Story by Emma Sullivan
Photos by Ethan Wayne
BOSTON — It was a hard fought matchup on Wednesday as the Northeastern Huskies faced off against the Maine Black Bears in the semifinals of the Hockey East tournament. Northeastern, the top seeded team in the conference, came to play offensively. By the end of the game the Huskies controlled the shot counter 41-13. A strong performance in net and by the defensive core for the Black Bears kept this game from becoming a runaway, however it would still be the Huskies on top when the final buzzer sounded.
The first period was mainly quiet as neither team was able to put the puck in the back of the net before the buzzer sounded. Northeastern had the edge in shots by a margin of 13-2 over Maine, however the Maine forecheck and overall defense did not allow the Huskies to get anything going offensively. Any time Northeastern attempted a pass or tried to get a shot off, it appeared as though there was a Black Bear stick or jersey in the way. The shots that did make their way on goal were ultimately stopped by Maine goaltender Jorden Mattison, who, after giving up seven goals in her two previous starts against the Huskies this season, looked solid in net Wednesday.
The teams entered the second period still tied at zero. Both teams came into the second period with a lot more momentum and aggression than seen in the first. Northeastern put themselves at a disadvantage first after forward Maddie Mills took a hooking penalty with 10:24 remaining in the period. The Huskies penalty kill, which has been dominant all season, killed off this one with few issues.
It only took 11 seconds after the Maine power play expired for Northeastern to find the back of the net. The Huskies generated a rush after Mills carried the puck into the offensive zone. Mills sauced the puck across ice to forward Chloé Aurard where it bounced off Aurard’s skate. She was able to regain control of the puck before getting a hard shot off toward Mattison but the puck went wide and hit Mills’ leg which deflected the puck into the net, giving Northeastern the 1-0 lead with 8:11 remaining in the second period. Aurard and forward Alina Müller were each credited with an assist on the play.
“Maddie Mills really opened it up for us,” forward Maureen Murphy said post game on the goal that sparked the offensive upswing for Northeastern.
“I couldn’t be more grateful not only to have her [Mills] on our team as a hockey player but also as a person,” Murphy added.
Northeastern had their first opportunity on the power play after Black Bears forward Maddie Giordano took a tripping penalty with 5:20 remaining in the second period. Northeastern’s power play, which has been almost lethal throughout the course of the season, wasted no time setting up shop in the offensive zone.
Soon enough their first unit came through to put them on top 2-0. Müller held the puck at the blue line and carried it deeper into the zone before dropping it back for Murphy. Murphy held onto the puck for a few moments, waiting for a lane to clear in front of the net before rifling a shot from the top of the circles. Mattison, screened on the play, had no chance at stopping the shot as Murphy added her 28th goal of the season. The assists on the goal were from Müller and defender Skylar Fontaine.
After the game, associate head coach Nick Carpenito was asked about what has made Murphy so special this season, especially with her scoring as much as she has over the last month of play.
“She’s playing lights out. She’s moving her feet, she’s creating space for herself, she’s attacking that space, and she’s getting close to the net,” he said. “She’s doing a lot of really good things, and I think she’s peaking at the right time, which is good news for us.”
The period wasn’t over yet however as forward Katy Knoll sent Northeastern back to the penalty kill after taking a cross-checking penalty with 2:17 remaining on the clock. Special teams for Northeastern again played a key part in keeping Maine from getting anything back on the power play. The period came to a close soon after power play time expired with the Huskies up 2-0. Again Northeastern dominated the shot counter with 18 on goal during the second frame to Maine’s four, giving the Huskies a lead in shots on goal of 31-6.
Northeastern looked sluggish to start the third period, struggling to generate any real offensive opportunities in the opening five minutes. Forward Tessa Ward took a body-checking penalty that once again set the Huskies on the penalty kill with 14:04 remaining in the game.
While the Husky penalty kill has been incredibly strong, it is not invincible which became apparent after Maine cut the lead to one with 12:57 remaining in the period. Forward Celine Tedenby had control of the puck along the edges of the faceoff circle near the boards after the Black Bears set up a strong cycle in the offensive zone. Tedenby slid the puck up to defender Taylor Leech at the top of the zone, who quickly passed it to forward Ida Kuoppala who was stationed in the opposite faceoff circle. Kuoppala fired a one timer that just caught the top of Northeastern netminder Aerin Frankel’s glove before whizzing past and into the back of the net.
It only took three and a half minutes however before Northeastern was able to regain their two goal lead. A cross ice pass from Müller ended up on the stick of defender Brooke Hobson at the top of the zone who easily moved the puck from the front to the back of her stick before backhanding it to none other than Murphy once again. Murphy had a brief toe drag around Maine forward Morgan Trimper before firing the puck home once more. Northeastern was back on top by two with 9:27 left to play.
With the goal, Murphy regained the NCAA scoring lead with 29 goals, besting Minnesota’s Taylor Heise who has 28 and Wisconsin’s Daryl Watts, who Murphy was tied with at 27 coming into tonight.
“It’s honestly something I never really thought was possible,” said Murphy after being asked what her feelings were on being atop the scoring race. “I think it’s better not to think about it because at the end of the day, my goal isn’t to lead the nation, it’s to win a national title with our team.”
Murphy, ever humble, credited her recent offensive dominance to her teammates.
“Honestly, it’s just the people I get to play with, I’m pretty fortunate,” she said. “I think that Chloé [Aurard], Maddie [Mills], Brooke Hobson, Skylar Fontaine, they’re all great people and really great players, so I may contribute, but they do a lot of work behind the scenes that they don’t get credit for.”
Both teams had one more opportunity on the power play before time expired. First Northeastern defender Megan Carter took a bad tripping penalty with 9:18 remaining. Carter was forced to make a diving play at the blue line which resulted in the call after losing her stick in the corner. Maine only had 1:39 on the power play before Trimper received her own penalty this time for hooking at 6:38 remaining, giving Northeastern another 1:39 seconds of the advantage themselves.
Mattison was pulled in favor of the extra attacker twice. The first time she was sent back to her net after forward Skylar Irving got a shot off that just missed wide of the net, keeping a fourth goal out of the Huskies hands. Then Mattison was pulled again and Murphy almost completed the hattrick on the empty cage but the puck was sticked away by the Black Bears. That elusive goal wouldn’t matter for Northeastern as they finished the game 3-1, sending them to their sixth straight Hockey East Tournament final.
Northeastern’s opponent in the final game will be the other Huskies from UConn, who beat the University of Vermont Catamounts 3-1 in their semifinal matchup in Burlington.
“It’s going to be a great game,” said Murphy. “I think we’re really excited and I’m just excited to see how much we can lean on each other. I know some people are going to step up and it’s going to be great.”
Carpenito and the rest of the coaching staff will look towards the more senior members of this team in their quest toward the championship title.
“They’ve all played in big games before, some of them multiple,” he said. “The majority of our team has been in that spot, but it’s also great that they’re able to guide our younger players like Skylar Irving, like Tory Mariano, who’s been playing big minutes, and just giving them a general understanding of what they’re going to expect.”
Carpenito added that the team will rely on their defensive core to help carry them to a win, saying; “I think the old saying ‘defense wins championships,’ people don’t just say it for their health, it’s true. That’s what we need to do, we’re going to expect those close games, and we need to continue to play well defensively and if we do, then we can go further and further.”
Northeastern will play for their fifth straight Bertagna Trophy on Saturday at Matthews Arena. WRBB will have coverage of the final with Catherine Morrison, Rae Deer and Emma Sullivan on the call. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m.