Photos by Kayla Shiao
BOSTON — It always seemed like a sure victory for the Northeastern Huskies coming into this game. When the top team in the conference faces the lowest remaining seed at home in the quarterfinals, the script seems to be set. There are sometimes surprises, but tonight it was straightforward: Northeastern dominated wire-to-wire and beat the Merrimack Warriors 8-0 to advance to the Hockey East semifinals, keyed by a Maureen Murphy natural hat trick.
The storylines at the final buzzer Saturday though were full of shattered records. This Huskies team, which has already seen milestone after milestone, can’t stop making history. Saturday night was no different.
Returning for this Northeastern squad was forward Alina Müller, who had been playing for the Swiss national team at the Beijing Olympics in which they finished fourth. Müller immediately slotted back into the top line role, and didn’t look a step out of place. Over the course of the game, Müller had three assists. Which seems normal for Müller, except that with her performance tonight she overtook Fiona Rice for the most assists by a player in Northeastern women’s hockey history. Rice had held that record since 1989, with 118 helpers during her time as a Husky. Now, with 119 and counting, it is Müller with her name at the top of the record.
“I had no idea actually,” Müller said of breaking the assist record. “It was a nice surprise. It’s always cool when you break records. I still have another year left, and I’ll see where it takes me.”
The other historic moment came for the player in the crease. Goaltender Aerin Frankel has backstopped this team for the last five seasons, making an appearance in 135 games during her time with the program. With the victory Saturday, Frankel reached a threshold seen rarely if at all in NCAA history — 100 career wins.
With a shutout no less, the 39th of her career.
To put it into perspective, only nine Division I goaltenders have won 100 games in their collegiate career. Adding her name to that list is Frankel, who once again claimed the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year award earlier this week.
“Aerin’s the core,” said Northeastern head coach Dave Flint postgame. “A hundred wins is amazing. I’m just really happy for her, and she’s got some more games to win here coming up.”
The kryptonite for this Northeastern team recently has been their slower starts to games. Flint has said multiple times that it was something his team needed to work on as they entered the final weeks of the season.
There was no slow play to speak of in this game however, as it only took 50 seconds before forward Miceala Sindoris deflected a hard shot from the blue line by defender Lauren MacInnis into the net to give Northeastern the 1-0 lead.
Sindoris wasn’t done in the first five minutes of play either, as she then scored the second goal of the game for the Huskies. This time a scramble in front of the net that led to a poor clearing attempt by Merrimack allowed the puck to find its way onto Sindoris’ stick on the right side of the crease. Sindoris tapped the puck home past Warrior netminder Emma Gorski with 16:48 remaining in the period, putting the Huskies up 2-0. Forward Skylar Irving generated the original play that led to the turnover, and MacInnis added an assist as well.
Postgame, Sindoris’ teammates had high praise for her play and how she got the game started for Northeastern.
“I think if everyone played like Mickey, then we’d have no issues,” Murphy said. “She’s a great kid, and I’m really happy for her and how well she’s been playing.”
Before the period came to an end, Müller got the chance to show off her skills on Northeastern’s first power play of the night off a hooking penalty to Warrior forward Dominika Lásková. The Swiss Army knife cut through the Merrimack defense and dropped down to the goal line before passing the puck to an awaiting forward Chloé Aurard right in front. Aurard’s one-timer beat Gorski with ease, and Northeastern went to the locker room with a 3-0 advantage. Murphy added her first point of the night with the second assist on the goal with 5:49 remaining.
“Having Alina back, she brings energy,” Flint said. “She brings a lot to the table.”
Throughout the season, Flint has been on his team’s case about starting games slowly. Chalk it up to it being playoff season, the return of a Swiss stud, or just a solid first period, but the Huskies answered his call Saturday night.
“We have enough leadership and enough veteran players in there. … I stressed to them, in a single-elimination format, if you run into a hot goalie or you start slow, you could lose and be out,” Flint said. “I just put it back on them, and they responded well.”
At the start of the second frame, Murphy decided she had gone long enough without a goal. Long story short, the Huskies’ leading scorer received a pass from Müller on the rush and wasted no time picking her spot, shooting a missile past Gorski just 25 seconds into the period.
“Right now, Murph is playing unreal,” Müller said of her linemate. “Every puck is going in, and it’s so important for us. I’m so happy for her, and I hope we can keep it going.”
Later in the second, the Huskies went to the power play again after a body checking call on forward Ally Qualley for a big hit on Aurard. After sitting for a shift, Aurard shook it off. She swung a shot in from the right wing which pinballed around the crease, and Skylar Fontaine batted it across the goal mouth where Murphy was waiting to tap in arguably the easiest goal of her career.
The newly-minted Hockey East First-Team All-Star was not done yet, as Murphy sent the hats flying with her third of the game seven minutes into the third, completing the natural hat trick. Müller sent a pass to Murphy at the goal line, and she drifted up into the slot with minimal pressure on her from the Merrimack defense and picked her spot, roofing a puck over the right shoulder of Gorski for her team-leading 27th tally of the season.
“I honestly felt a little guilty with that second goal,” Murphy said with a laugh. “But I couldn’t do it without everyone on the team.”
It marked Murphy’s fourth hat trick of the season and her third in the month of February. The three tallies — along with an assist on Aurard’s goal — boosted the star winger up to 50 points in just 33 games this season.
“They were joking in [the locker room] about Murphy’s hat trick, like ‘Oh, it just seems like you get a hat trick every other game now,’” Flint said.
Murphy’s hat trick was also just the ninth in Hockey East tournament history, and the first since 2017. It was also Northeastern’s second natural hat trick against Merrimack this season, after Aurard did the trick in the Jan. 7 game against the Warriors.
Forward Maddie Mills, not to be outdone by her teammates, had her own highlight reel play after she forced a turnover behind Gorski’s net before backhanding it to a wide open forward Mia Brown in front. Brown then potted her seventh goal of the year off an easy shot in front giving Northeastern the 7-0 lead with 10:31 remaining.
It was number eight with the eighth goal for Northeastern as forward Andrea Renner rifled a shot past Gorski with 1:10 left to play. Renner was set up on the goal by a brilliant cross ice pass from defender Brooke Hobson. Also with an assist on the goal was Sindoris.
An unfortunate storyline for Merrimack was not just the final score, but also the amount of time the team spent in the penalty box throughout the game. The Warriors took seven penalties to Northeastern’s two throughout the course of the game. Merrimack would only have one opportunity on the power play however after forward Katy Knoll’s cross checking penalty was offset by Warrior forward Allison Reeb getting called for interference.
Northeastern struggled to stay out of the box last Friday during their game with UConn. Flint then stressed how important it was to stay out of the box in order to get the win, a sentiment he added on to after this game.
“It got chippy early, and I told them, ‘No retaliation stuff. Just keep playing and let them keep taking the penalties,’” Flint said. “I thought we did a good job, and then we answered on the scoreboard with some power-play goals.”
The Huskies take the ice at Matthews Arena for the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament next on Wednesday, Mar. 2 at 6:30 p.m. Their opponent will be the Maine Black Bears who are coming off a 2-1 win in their quarterfinal matchup over Boston College. WRBB will have coverage of the game starting a few minutes before puck drop.