Although Northeastern is among the top women’s hockey teams in the country and has dominated Hockey East for the past five years, it is sometimes underestimated by the rest of the women’s hockey community.
After Saturday’s NCAA quarterfinal game against Wisconsin, the team they defeated in overtime in the national championship game last season, the Huskies are hoping any doubters have changed their minds.
Backed by the nation’s top goaltender Aerin Frankel, who made 36 saves and goals from four goalscorers, the third-ranked Northeastern beat the fifth-ranked Badgers 4-2 at Matthews Arena on Saturday. The win sends the Huskies (31-4-2 ) for the second straight season to the Frozen Four.
“We don’t get a lot of respect and I think we earned something today,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint. “People think it’s all WCHA, but there are a lot of other teams as well.”
Flint and his associates had planned Wisconsin well, and it showed. Although the Badgers’ trademark is their quickness, NU staff knew that Wisconsin’s short bench was a liability, leading Flint to limit the Huskies’ top-line minutes early in the game. Instead, NU challenged junior Katy Knoll and freshman Skylar Irving to ramp up their offense in the first period, saving their late-game top scorers when Wisconsin faded. The plan worked.
Knoll capitalized when a body checking penalty gave Northeastern an early power play opportunity five minutes into the game. She flicked a rebound past Badgers goalie Kennedy Blair to put the Huskies 1-0 up 4-17.
The relentless Wisconsin (26-8-4) didn’t hold back and peppered Frankel until Milton native Casey O’Brien caught a pass from Makenna Webster to end the game 1-1 at 9:30.
Wisconsin thought a power play chance late in the first round would give them the advantage, but the Huskies threw the Badgers for a loop, changed their penalty staff and pressed in unexpected ways.
“[Flint] was well prepared,” said Mark Johnson, Wisconsin coach. “He changed things and gave us seizures in that first power play.”
After surviving that penalty, Knoll and Irving struck again. Knoll sent a pass that sailed from the faceoff circle to the right of Wisconsin’s net and Irving tipped in goal, giving NU a 2-1 lead five seconds before the break.
Goalies Frankel and Blair were challenged early and often in the second half as Wisconsin threw everything they had at the Huskies. NU responded by rolling its top line of Maureen Murphy, Chloé Aurard and Alina Mueller.
The huskies settled in the Wisconsin zone and darted at Blair at will. Murphy hit an Aurard rebound to give the Huskies a 3-1 lead at 11:22 of the second period.
Wisconsin tried to make up ground early in the third. NU pulled a two-minute minor for cross-checking just two minutes into the frame, Brette Pettet redirected a Sophie Shirley shot past Frankel to put the Badgers 3-2 at 3:35.
After withstanding three Wisconsin chances, Northeastern found himself on the power play for a fourth time. This time, Mueller made the Badgers pay with a slapshot that found the back of the net for a two-goal cushion.
With two minutes remaining, Wisconsin drew Blair for the additional attacker. The Badgers’ spark plug, Daryl Watts, led several last-minute bids to score. But Frankel was not tested as her defense parried every Badger bid as the final seconds ticked by.
“It was six against five, but I didn’t even see it,” Frankel said. “They blocked it and put their bodies at risk.”
Northeastern’s victory ended the Wisconsin season and exacted revenge for last year’s stinging OT setback the Huskies suffered against the Badgers in last year’s championship game.
“Like I told them in the dressing room,” Flint said, “there’s a tough road ahead but if we do our best we can play against anyone.”