ERIE, PA — There really wasn’t a more heartbreaking way for it to end.
Just over three minutes into overtime, Daryl Watts banked a pass from behind the net off Megan Carter’s shoulder and into the Northeastern goal, giving Wisconsin their sixth national championship and second in a row, and ending the best season any Northeastern University team has ever had.
“Disappointing, obviously, the way it ended,” head coach Dave Flint said. “Also, wish it was maybe a better goal that ended that game, but that’s the way it goes, that’s the breaks and I’m proud of my team. They battled all year long.”
The two teams skated to a scoreless tie through two and a half periods before Wisconsin’s Makenna Webster laced in a rebound with nine minutes to play. Northeastern walked up the ice and, 35 seconds later, Chloé Aurard hit a missile past Kennedy Blair to knot things up again.
It was made possible by an excellent keep from Brooke Hobson at the blue line, as she chopped the puck down low to allow the Huskies to continue their attack.
The game between the two best teams in the country certainly lived up to its billing. The teams flew up and down the ice, traded shots back and forth, and got into physical scrums after nearly every whistle. By the end of the night, they did not like each other one bit.
The defensive work from Northeastern’s forwards — mainly the third line of Tessa Ward, Mia Brown, and Miceala Sindoris — was noticeable all game, as they forechecked and backchecked well to limit Wisconsin’s grade-A chances. Offensively, Alina Mueller was bright, as she always is. The Swiss phenom dangled between players with ease in all three zones and provided the primary assist for Aurard’s goal with a neat drop pass to her fellow European linemate.
Aerin Frankel stood on her head for the whole game, as she always does. She made a remarkable stop to keep Badger forward Casey O’Brien off the board in the second as O’Brien raced in all alone. She stifled a few Watts snapshots to keep her fellow top-three Patty Kaz finalist out of the back of the net. She directed a Webster attempt off the post and out. It was a remarkable game from the best goalie in the country.
But an unfortunate bounce ended the season.
“She gave us a chance, and that’s what we asked of her and she does that every time she steps in the net,” Flint said. “She’s proven she’s the best goalie in the NCAA — I’d say the best player in the NCAA and is a huge, huge reason for our success.”
It was only the second loss of the year for the Huskies: they lost a 2–1 game against BC on December 13 and were undefeated the rest of the way. They won Hockey East with ease, blistered past Robert Morris for the program’s first NCAA Tournament win, and came from behind to beat Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four to earn their first-ever title game appearance.
Such a bright season of firsts came with a darker side: their first-ever loss in a national championship game.
“There were some skeptics questioning whether we were even good enough to be here and I think we set the record straight,” Flint said. “We earned our spot here and in the championship game, and we gave Wisconsin everything they could handle. I’m just proud of my team’s effort and what they’ve done all year long and all the accomplishments that they’ve had.”
With only Veronika Pettey receiving honors on Senior Day, there is an expectation that many of the team’s seniors will return for a fifth season. Frankel has already confirmed she will. This Northeastern team has the pieces and has the potential to return to the title game, and they’ll hope for a better break when they get there.
WRBB would like to thank those reading for their support all year. The station will be the first one in Matthews next year when puck drops for another fantastic season for Northeastern women’s hockey.
Another thank you is in order for the entire Northeastern Athletics staff. They have moved heaven and earth to make sure we can bring you the best possible coverage of everything Husky Sports, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
WRBB is calling the NCAA Women’s Hockey National Championship Game tonight live from Erie, Pennsylvania. Jack Sinclair, George Barker, and Mike Puzzanghera will be on mic, with coverage beginning at 7:15 PM Eastern.CLICK HERE to listen.
ERIE, PA — A perennial national title contender vs. an 18-game winning streak. The two seed vs. the one seed. Anyone trying to draw up a national title game couldn’t have picked a better one than Wisconsin vs. Northeastern.
It’s Wisconsin’s ninth national championship appearance, and third in the last four tournaments. They are the reigning national champions, and flew to a 12–3–1 record in the toughest conference in the country, the Western College Hockey Association (WCHA). With two wins to snatch the conference title, and two more to get here, the Badgers are now 16–3–1. Two of those playoff wins came against No. 3 Ohio State, including a 4–2 win Thursday night. This is a scary, scary team.
“They’ve earned the right to be here,” Wisconsin head coach Mark Johnson said. “It’s been a challenging year for everybody in college sports, and to get to play in the national championship game this year is pretty special. Hopefully we can take advantage of it and look back on it with great memories.”
Speaking of scary, their opponent is Northeastern. The Huskies will play in their first national championship game Saturday after winning their first-ever Frozen Four game Thursday afternoon over Minnesota-Duluth, 3–2, in OT. They haven’t lost since December 13 and won their fourth-straight Hockey East title this year.
“I started at Northeastern in 2008, and this was one of my goals, to get the program back to national prominence and compete for a national championship,” head coach Dave Flint said. “A lot of hard work from our players, our staff, and our support staff got us to this point.”
This game features six All-Americans, five top-10 Patty Kaz finalists, two top-three Patty Kaz finalists, and the national goaltender of the year. With so many stars out on the ice, the Huskies are hoping that their depth, something they’ve relied on all year, will be a factor.
“If we can shut down their first line and a couple players here and there, I think that will lead to success offensively,” Northeastern senior Tessa Ward said. “If everybody’s going, then I think we’re going to do well.”
On the Wisconsin side, they’re hoping that their experience in tournament games will give them an extra boost and help them avoid any initial nerves.
“We have plenty of experience on our team with about half of our girls being in this game before,” senior defender Grace Bowlby said. “I think that that brings a calming presence towards the younger girls so it’s pretty valuable.”
Take a look at how each of these teams got here and what to expect from them.
Last two in Erie
Northeastern: The Huskies haven’t had to battle much this year. They stormed through Hockey East with ease and, in the first game of this tournament, fought off a physical Robert Morris team without too much trouble.
But Duluth tested them all Thursday afternoon. They peppered Aerin Frankel with shots in the first, swarmed her net to create problems in front all game, and took a 2–0 lead into the third period.
“It’s definitely different from what we see in Hockey East,” Ward said. “WCHA is a lot more physical, a lot faster every game than what we were initially expecting, but I think our team responded well to the physicality of the game, and we were able to keep our composure and make the plays that we needed to play to get things done.”
But Northeastern battled back. They got a Maureen Murphy power-play goal less than a minute into the third period and, a few minutes later, got the tying goal from Katy Knoll after relentless forechecking from Veronika Pettey.
“It was definitely good that [Duluth] were physical knowing that this next game is also going to be, but I think that just drives us to have more of a chip on our shoulder, making sure that we’re not taking any penalties or anything. It just allows us to kind of compete harder and win those battles,” Pettey said.
They bombarded the Duluth net with shots from the second period on, but goalie Emma Söderberg kept the Bulldogs in it. That didn’t last forever though, as Skylar Fontaine buried the winner in OT to send the Huskies to the final.
One of the biggest keys for Northeastern in that game was the defensive play from their forward group. That play from Pettey started with a poke check at Northeastern’s blue line, and ended with her chasing the puck down to win it off a Bulldog behind their net before feeding a pass to the slot.
“We always talk about our performance in the D zone as the most important throughout the game, so I think we’ve just been emphasizing it a lot and as a forward, it still makes a huge difference,” Pettey said. “We’ve been talking about blocking shots and sealing off players from coming to the net so I think that, for me, focusing a lot on the D zone is really important.”
Northeastern’s third line, in particular, created many opportunities with their defensive work. Miceala Sindoris got a good snap shot on Söderberg in the third period before turning to set up Ward on a rush later in the frame after good work in the neutral zone.
“Defensively, I’ve come a long way in the past couple of years since I started here my freshman year, and it’s something that I really take pride in,” Ward said. “I think our line yesterday played really well defensively and that’s something that on the bench we’re always talking about. Offense starts in the D zone, and if we can get those pucks out and get those pucks deep that makes a huge difference in the momentum of the game.”
Wisconsin: The Badgers had a tougher conference path than the Huskies, but the result was the same, as they claimed their ninth WCHA title. They were matched up against a familiar foe to open the tournament in the Providence Friars.
Wisconsin made quick work of the Hockey East runner-up, cruising to a 3–0 win. They continued their hot streak in the semifinals, jumping on the Ohio State Buckeyes just over a minute into the first period. Wisconsin’s third line of forwards produced that first goal, and they would produce the next two as well.
“They’ve shown improvement the last six or eight games, they’ve really stepped their game up,” Johnson said of his third line. “I was very happy for them in [the semifinal] because they got rewarded on what they’ve been able to do the last several weekends for us and so hopefully that confidence that they came away from [the semifinal] springboards them into tomorrow night’s game.”
It took only two minutes of the second period for Wisconsin to strike again. Six minutes later, they made it 3–0.
The Buckeyes weren’t done though, as they grabbed a goal of their own with six minutes on the clock in the second.
Ohio hit the ice for the third reenergized, and they cornered Wisconsin in their own zone. Eight minutes into the third, the Buckeyes got one back. They continued to pound the Wisconsin net, but the stingy Badger defense, as well as some stellar goaltending by Kennedy Blair, kept the Buckeyes down by one. Ohio opted for the empty net in the dying moments of the game and a turnover in the final seconds of the game gave the NCAA’s leading goal scorer Daryl Watts a clear path to the empty net, icing the game at 4–2.
The Badgers shuffled their lines before the WCHA tournament, shifting Watts to the second line to play with Lacey Eden and Delaney Drake and, while they’ve struggled a bit to get going in this tournament, it creates a ridiculously effective second unit. They also rock a top line with Sophie Shirley, Britta Curl, and Brette Pettet that has combined for 59 points in 20 games.
In the back, Bowlby is an All-American defender with elite playmaking ability, and leads the Badgers with 17 assists. Nicole LaMantia is an All-WCHA Second-Team performer who operates on their second pair to give them defensive depth. Natalie Buchbinder is another big performer who offers senior leadership on the third pair. She missed time at the beginning of the year, but is back on the ice and making her impact. From front to back, the team is about as good as it gets.
“We just emphasize that everyone has each other’s back,” Bowlby said. “Hockey’s a game of mistakes and mistakes are going to happen, it’s how you handle them and bounce back from them.”
What to expect
This game will be FAST. Both teams play with speed in all zones. Wisconsin fits the traditional western mold of a fast, physical team, while Northeastern has shredded the idea that eastern teams can’t play with pace. As Skylar Fontaine said on Thursday, she loves to play with speed, since she does have speed herself.
“There’s gonna be a lot of talented players out there and it’ll just be a fun, fun game to be a part of,” Bowlby said.
Expect goaltending to be a factor as it was for Northeastern Thursday afternoon. Wisconsin’s Kennedy Blair is a very good goalie. Is she at Aerin Frankel’s level? No, no one is. But her 1.51 GAA and .933 save percentage while playing against WCHA opposition is impressive nonetheless.
More than anything else, expect a fantastic hockey game.