Story by Emma Sullivan
BOSTON — History had to be made no matter the outcome of Saturday’s matchup.
On the line: the first trophy for one program, the fifth-straight title for the other. At the final buzzer, the streak stayed alive as the Northeastern Huskies captured the Bertagna trophy as the best team in Hockey East yet again.
The other Huskies, those from UConn, did not go down without a fight, playing Northeastern hard and fast at Matthews Arena. To start the game it was Northeastern with an edge offensively as they stayed in control of the puck, hemming UConn in their own zone and peppering goaltender Megan Warrener with 16 shots in total to UConn’s five by the end of the period. The UConn defense core however aided Warrener by blocking shots in front of her net and forechecking Northeastern to the best of their abilities for much of the frame.
To Warrener’s credit, the freshman had an absolutely outstanding game. From puck drop she was alert and aware of the puck at all times, making key blocks and saves to rob Northeastern’s top offensive weapons of goals they’ve been able to score all season. She kept the visitors in this game, even as Northeastern made her job all that more difficult.
The home Huskies got into trouble before the first intermission, however, after defenders Skylar Fontaine and Brooke Hobson struggled to connect on a routine pass. Hobson then tripped over her own feet at the Northeastern blue line, forcing her to lose control of the puck. The puck ended up on the stick of UConn forward Morgan Wabick, who utilized the breakaway opportunity to bury it in the back of the net off a nasty backhand with 1:11 remaining in the first.
Northeastern’s head coach Dave Flint called UConn “opportunistic” after the game. He said his own team didn’t panic after going down by a goal to end the first period, but credited the opposition for playing a way that made Northeastern work for it.
“We got what we knew we were gonna get,” he said. “It was a hard fought game. They don’t make mistakes.”
UConn carried the momentum from their late period goal into the following 20 minutes of play, outshooting Northeastern 17-12. Eleven of those shots, according to Flint, came on the power play of which UConn had three of in the frame. The first was a boarding call on defender Tory Mariano for the home team at 17:40 on the clock. Under four minutes after they killed off the first penalty, Hobson received an interference call with 11:57 left. Forward Maureen Murphy also had an interference call against her with 2:53 remaining.
When these two teams met in Storrs, Connecticut just two weeks ago, Flint talked about how his players needed to stay out of the penalty box in order to keep the game from slipping away from them. When asked about those same penalty issues Saturday, Flint said he reminded his team they can’t always be killing off penalty after penalty.
“We just needed to be more disciplined,” Flint said. “We talked about that at the end of the second. We were much better in the third. Their power play is good. We’re lucky they didn’t capitalize.”
For the majority of the period it seemed as if it was only a matter of time until one of these teams scored. With all the penalties, the probability of a goal leaned slightly in favor of UConn. Hockey, however, is a fickle thing, and a single play can change the trajectory of an entire game. Which is exactly what happened with just 17 seconds remaining.
A mad scramble in front of the net resulted in the puck ending up on the stick of Fontaine at the top of the zone. She fired a shot that was deflected away from the net by the skates of UConn forward Danika Pasqua. That redirection allowed Northeastern forward Alina Müller to scoop up the puck and fire it home to tie the game at one. Fontaine and Hobson had the two assists on the play.
“We told each other we needed to be patient,” Müller said when asked about what led up to her game tying goal. “We knew it was going to come. We just kept moving our feet, kept shooting. We knew if one goes in, we’re in it.”
The jumpstart from the first Northeastern goal carried straight into the third as Müller time at Matthews continued. The puck was chipped up into the neutral zone by Fontaine for Northeastern where it flitted through the skates of defender Chloe Gonsalves from UConn. The misplay at center ice allowed for Müller to regain possession and skate the puck through the offensive zone. She threw the puck on net where it slid through the five hole of Warrener and into the back of the goal, putting Northeastern up 2-1.
Northeastern maintained control of the puck for much of the final minutes, outshooting UConn 12-6. For the Huskies it was about keeping their heads on straight and playing the game the way they know how to, something Flint has emphasized from his squad all year.
The dagger goal was scored with exactly three minutes remaining in regulation. Again, the top unit for Northeastern set up shop in the offensive zone, keeping the puck away from UConn as much as possible while trying to set up a lane for the shot. Müller floated another shot through traffic toward the net that was deflected originally by Murphy before it found its way onto the back hand of Chloé Aurard. Aurard slipped it past Warrener and that sealed it for Northeastern.
The remaining minutes of play were chippy, and it all came to head with 2:46 remaining in the game when UConn forward captain Natalie Snodgrass cross checked Hobson behind Northeastern’s net, taking her down. Snodgrass headed to the box, essentially closing the window for one last attempt from her team to get anything back. The score would stand, the gear went flying and Northeastern reigned supreme once more.
After the conclusion of the game, six players were named to the all star tournament team. Five of those players came from Northeastern, and to no surprise those players were Müller, Murphy, Hobson, Fontaine, and goaltender Aerin Frankel. Over the course of the three games Northeastern played to win the championship, Frankel faced 58 shots and only allowed two goals for a save percentage of .966 overall. The final player honored post game was UConn’s lone goal scorer, Morgan Wabick.
Müller was named most valuable player of the tournament for her efforts in Northeastern’s championship run. Two goals tonight including the game winner and an assist on the final goal brought her total tournament tally to nine points: not too shabby for a player who’d missed over a month of NCAA action.
Hoisting the Bertagna Trophy is nothing new for this Northeastern team, as they’ve now lifted it over their heads five straight times. They’d even done it last season at home in Matthews Arena. However what made tonight special was that this year they had fans in the building, something they were sorely lacking this time last March.
“It was very special,” Müller said of the fan support at Matthews. “It was so different compared to last year when we had nobody in the stands. It was so much fun. We’re so thankful for everyone who came today.”
“We don’t have that a lot in women’s hockey,” she continued. “It doesn’t have that much of a crowd. It was really fun to play [for them].”
The next task for Northeastern is the ever looming NCAA tournament. With the win tonight the Huskies clinched the Hockey East berth for the tournament. Last season the team had the trophy nearly in their grasp before being beaten in overtime by Wisconsin in the championship game. This season that trophy has been their main priority, even as they’ve started down the regular season and now the Hockey East tournament.
“For me as a coach, I’m always thinking about that,” Flint said, about the NCAA title. “You win and you enjoy it for about 15 minutes and then you start thinking about your next game. As a team I want them to enjoy this, but they know come Monday, it’s business. We’ve got bigger accomplishments to take care of.”
All teams making it in the NCAA tournament are to be announced on Sunday. Northeastern, while having their bid secured, waits to see who they potentially will be playing in the quarterfinals and what seed they’ve claimed in the bracket. WRBB will have coverage of all upcoming games. Keep an eye out for more information when it becomes available.