this year’s second seed, in the playoffs. This time, they took BC down by a shocking 5-1 margin. Most of UConn’s other victories this season have come against the lesser opponents of Hockey East, but they did manage an impressive 4-1 win over top-10-ranked Boston University (6-6-0, 6-6-0 HEA) in December and took BC to overtime in late January as well. They also averaged the fewest penalty minutes per game in Hockey East this year, at 4.4, and had the third stingiest defense in the conference with just 1.84 goals allowed a game. 

Like last season, where they took down the Eagles and UNH Wildcats en route to the championship game as a fifth seed, the best of the Connecticut Huskies showed up in the playoffs. 

“UConn, come playoff time, they’ve been really good the last few years and they get their team ready to play. [UConn Head Coach Chris] MacKenzie is a great coach, and they’re a disciplined team,” said NU head coach Dave Flint. “I think their game on Sunday against BC, they showed they were the better team that day, and I think they out-worked BC all over the ice and definitely [were] more disciplined, and they got some timely goaltending. I think [if] you combine those things, then you end up with the 5-1 win that they did.” 

While UConn is really good come playoff time, Northeastern, who just had senior defender Skylar Fontaine, senior netminder Aerin Frankel and junior center Alina Mueller nominated as the three candidates for Hockey East Player of the Year, is dominant come playoff time. They have three-straight Hockey East Championships under their belt. 

They’re also riding a nation-leading 18-game unbeaten streak plus a 13-playoff-game winning streak dating back multiple seasons. United States College Hockey Online just listed them as the top team in the nation, and it’s hard to blame them given the team’s ludicrous 18-1-1 record this season and average game score of 4.35-0.65. 

There was only one husky-versus-husky contest this season, and the Boston-based sled dogs took that one with relative ease in a 2-0 victory Jan. 26. It was a bit of a midseason-transition game for Northeastern as, at that point in the season, they had largely ironed out the rust-related concerns they had in their opening weeks and began to operate all full speed on both ends of the ice. They “only” scored two goals in the shutout win despite thoroughly outplaying their opponent and outshooting them 31-14 in the contest, with 13 of those shots coming from the top line. Given that NU still managed to dominate even though they hadn’t quite reached their ceiling yet, NU Husky fans should feel good about tonight’s game. 

“I think we outplayed them in that game, [but] I think we took our foot off the gas in that game. We got up a couple goals and kind of backed off, and their goalie played well,” Flint said. “I think for us, we need to play a full game like we did on Sunday, against these guys [tonight].”

UConn’s goalie, junior Samantha Carpentier-Yelle, did have a spectacular game to keep her team afloat in the contest, making 29 saves and only surrendering goals on impressive backdoor passing plays. She’s been locked in a timeshare for all of her three years at UConn, first playing behind graduated UConn great Morgan Fisher and this season splitting time with freshman Tia Chan, but she’s always been a solid, if not great, goaltender when called upon. This season, she had a brutal first two games but has been lights out since, with three shutouts in her last eight starts and no games with over two goals surrendered since December against top-caliber opponents. 

Senior forward Morgan Wabick (30-45-75 in 130 career games) — who is among a few UConn seniors that were a part of a magical 2017-18 UConn team that went from last place in Hockey East to the championship game against NU in 2018 — starred against BC over the weekend with a couple nifty backhand shots flying into the net. Her twin sister, Taylor Wabick (10-41-51 in 132 career games), also plays for UConn on their blueline, and they are two of the UConn Huskies’ more dynamic scorers. At the time, the 2017-18 UConn team was the lowest seed (No. 7) to ever reach the Hockey East Championship game. 

Their most dangerous weapon is most likely senior forward Natalie Snodgrass, and even though she only managed six goals on 97 shots this season, she blew the next highest shot total on her roster out of the water and has a 58-52-110 statline in 132 career games. Senior forward Savannah Bouzide is another one of UConn’s veteran weapons, and she leveraged her college hockey experience to a team-leading 16 points this season. 

“Snodgrass makes their offense go; [a] big, strong forward. She can shoot the puck, she can score, she’s dangerous all over the ice… They got some kids in their lineup that can be the key players in this game, but we need to be aware of their whole team,” Flint said. He also mentioned junior forward Viki Harkness (4-11-15 in 19 games this season). “I don’t necessarily think they have any bona fide superstars, but they’re very good throughout their lineup. They [have] some good depth, and, like I said earlier, they’re really disciplined.”

In the 5-1 quarterfinal win, UConn managed to beat the Eagles in transition and crash BC junior netminder Abigail Levy’s net with ease and regularity. While the NU Huskies were able to limit UConn’s offense throughout the contest in their previous matchup this season, the Hockey East semifinals are just a single game, and it only takes a few unlucky breaks to lose a hockey game, particularly against a veteran goalie and a veteran team with plenty of playoff experience — a distinct difference between these UConn Huskies and the Wildcat team that NU was able to handle 7-0.

“BC’s goalie is a pretty good goalie so for them to get five past her, they were going to the net hard and taking advantage of their opportunities,” Flint said. “I think we need to take care of the front of our net, but also be smart with the puck and don’t give them those transition opportunities where they can get odd-man rushes.”