No. 3 Northeastern women’s hockey will play two games against No. 5 Clarkson at SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland on Saturday, Jan. 5 and Sunday, Jan. 6. Saturday’s game begins at 3 p.m. local time (10 a.m. in Boston) and Sunday’s puck drop is set for noon (7 a.m. in Boston). WRBB will broadcast both games online at http://www.wrbbsports.com/wrbb-sports-extra/.
by Matthew MacCormack
BELFAST, NORTHERN IRELAND –
It’s been a historic season for the Northeastern women’s hockey team.
The Huskies’ No. 3 national ranking is their highest since 2002, and their 12-game unbeaten streak earlier this season was their longest such streak in four years.
Youth has been key for the Huskies. Freshman forwards Alina Mueller and Chloé Aurard have lit up the stat sheet, while sophomore goalie Aerin Frankel has been a stone wall in net.
What’s more, when the Huskies take the ice on January 5th and 6th in Belfast, Northern Ireland to battle two-time defending national champion No. 5 Clarkson, they’ll be playing in the first NCAA women’s hockey games played outside of the United States.
The two-game series – which has been dubbed the “Friendship Series” and was spawned by the sisterhood-city status of Boston and Belfast– is not only a great on-ice matchup, but an opportunity to grow the women’s game. The Huskies will play at SSE Arena, home of the Belfast Giants professional team.
Here’s five things to know about the Huskies’ international trip:
A bit about Clarkson
How does Northeastern head coach Dave Flint plan to slow down Clarkson? Answer: try your best to neutralize the top line.
That top line contains three of the country’s top six point getters: sophomore Elizabeth Giguère (1st nationally with 35 points), senior Loren Gabel (T-3rd, 32 points) and junior Michaela Pejzlová (6th, 29 points).
“Having those two high profile teams – respected programs – will bring a lot of attention to it,” said junior defenseman Andrea Renner.
?@NCAAIceHockey returns this weekend?
— Belfast Giants (@BelfastGiants) January 2, 2019
Switching time zones
Northern Ireland is five hours ahead of Boston. It’s hard enough to get used to the time change when you’re on vacation; it’s even tougher when you have to play a pair of Division 1 hockey games.
To combat this, the Northeastern staff put together a rigid itinerary. The team flew into Dublin on a red eye on New Years’ Eve, landing early on the morning of January 1. From there, the group dove right into their cultural excursions, staving off sleep until a proper Dublin bedtime. After a full day in Dublin – more on this in just a second – the squad departed for Belfast. The hope is everyone will be adjusted to Ireland time before puck drop on Saturday.
“They’re definitely keeping us busy so we’re not sleeping on our time,” said senior forward Kasidy Anderson.
More than just hockey
There’s plenty to see in both Dublin and Belfast, and a huge part of this trip is the cultural immersion. But the Huskies are also playing two games against a two-time defending national champion.
“The challenge for me is to provide them with a good experience – a cultural experience, team bonding – but also keep them focused on playing two important hockey games,” Flint said.
In Dublin, the team took a tour of the Guinness Storehouse, as well as taking part in a step dancing class.
“That’s probably not my strong suite,” Flint said of the step dancing.
“I think the girls will have fun with that. Hopefully they don’t try to pull me up on stage.”
A homecoming, sort of
Aurard and Mueller should feel a bit more at home in their return to Europe. The dynamic freshman have brought a spark to the Huskies this year,
Mueller – of Switzerland – ranks 8th in the country with 26 points and is a two-time Olympian.
Aurard is widely regarded as one of the best hockey players in France, and ranks 16th nationally with 22 points.
Flint says he expects both players to have a crowd of extended family in tow to watch the games.
“They’re super excited about it,” Flint said of his prolific freshmen forwards.
“It’s great for them to be able to play closer to home.”
— Northeastern Women’s Hockey (@GoNUwhockey) January 3, 2019
Growing the game
Believe it or not, hockey has taken hold in Northern Ireland.
But the women’s game hasn’t soared quite as high as the men’s. Anderson hopes this series will inspire the next generation of stick-wielding gals.
“I don’t think we realize how influential we are to kids and I think this is a huge stepping stone,” Anderson said.
Flint called it an “honor” to be among the first teams to play outside the U.S.
“We’re going to get to showcase women’s hockey to a part of the world that hasn’t probably seen much women’s hockey,” Flint said.
“We’re definitely excited.”