Huskies look ahead to program’s seventh-ever NCAA tournament


Val O'Neill

The Northeastern women’s hockey team huddles before a game. They currently hold a 33-2-1 record this season.

Amelia Ballingall, deputy sports editor

It wasn’t an easy hill to climb, but ever since the No. 5 Northeastern women’s hockey team (33-2-1, 24-2-1 HE) made themselves known nationwide as a hockey powerhouse in the 2015-16 season, they’ve held on to that designation. 

At that point, though the Huskies still had yet to win a Hockey East tournament, Northeastern claimed a sixth-place ranking in the NCAA for its first bid in the national contest. The Huskies fell in the quarterfinal, and after missing the mark the next season, the team knew it’d have to work harder than ever to get back to the national tournament. 

In the 2017-18 season, Northeastern clambered its way to the top of Hockey East to receive an automatic spot in the NCAA tournament — and that’s what they’ve been doing ever since. 

Now, the Huskies enter the national bracket for the sixth consecutive time — and the seventh in program history — as they travel to No. 4 Yale University (28-3-1, 19-2-1 ECAC) Saturday for the NCAA quarterfinal. 

The Huskies and the Bulldogs have not faced each other since 2011, and with an even 3-3 split in the pair’s history and a whole host of new faces and skills, it’s uncertain who will come out on top.

Those new faces include some of the top hockey players in the nation, with Huskies racking up Hockey East post-season honors across the ice. Northeastern holds the conference’s Player of the Year (Alina Müller), Defender of the Year (Megan Carter), and Goaltender of the Year (Gwyneth Philips), all backed by Coach of the Year Dave Flint. 

Graduate student forward and captain Alina Mueller takes aim during a game against Holy Cross. Mueller was named Hockey East Player of the Year this season and is a top-3 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award. (Val O’Neill)

Both Müller and Philips are still in the running for the nation’s top awards in women’s hockey — the Patty Kazmaier Award and Goalie of the Year Award, respectively. 

While Northeastern makes a strong showing for Hockey East, they’re not the only ones with a dog in the fight; Müller will be battling Ohio State University’s Sophie Jacques and Colgate University’s Danielle Serdachny for the title while Philips will compete with Yale’s Pia Dukaric and University of Minnesota-Duluth’s Emma Soderberg.  

With Philips and Dukaric across the ice from each other in Saturday night’s competition, both teams will have a big challenge ahead of them when it comes to scoring. 

“It’s kind of rare you get two top goalies going at it this early in the NCAA’s,” said Yale head coach Mark Bolding. “There’s also some really good offensive players on both teams, so I think both goalies will have their test and if they both hold true, it’s going to be a great contest. Goaltending is everything to advance, so we expect it to be really critical again.”

Not only will Dukaric be tough to score against, but the Bulldogs’ lines are also home to some of the top players in the Eastern College Athletic Conference. With Yale’s depth and the fact that the two teams have not met since 2011, it would typically be difficult to figure out how to approach the game, but Flint has adapted to the situation to give his team its best chance at a win.

“Obviously when you play a team, you have a little more insight, but nowadays with video and video-sharing, I can watch any one of their games throughout the course of the season,” Flint said. “We’ve taken a pretty deep dive into how they play.”

Heading into the weekend matchup, Northeastern has the better momentum. Although both teams came out on top of their conference in the regular season, Yale fell just short in the ECAC semifinals while the Huskies dominated the Hockey East tournament to claim the championship victory for the fifth straight time.

Both of the individual contests — the Patty Kazmaier Award and Goalie of the Year Award — may lean heavier on the east coast, but the Midwest has historically dominated women’s hockey.

In the 21 years that the womens’ Frozen Four, the culmination of NCAA hockey, has run, 18 of the titles have been won by Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams — Minnesota-Duluth (5), University of Minnesota (6), University of Wisconsin (6) and Ohio State (1). The one outlier is Clarkson University, which has won three championships since 2014. 

Senior goalie Gwyneth Philips protects the net. With her .960 save percentage and .81 goals against average, Philips leads the NCAA in goaltending. (Lauren Salemo)

Clarkson fell to Minnesota-Duluth in the opening round of the tournament Thursday night, but the other four schools with an NCAA title to their name are all still in the running as they head into the quarterfinal Saturday. 

In 2021, Wisconsin handed the Huskies what was arguably the team’s toughest loss in program history — a 2-1 overtime defeat in the Frozen Four final. This was the farthest Northeastern had ever made it in the tournament, and after stretching last year’s semifinal to a second overtime period where they fell to Minnesota-Duluth, the Huskies are eager for this year’s contest.

While Northeastern enters the tournament with the best record in the NCAA, their season had few cross-country opponents, landing them the fifth-seed slot and a lack of experience against some of the nation’s top teams. But the Huskies aren’t worried. 

“We had fifteen games this year against top fifteen teams,” Flint said. “Hockey East has arguably had maybe a down year the past couple years, but there’s still tough games in our league and teams all get up to play us.”

Between Yale, defending champion Ohio State and the slate of other tough teams and record-breaking players in the tournament, the road to the trophy looks difficult for the Huskies, but they’re determined to continue playing their game to the end. 

“We don’t really change too much how we play,” Flint said. “We make some tweaks here or there, but we talk about points of emphasis, maybe some things we need to focus on a little bit more, but that’s about it.”

The winner of Saturday’s matchup will head to Duluth, Minnesota, for the Frozen Four. The championship weekend runs March 17-19 and displays the best talents in the league as one team is crowned the top team in women’s college hockey. And with the incredible feats accomplished by teams and individuals throughout the NCAA this season, anything is possible.