Reminder: Northeastern will play Connecticut in the Hockey East Championship game Sunday at 2 PM. Christian Skroce and Dale Desantis will be on the call from Lawler Rink at Merrimack College, with coverage beginning at 1:45 PM EST.
Northeastern established themselves as the team to beat early in the season. They clinched the number one seed at the end of January and have lost just four games all season. The reward for their regular-season dominance was a first-round playoff series against the eighth-seeded Vermont Catamounts, who they swept back to Burlington last weekend.
As a result, they headed up to Lawler Rink in North Andover, MA, to play a neutral-ice semifinal matchup against the University of Maine Black Bears. Maine’s journey to the semifinal game was not as smooth as Northeastern’s, as they barely edged Vermont out for the seventh seed, but their sweep of BU in an away series was impressive. The Black Bears came to Lawler Rink riding the high of their sweep, and this revealed itself early in the game.
Maine burst out of the gates firing. They were flying up and down the rink, and drew an early penalty. Less than a minute into their man advantage, Maine’s Ida Press slipped the puck past Hockey East Goaltender of the Year Aerin Frankel.
The Black Bears didn’t stop there, staying one step ahead of the Huskies by establishing a strong 1–2–2 trap on defense. This slower pace cramped Northeastern’s usual high-octane play style, and if not for the efforts of Frankel the score could have easily gotten out of hand. Maine managed to draw another penalty towards the end of the period, but the strength of Northeastern’s penalty kill was on full display, as they held the puck in Maine’s end of the rink for the duration of the penalty.
The second period started, and Northeastern’s goal was clear. Establish their brand of hockey and simply keep the puck away from the Black Bears. Maine was ready for this, and jammed their bodies into the neutral zone, making it impossible for the line of Alina Mueller, Chloe Aurard, and Jess Schryver to blitz their way into the attacking zone on transition.
This resulted in a hard-fought stalemate of a period, with both teams fighting along the boards for possession. Northeastern managed to get some glimpses at the Black Bears’ goal, with a few great chances coming for Mueller in particular. Maine goaltender Carly Jackson used every square inch of her leg pads to keep the puck out of the back of the net and made some incredible saves to preserve her team’s lead going into the third period.
Whatever coach Dave Flint told the Huskies during the second intermission worked. Just over a minute of a power play carried over from the second period was all it took for Skylar Fontaine to send a rocket from just in front of the blue line into the back of the net.
This was the cue for the Huskies. They had exposed a weakness in Maine’s trap: they simply could not keep up with the Huskies. The Black Bears had spent a lot of the game holding onto the puck and working slowly from their end of the ice into the Huskies zone. This proved costly, as their fatigue was apparent early on in the third period.
It took only two minutes for the Huskies to pounce on the tiring Black Bears and go up 2–1. Swiss Sensation Alina Mueller found herself with miles of space in the slot off a lovely feed from Skylar Fontaine. Mueller wasted no time, taking only one touch of the puck before sliding it coolly into the bottom left corner of the goal.
Maine, despite their early skid, managed to establish their brand of hockey once more, and began to work into the Huskies zone. The defense held fast, and the Huskies were more than happy to dump the puck back into the Maine zone, switch out for some fresh legs, allow Maine to work their way back to their end of the ice, rinse, and repeat. Maine got a few looks at the net, but Frankel was having a grand total of zero percent of the Black Bears’ nonsense, and coolly protected her net.
In the closing minute of the game, the Black Bears pulled their goaltender in a last-ditch effort to even up the score. Unlike the Beanpot final, there was no last-gasp goal. Fontaine forced a turnover in the neutral zone and sniped the empty net to ice the game for the Huskies. Fontaine has either scored or assisted on the Huskies’ last seven goals going back to last week’s doubleheader against Vermont.
The Huskies sealed their fourth straight Hockey East Championship appearance and will fight Sunday afternoon for their third straight title.