BOSTON — After a stunning upset over Boston University in the Hockey East playoffs opening round, Merrimack headed to Matthews Arena to take on No. 5 Northeastern in the quarterfinals. The matchup was a gritty and physical one, the Huskies ultimately coming out on top, with their 5-1 victory highlighted by an Alina Müller hat trick and a history-making final goal.
Northeastern came out of the gates with high intensity on the offensive end early. Just two and a half minutes into the game, graduate student forward Maureen Murphy forced a turnover in the Huskies’ offensive zone. Seeing Müller with space on her right, Murphy passed the puck to her captain. Müller took one stride and sent a shot towards Merrimack senior Emma Gorski.
The netminder made the initial save, but spilled the rebound right in front of Müller on the doorstep. It was an easy finish for the top-line center, and the Huskies jumped to an early 1-0 lead.
Five minutes later, Müller made the Warriors pay again. Graduate student forward Chloé Aurard poked the puck loose from a scrum along the boards to graduate student Maude Poulin-Labelle. The defender made a cross-ice pass in front of the crease to a waiting Müller, who fired the puck top shelf past an unsuspecting Gorski, doubling the Huskies’ lead.
The goal made Müller the all-time leading playoff scorer in Hockey East history, with 27 postseason points to her name, passing former Husky Skylar Fontaine, the previous record-holder.
Throughout the remainder of the first and through the second period, Northeastern’s scoring pace slowed, as they peppered Gorski’s net with shots, but the Warriors’ netminder made some showstopping saves to keep Merrimack within striking distance.
“[Gorski] is a heck of a goalie,” said Northeastern associate head coach Nick Carpenito. “We peppered her pretty good. She’s usually on her angles really well, she usually makes the first save, but we were swarming the net pretty hard on her. She’s definitely the type of kid that can steal a game.”
Northeastern’s power play, unlike their full-strength offense, didn’t settle in immediately, despite the many opportunities the Warriors gave them. Through the first two periods, Merrimack killed off two minors called on junior forward Emily Oosterveld and junior defender Natalie Nemes, for hooking and unsportsmanlike conduct, respectively.
But penalties were the name of the game in the third frame, as senior defender Teghan Inglis took a hooking call just 30 seconds after puck drop. Once again, Merrimack was able to deny Northeastern a special teams goal, however, after a slow second period, the Huskies were determined to extend their lead.
Ultimately, Aurard would be the one to break the period-long scoring drought. On the far boards, Müller showed some craftiness with her stick to get around three Merrimack defenders. Spotting Aurard on the opposite side of the ice, Müller pushed the puck to her linemate, catching Gorski off-guard and leaving Aurard with a wide-open net to score into.
The goal marked the 200th point of Aurard’s collegiate career. It was also her 50th point of 2022-23, the first time she has hit the mark in a single season during her collegiate career.
“Our chemistry is on a very high level,” Müller said when asked about playing with Aurard. “We’ve played with each other [for] three years. … I think we are one of the best lines in college hockey, and I’m really proud that whenever the team needs us, we can deliver.”
As the game grew more and more out of reach for the Warriors, they began to play with increased physicality. Inglis received her second penalty of the game, an interference call halfway through the final frame. Once again, Northeastern came up short on the special teams, but just a few seconds after the penalty had been killed Merrimack’s tempers boiled over.
Nemes, visibly frustrated with the state of the game, let her temper get the best of her. With the puck on the opposite end of the ice, Nemes laid a barehanded slap to Aurard’s head, handing the Warriors defender a game misconduct, and gifting a five-minute major power play to one of the most dangerous offenses in the country.
“We knew exactly what we were going to get out of them,” Carpenito said. “They’re the dirtiest team in the league and it’s not even close, as far as I’m concerned. We knew that they were going to take a lot of penalties, we knew that that was the only way they’d be able to slow us down. … If they’re going to take penalties like that, take liberties with our players, we want to make them pay.”
The game misconduct had Northeastern fired up, and the power-play unit came out swinging. Less than a minute into the advantage, Müller, on the way off the ice for a line change, left the puck for sophomore forward Skylar Irving. Irving, who had been knocking on Gorski’s doorstep all afternoon, finally found her chance to break through and precisely placed the puck into the top corner of the net, extending Northeastern’s lead to 4-0.
With the game misconduct still progressing, Northeastern wasn’t done yet. Keeping the zone after a Merrimack attempt to clear, Müller found Katy Knoll on the far side of the ice. Knoll skated the puck to the faceoff dot, where she made a pass back to a charging Müller, who knocked the puck past Gorski for her third goal of the afternoon.
Müller notched her third career hat trick, her first in the playoffs, and made Northeastern history while doing so, tying Kendall Coyne for the program record in points with 249. Katy Knoll also had a milestone moment, her assist marking her 100th career point.
“It’s pretty special,” Müller said on her record. “Kendall is an amazing human, she broke so many barriers, she still does. I look up to her, and having my name up there with her is pretty crazy. … I know what kind of players play here, and it’s pretty cool.”
Northeastern had played a disciplined game but the perfect record came short as Peyton Anderson was sent to the box for an unsportsmanlike conduct call with just under three minutes to go in regulation. It was the opportunity the Warriors had been hunting for all game, as they aimed to prevent a shutout by senior goaltender Gwyneth Philips.
Philips had a relatively easy job all evening, but the Merrimack offense turned on the jets during their special teams stint. Forty seconds into the power play, Inglis made a fantastic deke around senior defender Megan Carter to find a pocket of space on the doorstep. She shelved the puck over the shoulder of Philips to get the Warriors on the board.
But it was too little, too late, as the game came to a close, Northeastern cruising to a 5-1 victory to advance to the conference semifinals.
“We are just trying to take it one game at a time,” Müller said. “Obviously, anything can happen. We just need to play it shift by shift, work hard, and pay attention to the little details. In two games, hopefully we can celebrate again.”
Northeastern will face Boston College for the fifth time this season in the conference semifinals. WRBB will have live coverage from the 6 p.m. puck drop at Matthews Arena, as the Huskies continue their search for a sixth consecutive Hockey East title.