No. 1 women’s hockey looks for first national championship against No. 2 Wisconsin


Sarah Olender

The No. 1 Northeastern women’s hockey team will look to take home the national championship Saturday night against Wisconsin.

George Barker, news staff

The No. 1 women’s hockey team has already made history in Erie, Pennsylvania, after reaching and winning the program’s first Frozen Four matchup. Before they head home, the Huskies have one more chance to pile onto their legacy: a national title game against No. 2 Wisconsin, the last team in the way of the Huskies’ first-ever national championship.  

“It’s been a long time coming. I started at Northeastern in 2008, and one of my goals was to get the program back to national prominence and to be able to compete for a national championship. A lot of hard work by the players and my staff and support staff has been able to get us to this point. We’re really excited for tomorrow night,” said Northeastern (22-1-1, 20-1-1 HEA) head coach Dave Flint.

Flint was just named the national women’s college hockey coach of the year and is the Huskies’ all-time winningest coach with a career record of 256-131-39, which is bolstered by his team’s ongoing nation-leading 22-game unbeaten streak this season.

“It’s obviously a very special moment for me, for my players, but it’s also a special moment for Northeastern University, all the alumni and everybody when you’re competing for the university’s first-ever national championship … We’re grateful that we’re going to have this opportunity, and hopefully tomorrow night we can bring Northeastern their first national championship,” he said.

The Badgers (16-3-1, 14-3-1 WCHA) will look to prevent NU from bringing that coveted championship home from Erie, and they’re a blue blood when it comes to the Frozen Four. Wisconsin is the reigning NCAA champion, although the last champion was crowned in 2019. Wisconsin’s head coach Mark Johnson is the winningest coach in NCAA history, having compiled well over 500 wins with the Badgers and five national championships. As such, Johnson pointed to his team’s experience and consistency this season as a factor for tomorrow. 

“Experience … should help you just from a mental standpoint … It’s about getting yourself mentally ready to play the best game of the season,” he said, emphasizing the importance of preparation and recovery over the 24 hours prior to the championship tilt. “The players don’t need to be nervous. They’ve earned the right to be here.” 

The Badgers knocked off No. 7 Providence (12-8-1, 12-7-1 HEA) and No. 3 Ohio State (13-7-0, 12-6-0 WCHA) on their way to the championship game, showcasing different paths to victory in each. Wisconsin completely controlled the ice against the Friars, limiting Providence to zero shots in the first and outshooting them by a staggering 44-12 margin in the 3-0 quarterfinal win, but in the end, they only notched two goals while Providence had a goalie in and none in the dominant first period. 

The Badgers had a much better finish to their offense against Ohio State in the semifinals, managing three goals on 22 shots against a netminder while grabbing an empty netter in their 4-2 win. In that matchup, redshirt senior Kennedy Blair had to perform, making 37 saves. While Blair possesses an impressive 1.62 GAA and .934 save percentage across a 16-3-1 record this season to pair with a 1.98 GAA and .921 save percentage through a 17-8-3 record at Mercyhurst University in the year prior to her transfer to Wisconsin, there’s a different Badger that possesses the most star power. 

Senior forward Daryl Watts, widely regarded as one of college hockey’s top skaters and 2018’s winner of the Patty Kazmaier Award as a freshman, is Wisconsin’s star. She’s the only player to ever win the esteemed player of the year award as an underclassman, which she accomplished with an 82-point season for Boston College. Following her sophomore year at BC, Watts transferred to the Badgers and proceeded to drop 25 points in her first eight games for Wisconsin. She went on to establish herself as the only player to average over two points per game in the 2019-20 season, and this year, she continued her reign of terror via a 35 point season that lofted her into the top-three finalists for this year’s Patty Kazmaier Award and All-American first-team honors. 

There are a few other forwards to be worried about up top for Wisconsin, including junior Sophie Shirley (61-63-124 career line in 97 games), junior Britta Curl (45-30-75 career line in 97 games) and senior center Brette Pettet (35-38-73 career line in 133 games). On the backend, senior blueliner Grace Bowlby (3-60-63 career line in 133 games) is a solid playstarter for the Badgers, and agreed with her coach that experience will be a factor. 

“At this time of year, nerves are definitely a thing, and I think we have plenty of experience on our team with about half of our girls being in this game before. I think that that brings a calming presence towards the younger girls so it’s pretty valuable,” said Bowlby, Wisconsin’s First-Team All American.

Needless to say, Watts and her 107-132-239 line in 133 games is a problem, but NU senior center Tessa Ward thinks they have the depth to counter the Badgers regardless, and she isn’t concerned with Wisconsin’s national championship experience advantage. 

“I don’t think it matters at all. I think that we’re coming in prepared and our coaches have given us all the tools and all the skills that we need to succeed,” Ward said. “Our team has a lot more depth, and I think if we can shut down their first line and a couple players here and there, I think that will lead to success offensively.”

Ward, a mainstay on the team’s defense-first third line and a part of that Husky depth, was a critical part of the team’s 3-2 OT win against No. 5 University of Minnesota Duluth (12-7-0, 11-5-0 WCHA) Thursday. 

“[The third line] was great, and I think the biggest part was defensively, they were very good, and then they were chipping in offensively and creating opportunities. I think they did a good job of wearing Duluth down,” Flint said. “That’s what we need out of them, and for us to be successful, we need our lines going. The nice thing is [against Duluth], we won against a good opponent and Alina [Mueller] and Chloé [Aurard] weren’t even on the score sheet.”

Wisconsin’s depth looked solid against Ohio State, with their third-liners accounting for all of the team’s even strength tallies, but NU’s bottom-six group has outscored the Badgers’ bottom-two lines 26-14 this year. The Huskies don’t just possess depth either, they possess a top-notch upper half of their roster too. 

Unanimous NCAA goalie of the year selection and top-three Patty Kazmaier finalist Aerin Frankel has compiled a legendary season with a .76 GAA and .967 save percentage with nine shutouts over her 20-1-1 record. The senior has been strong on the big stage too with just three goals allowed on 49 shots against her in the past two games. She’s joined on the All-American first team by teammates senior blueliner Skylar Fontaine and junior center Alina Mueller, while junior wing Chloé Aurard made the second team. 

Fontaine (48-74-122 career line in 139 games) just set Northeastern’s all-time record for scoring by a defenseman and has five points in the tournament’s first two games. Mueller (60-94-154 career line in 99 games) and Aurard 48-59-107 career line in 97 games) teamed up for a critical short-hander to open their 5-1 win against No. 8 Robert Morris (16-8-1, 11-7-1 CHA) Monday, and have combined for 64 points this season. Senior captain and blueliner Brooke Hobson and redshirt junior forward Maureen Murphy are two more NU stars that round out their top skater unit. They each earned Hockey East All-Star nods.

NU faltered a bit in the first period in the semifinals as they were taken off-guard by the Bulldogs’ speed, but the Huskies were able to adjust and battle back from a two-goal deficit to claim the win. Flint expects the Badgers to be even faster than Duluth, so getting their first test against high speed in the semifinals as opposed to the finals should allow NU to get off to a hotter start. 

“I think it was some nerves. Also, they came at us fast, and we hadn’t played at that pace yet this year,” Flint said. “I think us playing at that speed [against UMD] made our team realize we can very much play at that speed and be successful. Now, we know what to expect going into [the championship], and I think you’ll see a different start from us.”

NU’s last matchup against Wisconsin came near the beginning of the 2019-20 season in the Battle at the Burgh tournament, a game that the Badgers claimed 4-3 in overtime. As Johnson put it though, that game is “ancient history,” and the championship contest is a new day. Needless to say, the Huskies will be looking to claim that new day for themselves. 

“I think it’s a huge honor. I feel like this is something that everyone always wishes they could be right there to compete for,” said senior forward Veronika Pettey, who looks to be playing her final game for the Huskies tonight. “I think especially [after] last year and how some things were cut short, I think that just drives us even more, and we just really want to make all the sacrifices that we’ve made this year worth it.”