NEW HAVEN, Conn. — After steamrolling through the regular season Hockey East slate, Northeastern proved they belong in the upper echelon of women’s hockey nationally with their definitive 4-1 against Yale in the NCAA quarterfinals on Saturday.
The matchup was a perfect example of the level of spectacular hockey played between two of the best teams in the country. It was fast, it was physical, and it was fantastic.
“We were super excited to play a team not in Hockey East,” said Northeastern captain Alina Müller. “We definitely play really well against different league teams. … In the end, I think we deserve it.”
The first period was a battle for dominance, with both teams playing exceptional defense. Yale looked to be edging out Northeastern on the offensive side, getting some early shots off, including a wrister by junior forward Kiersten Goode that hit the pipe five minutes into the game. However, Northeastern seemed to settle in and shake out the nerves, pushing Yale back and ending the first period at a stalemate, 0-0.
The second period started out much the same, however four minutes into play, the tide of the game changed. Forward Lily Shannon broke the tie thanks to a pass from sophomore Skylar Irving. The freshman then faked out sophomore goaltender Pia Dukaric and buried the puck in the back of the net, securing the lead for the Huskies.
Northeastern’s freshman class and middle six was largely quiet in the first period, clearly feeling some nerves, but Shannon has always been a physical player and really settled into the game, showing why she was named to the Hockey East Association All-Rookie Team.“We have a very deep roster. When we need the third line to score, they score,” Müller said.
Head coach Dave Flint also had nothing but praise for his star freshman.
“I thought she had a great game today all around,” he said. “For a freshman to step up in a pressure situation like today and she answers with a big goal … was really important.”
The Bulldogs knew they couldn’t let Northeastern go unopposed and fought even harder, spending time in their zone and forcing netminder Gwenyth Philips to make some incredible saves. A scrum in front of the net allowed first-year forward Naomi Boucher to shoot one over Philips, seemingly to tie the game. The Bulldogs celebration was premature upon review however, as it was determined Yale put the puck in off a high stick, resulting in no goal.
Yale’s head coach Mark Bolding knew the call was frustrating for his team’s morale.
“It’s an absolute war out there at times,” Bolding said. “You don’t know when your chances are going to go in. You just keep pushing and pushing.”
The Bulldogs got a lucky chance soon after, when Northeastern was penalized for too many players on the ice, a rare misstep for the Huskies. Lily Brazis, dressed as the extra skater, went to the box, and Northeastern’s penalty kill unit went out on the ice.
Their penalty kill is currently ranked first in the nation, and Saturday they showed why, as the Huskies efficiently killed off the Bulldog advantage. Yale kept the pressure up, including yet another shot hit off the pipe, this time by sophomore forward Anna Bargmann, but the second period still ended in the Huskies favor 1-0.
Northeastern started strong in the final frame, knowing they needed more goals in order to keep the Bulldogs at bay. Just two and a half minutes after the period started, graduate student forward Chloé Aurard deflected in a shot from senior defender Megan Carter for the second goal of the game. Northeastern now had an insurance goal and was feeling the momentum from the lead.
Five minutes later, the top line did it again when Müller slammed the puck in off a pass from Aurard to make the game 3-0.
Yale retaliated by peppering shots at the goal, but was having trouble getting one past Philips, who in turn was having arguably the best game of her career. The Bulldogs kept at it, desperate to not get shut out, until finally Bargman found the rebound off a shot from forward Jordan Ray and lifted the puck over the netminder to make the game 3-1 with less than five minutes left in regulation. Northeastern was clearly frustrated with the goal as they had called for a hand pass seconds before the goal, which would have stopped the play.
Perhaps knowing they made a mistake, the referees called a penalty on Bargman for tripping, sending the Huskies to the power play and keeping Dukaric in the net. Northeastern still looked off kilter and spent just as much time on defense as they did on offense on the advantage, as Yale pushed aggressively and managed to get some shots off. After Yale managed to kill the penalty, Dukaric was pulled from the goal as Yale knew it was do or die.
Pushing the scale in the Bulldogs favor, graduate student defender Maude Poulin-Labelle was sent to the sin bin for tripping making it 6-on-4. Yale tried their hardest, fighting until the end, but Northeastern could see their victory in sight and weren’t about to give up. Graduate student forward Maureen Murphy forced a turnover and went on a rush, sending the puck sailing into the empty net and essentially ending the game with Northeastern in front, 4-1.
There were a lot of doubts about Northeastern’s ability to compete on a national level coming from a conference in a down year and with Saturday’s win Northeastern proved they are part of the best of the best. The Huskies head coach seemingly disagreed with the theory that his team’s schedule was any less difficult than the other programs around the country.
“Hockey East has had a down couple of years but it’s still a grind,” Flint said. “Everybody wants to beat us so every game we go into we get everybody’s best effort, everybody’s playing us like it’s the Stanley Cup. At the end of the day, I don’t care who you’re playing, you win 22 straight games, that’s pretty good. I think we proved today we can play with really good hockey teams.”
Yale’s program also seemed to dismiss the strength of schedule doubts, taking Northeastern seriously as opponents from the get-go. Yale fought tooth and nail with Northeastern the entire game and saw first hand the kind of talent the Huskies have.
“I’d love to see [Northeastern] go and rock it,” Bolding said. “They’re a good team and they’ve been successful. So if not us, go Huskies.”
Northeastern will make their third straight Frozen Four appearance Saturday in Duluth, Minnesota against No. 1 Ohio State. WRBB Sports will have the call from UMD when the puck drops at 3:30 p.m. EST.