By Khalin Kapoor

After a whirlwind regular season that included a 27-4-2 record, a 19-game winning streak, and a shocking Beanpot semifinal loss, the Northeastern Huskies women’s hockey team have emerged as the top team in Hockey East heading into the playoffs. Let’s break down this tournament.

End of season Hockey East Rankings (Conference records)

1.       Northeastern (21-3-2)

2.       Vermont (18-7-2)

3.       Connecticut (16-7-4)

4.       Boston College (16-9-1)

5.       Maine (12-12-1)

6.       Providence (12-12-3)

7.       Boston University (11-9-5)

8.       New Hampshire (9-16-1)

9.       Merrimack (6-20-1)

10.   Holy Cross (1-26)

Tournament Format: 

All 10 teams in Hockey East had a chance to compete in the tournament, including last place teams Merrimack and Holy Cross. The No. 7 and 8 seeds hosted the teams ranked 10 and 9, respectively, on Wednesday. The top six teams received a bye into the quarterfinals. There will be a reseeding before the quarterfinal round, and the top two seeds  Northeastern and Vermont) will host the winners of the opening round while the No. 3 seed will host the No. 6 seed, and the No. 4 seed will host the No. 5 seed. The semifinals are on Wednesday, and the Championship is primed for March 5. For just the second time ever, the Women’s Hockey East Championship will be held at prime time, at 7 p.m.

Northeastern Standouts

Northeastern did not lose a step after making it to the NCAA National Championship game last year. Coming into this season, expectations were high for graduate transfer Maddie Mills, who came in from Cornell. She has not disappointed thus far, recording 15 goals and 28 points in her 31 games played. Mills is also the active NCAA leader in career power-play goals, with 30 goals  counting her time in Cornell. She has been an anchor on the second line for most of this season but flashed her versatility when her number was called up to the first line due to an injured teammate Chloé Aurard.

Another standout for the Huskies this season is senior forward Maureen Murphy, who transferred over from Providence before last year’s season. This season, she has been on another level for Northeastern, tallying 24 goals and 46 total points. She has notched two separate five-point games this season and has scored 14 total points in her last six games heading into the tournament. She is also tied for the lead in the entire NCAA in power-play goals, with 10 strikes on the season.

Given the incredible depth and talent present on this Northeastern team, there could be pages upon pages of more standouts from this season. Skylar Fontaine has the most assists in the entire country at 43, and graduate netminder Aerin Frankel leads the NCAA with 21 wins, 10 shutouts, and a .956 save percentage.

However, the biggest boost for Northeastern heading into the tournament is the return of senior phenom Alina Müller to the first line. Müller was in Beijing competing for team Switzerland in the Olympics, where she posted 13 points and her team placed fourth. Müller’s talent has never been a question; she is at the top in point-per-game in the entire country, with an absurd 1.81 mark, scoring 29 points in her 16 games played this season. All of Northeastern’s four losses this season have come without Müller on the ice, including their 3-1 loss to Boston College in the Beanpot semifinals. She also battled injury troubles early in the season but is back now and should make a massive impact on Northeastern’s chances heading into the tournament.  

The Vermont Catamounts — a fur-midable opponent:

One of the surprise success stories this year has been the emergence of the University of Vermont as a challenger to Northeastern in Hockey East. At the end of the regular season, Vermont sits at second in Hockey East with an overall 21-10-3 record. They are also ranked No.10 nationwide per the USCHO poll, the first time this season they have been ranked in the top 10. Northeastern is ranked No. 3 in that poll. Before the season began, Vermont was ranked sixth in Hockey East, and have wildly exceeded expectations.

A massive part of this success has been sophomore netminder Jessie McPherson. After a middling start to the season, she has been red hot since mid-January. She has started every game for UVM since Jan. 17 and has compiled a 10-1-1 record with a .940 save percentage. Included in that torrid stretch was a 35-save effort at Matthews Arena against Northeastern, where UVM won 2-1. We have seen Northeastern get goalied a few times this season, most notably the Beanpot semifinal where BC goaltender Abigail Levy made 49 saves in BC’s 3-1 win.

Vermont also had numerous skaters awarded with Hockey East honors for their play this season. Freshman forward Reagan Miller was named to the 2021-2022 Pro Ambitions All-Rookie team, alongside Northeastern freshman standout forward Skylar Irving. Senior defender Maude Poulin-Labelle was named Co-Best Defenseman of Hockey East alongside Fontaine. Poulin-Labelle totaled 13 goals and 34 total points this season. The best defensive forward in Hockey East was given to graduate student Alyssa Holmes, who had 25 points to go along with 28 blocks this year. Finally, senior forward Theresa Schafzahl was the leading conference scorer, netting 21 goals and compiling 39 total points in league play.

UVM is also the only team in Hockey East to have a better penalty kill than the Huskies, with their kill conversion rate up at 91.8%, in front of Northeastern’s 91.1%. The way things have gone in Hockey East this season, it would be no surprise if the tournament championship comes down to Vermont and Northeastern. The Huskies obviously have their sights set on bigger things than just this tournament, but Vermont should not be slept on at all.

Looking Forward

Northeastern is all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA tournament regardless of their performance in the Hockey East playoffs, given their win-loss record and their No. 3 ranking in the Pairwise. A conference championship however would guarantee them home-ice throughout the regional rounds of the NCAA tournament. This is incredibly important and would mean that Northeastern would not have to travel across the country for regional matchups and would be able to play in the friendly confines of Matthews Arena.

Northeastern’s first Hockey East tournament game is against Merrimack on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. WRBB will have coverage live from Matthews Arena, with Catherine Morrison, Mike Puzzanghera, and Emma Sullivan on the call.