NEW HAVEN, Conn. — As the puck beamed onto Katy Knoll’s stick while she glided into the attacking end, one thought flashed through her head: Do whatever it takes to get a shot on net.
Earlier in overtime, Knoll had been 1-on-0 with Yale goaltender Pia Dukaric, only to fumble the backhand off her stick as she skated into the crease. But this time, she made no mistake, absorbing a trip while dangling the puck through traffic and diving towards the goal line with her stick well out in front of her.
Sure enough, the puck scooted past Dukaric’s pads and into the back of the net.
Behind Knoll’s highlight-reel heroics, the Huskies secured a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory over No. 14 Yale in a rematch of last year’s NCAA Tournament quarterfinal. Northeastern was outshot 46-19 and thoroughly outplayed for the first two periods, but a 45-save effort by Gwyneth Philips was just enough to keep the Huskies afloat until their stars delivered late for a defining comeback victory.
“I felt like I had to make up for that one earlier. That was a missed opportunity,” Knoll said. “It was a great play by [Skylar Irving] to delay it and find me on the back diagonal, and thankfully I was able to get the shot off and it snuck through. Just so glad we could get the win.”
It’s been no secret that Knoll, the fifth-year senior and assistant captain, has been fighting it this season. After scoring 18 goals last year, she notched a mere two goals in the first semester — a stat that embodied the Huskies’ major offensive woes early in the season.
But in Northeastern’s first game returning from a month-long winter break, it was Knoll who delivered the closing punch. And if the Huskies find their way to the tournament come March — now No. 16 in Pairwise and third in Hockey East, that feels increasingly attainable — it will be in large part because Knoll and other top forwards increase their goal-scoring output.
“For a player that has scored quite a bit in the past, her goal total is not necessarily where she wants it to be. And in situations like that, you can grip your stick a little bit,” said Northeastern assistant coach Nick Carpenito. “But for her to get that big one on Game 1 of the second semester, I think is a really good sign for her, and a good sign for the rest of the team.”
While Knoll’s fireworks made for a triumphant finish, there was also the reality of the 63 minutes that preceded it. The Huskies were outshot 32-10 over the first two periods, perhaps the result of a 30-day break — though granted, Yale had not played in 23 days. Northeastern’s decision-making and passing on D-zone breakouts was lagging early on, and their forecheck consistently struggled to gain separation and create 5-on-5 possession.
But staying alive through those struggles is also the luxury of having an all-NCAA goaltender in Philips, whose save percentage climbed to .952 following Tuesday’s starring effort. In the third period, the Huskies came out with a far-shaper approach and play style, leading to their eventual comeback.
“I didn’t feel like we were doing a very good job closing down space, just allowing them to walk over the top, which is something that we actually talked about quite a bit in pre-scout and leading up to today’s game,” Carpenito said. “I’m hoping it’s a little bit of rust. I think the real big positive is that good teams find a way to win. And obviously, we’ve got great goaltending and Phillips kept us engaged and gave us a chance the whole way.”
The Huskies’ third-period score to tie things up was a snipe by defender Jules Constantinople, which came 34 seconds into Northeastern’s only power play of the game. The East Haven, CT, native — one town over from New Haven — showed off her accurate and powerful one-timer, and was set up beautifully by an excellent passing sequence.
After the power play struggled mightily early on this season, Northeastern’s staff made some tweaks to simplify the unit in late October. Dating back to the Providence game on Nov. 10, the Huskies have quietly scored six power play goals in their past six games. Not coincidentally, the Huskies are 7-1 this season when scoring on the player advantage, and 5-7 in games when they don’t.
“We’ve been working on having a pass-pass-shot mentality on the power play against them, because they do a pretty good job getting into shooting lanes, and Dukaric is a great goaltender,” Carpenito said. “But if you distribute that puck quickly, then chances are you can catch them off guard. So if we can shoot the puck off a pass, they won’t be able to get set quick enough. And they went out and did exactly what we told them.”
With captain and defensive anchor Megan Carter missing her fourth-straight game due to injury, it’s been the sophomore Costantinople who has stepped up most in her absence. In addition to her sound and consistent work on the backcheck and penalty kill, Constantinople’s quickly-progressing offensive game both in transition and from the blue line is helping drive the Huskies’ scoring success. In addition to her goal on Tuesday, she was tied for the team lead with five shots on goal.
“She’s becoming a quiet leader for us, which is great,” Carpenito said of Constantinople. “And she’s contributing offensively, which is why we brought her here.”
While Northeastern still has plenty to learn from Tuesday, they can leave their semester-opening contest having shaken off the rust and delivered one of their gutsiest comeback efforts of the year.
“This is definitely a learning game for us, and there’s a lot of things that we can definitely clean up. That’s going to happen when you don’t play for over a month,” Knoll said. “So we’re able to [take] this win against a ranked opponent and just use it as momentum to start the second half.”
The Huskies continue their second half with a Friday night contest against Holy Cross. Khalin Kapoor and Matty Wasserman will have full coverage from Worcester on WRBB 104.9 FM. Puck drop is scheduled for 6 p.m.