Historically, Hockey East teams haven’t found much success against Western Hockey College Association (WCHA) programs in the NCAA Tournament. The WHCA is 19–1 against Hockey East opposition, with that lone win coming from Boston College in 2011. With Northeastern set to face Minnesota-Duluth in the Frozen Four Thursday afternoon, head coach Dave Flint shrugged off the historical balance of power.
“Well, guess what: they haven’t played Northeastern yet,” he said. “Hopefully it’ll be 19–2 after tomorrow.”
The Huskies have every reason to be a little bit cocky. They’re the No. 1 seed in the tournament, they haven’t lost since December 13, and they just ran through No. 8 seed Robert Morris, 5–1, in the quarterfinals.
But Minnesota-Duluth is more the more battle-tested of the sides. Since they play in the WHCA, they’ve gone up against a higher caliber of opposition than the Huskies have. The Bulldogs faced No. 2 Wisconsin twice, No. 3 Ohio State three times, and tournament snub Minnesota twice.
Let’s take a quick look at both teams before they meet.
Last time out
Northeastern: For a full look at the Huskies’ season, look here.
In addition to that, they looked every bit like the No. 1 seed against Robert Morris. They controlled the pace of the game in five-on-five, scored a shorthanded goal on the PK, and, though they couldn’t get much going on their one power play, they didn’t need to.
They got contributions all across the lineup. In particular, Skylar Fontaine shined with two goals and an assist, Alina Mueller and Chloé Aurard each had a goal and assist, and Katy Knoll was bright all throughout, tossing seven shots on goal and notching an assist on the second Fontaine tally.
But Northeastern’s secondary scoring is equally important. Though four of the five goals Monday afternoon came from the starting five, it was fourth-liner Katie Cipra who sank the dagger in the third.
“A lot of teams hone in on our first line and try to match lines against them and I think it’s important that we get that secondary scoring,” Flint said. “Our second, third, and fourth lines have really stepped up in key points this year and provided us with timely goals and if we’re going to be successful here on Thursday we’re going to need that again.”
With the quick turnaround to the semifinals, Flint had a simple message for his team.
“We’re not reinventing the wheel here or trying to change what we’re doing,” Flint said. “We’re going to do what we do best.”
Duluth: The Bulldogs had to battle for their spot in the Frozen Four, but after 6:39 of overtime, they found the winner through Ashton Bell. Her snipe went post-and-in to finally beat Colgate goalie Kayle Osborne and send the five-time national champs back to the semifinals.
Junior Emma Söderberg made 30 saves in the win, a huge bounce-back game for Duluth. Before that, they had lost 7–2 in the WCHA playoffs to Ohio State.
“That game against OSU is not the type of hockey we play as a team so it was easy to come back to the right style; that was an exception,” Söderberg said.
Northeastern: The Huskies floored the gas against a slightly slower Robert Morris team Monday. But now, they’ll be up against a classic western team: one that plays with speed. It’s a big strength Duluth has, as well as the size of their D corps.
“They’re fast, and I still think we’re faster,” Flint said. “So the transition game is going to be key. And I think that the depth of our lineup will be hopefully a factor too.”
Northeastern is also keying in on the defensive zone. With the imposing first line of Gabbie Hughes, Anna Klein, and Taylor Anderson bearing down on them, the D corps will need to be at their sharpest.
“If we’re sound defensively and we’re keeping them to the outside, we can shut down their first line, which I think is one of their strengths, then I think we’ll be able to be successful,” goaltender Aerin Frankel said.
The Bulldogs also play more of a possession style than many of the teams Northeastern has faced, similar to how the Huskies play themselves.
“They’re going to try to take a lot of time and space, but we’re going to take it away from them,” Frankel said.
Duluth: The Bulldogs know that this is a team that plays similarly to how they do — with speed, in possession, and they excel in transition. To slow that down, they need to be on the gas pedal.
“A big focus of ours is to come out and have a really good start and put a lot of pressure on them right away, and hopefully that will lead to more offense,” defenseman Ashton Bell said. “Obviously always having a good D zone and playing gritty in the D zone is our style of play.”
There are plenty of Huskies that need to be keyed in on, but Fontaine especially caught the eye of Duluth head coach Maura Crowell.
“On the back check, you have to be responsible, understanding that it’s not just the three forwards that are going to attack offensively there’s going to be a jump-up D making it even more complicated,” Crowell said. “A lot of our defensemen are offensive, obviously Ashton in particular, but a lot of them can jump up into the play, so I think we’re familiar with that style.”
The Bulldogs are aware of these threats, and they know that they have a path to victory.
“I think our style of play is going to be something that they’re not used to. We’re fast, we bring a different brand in our toughness and our defensive structure,” Crowell said.
Northeastern: This is a physical game, which means it’s built for Tessa Ward. The grittiest player on the ice, Ward’s aggression and forechecking make her an ideal weapon against a strong team that holds possession well. Another key forechecker is Peyton Anderson, who flies forward to apply pressure (it was that pressure that created the Cipra goal on Monday).
Another player to watch, outside of The Fearsome Five, is Knoll, who was one of the best players on the ice Monday and is knocking on the doorstep for a goal.
The Huskies’ top-ranked penalty kill is another key. With Duluth having only four power-play goals on the year, Northeastern can gain an advantage there, potentially creating another shorthanded goal.
Duluth: Anna Klein and Gabbie Hughes are the two obvious picks, as they make the team go with their scoring and playmaking. Bell is one of the best two-way defenders in the country.
Outside of their top group, a key player to watch is Clara van Wieren. The freshman has seven goals on the year and is one of the Bulldogs’ best secondary scorers. She can leverage her size to body off defenders and create scoring lanes and passing angles.
Puck drops at 2 PM for this Frozen Four matchup. WRBB will have the call with Jack Sinclair, George Barker, and Mike Puzzanghera on the mic, with coverage beginning at 1:45.