Kayla Shiao/WRBB Sports

STORRS, Conn. — For the first time since 2017, Northeastern will not be heading into the offseason with the Bertagna trophy. 

Instead, the University of Connecticut came away with the 1-0 overtime win to secure their first Hockey East tournament title since joining the conference all the way back in 2002. 

It was the game that was promised from the jump — the two best goaltenders in the conference showing up and showing out throughout the nearly 80 minutes of game action. The two best teams in Hockey East delivered one of the closest, most evenly matched title games played in years. A lucky bounce ended up going UConn’s way 19 minutes into overtime, ending a hard fought matchup between the two Husky teams in the conference. 

“We made them earn it,” said Northeastern head coach Dave Flint. “But credit to them, credit to Chris [Mackenzie], his staff, and his players, they battled all year long. They were one of the toughest teams defensively to crack, and probably the most disciplined team I’ve seen in awhile.” 

The first period was an even split, with both squads ending the frame with 10 shots on goal. Both offenses required the opposing net minders to make tough saves, in a period highlighted by fast, back and forth play. Northeastern had the slightest edge in dangerous looks as the teams skated off for intermission at the end of the period.

In comparison, the home Huskies really came to life in the second. They limited Northeastern to just nine shots compared to their 13 — even with an NU power play chance thanks to graduate student Camryn Wong getting called for cross checking. 

On the ensuring advantage, Northeastern had some dangerous looks, but the better chance came for UConn after they forced a turnover and capitalized by creating a rush the other way. With one of UConn’s top defenders off the ice, NU was still unable to find a way to the back of the net, and that was the start of the more dominant showing from the home team for the remainder of the second. 

And then, in the third period, it all seemed to unravel for Northeastern. 

Just 90 seconds into the final frame of regulation, defenders Tory Mariano and Kristina Allard took matching minor penalties on the same shift, the former for cross checking and the latter for tripping — giving UConn two minutes of uninterrupted 5-on-3 action. 

Even down two skaters, the Northeastern penalty kill showed their usual dominance, managing to kill off all but seven seconds of the two-skater advantage. 

That was until captain Megan Carter caught UConn’s Riley Grimley up high with a cross check to the face next to Gwyneth Philip’s cage. This knocked the junior forward’s helmet off and sent her to the ice in the process, an easy call for officials. 

On the ensuing review, Carter was called for a five minute major for the second time in as many games. But instead of getting just sent to the box, the defender was tossed from the game for contact to the head, ending her afternoon — and eventually her NCAA career. 

It all came down to one player on the ensuring PK for Northeastern, as it so often does; Gwyneth Philips. 

The netminder was outstanding throughout this game, finishing with 51 saves, and nothing showed her dominance more than her saves on the UConn power play. She made eight crucial stops, including multiple where she had to dive on top of the puck outside of the blue paint. 

“It’s why she’s the number one goalie in the NCAA,” Flint said of Philips’ overall performance. “I didn’t think they were going to beat her tonight. You know, an unfortunate bounce got past her but she’s the backbone of our team and she’s an amazing player.” 

Somehow, some way, Northeastern was able to kill off the near seven minutes of power play time for UConn and built on that as the period went on. While they were outshot 15-8, the end of regulation came after five minutes of sustained pressure from the away team. UConn goaltender Tia Chan turned them away time and time again, but some of the best hockey Northeastern played all afternoon came off the momentum from the success of an extended penalty kill. 

“They were all coming together as a group and getting each other fired up to kill it off,” Flint said. “They kept their composure, they didn’t get flustered, they battled the whole time. I do think it tired us out a little bit, we lost a little jump in our step after that. But testament to this team and the way they operate – it was pretty amazing for them to kill that off.” 

Overtime was another action-filled period, with Northeastern getting an early power play in the sudden death situation. UConn’s leading scorer Jada Habisch tripped up Philips while the goaltender was in the blue paint, and the senior forward found herself in the box for two minutes on an interference call. 

Northeastern’s power play, now operating without Carter, had some dangerous opportunities while in their offensive end. Chan was able to control any rebound chances they generated, though, and turned away any shots from the perimeter that they fired on goal. 

UConn’s penalty kill was able to kill the advantage off with relative ease, clearing the puck the length of the ice three times and then hemming Northeastern in the defensive end to close out the power play. From there, it was quick, back and forth hockey for the remaining 13 minutes and 11 seconds. 

Until a long shift for Northeastern allowed UConn to carry the puck into the zone while in transition, the most dangerous and best part of their game all season. A heavy hit by Grimley along the boards took Northeastern’s Rylie Jones out of the play, opening up the ice at the top of the zone with only four skaters in red available. 

Ainsley Svetek wound up with the puck up above the face-off dots after it was dug out by Grimley along the boards. The defender rifled the shot on goal where it was deflected in the crease by Megan Woodworth, who was tangled up with sophomore Jules Constantinople behind Philips. The puck hit the back of the net, securing the 1-0 victory for the UConn Huskies.

Flint and his staff decided to challenge the goal after UConn had celebrated their victory, but after a lengthy review it was determined there was nothing illegal about the play, allowing the Huskies to celebrate for a second time. 

And ending Northeastern’s 2023-24 campaign in the process. 

Kayla Shiao/WRBB Sports

Credit where credit is due to UConn, after such dominant performances all season, there was a reason they came away with the Hockey East title. They were a force to be reckoned with, and showed up when it was needed. 

Chan especially was a star in this game, stopping all 38 of Northeastern’s shots in the nearly 80 minutes of game time. Habisch had high praise for her netminder, and summed up UConn’s trust in their goaltending perfectly. 

“I trust her no matter what,” Habisch said. “When she’s back there, and [Megan Warrener] too, they’re both amazing goalies. We are truly blessed with our tendies in the back.” 

There will be plenty of time to reflect on the careers of the graduating players who are departing the Northeastern program this offseason. Plenty of time to look at what could have gone better this year. Plenty of time to break down the game footage and see what can be improved upon moving forward.

But for now, if there’s any positives to take away, let it be these: 

Jules Constantinople only got better as the season went on, and is poised to be the keystone to Northeastern’s defense moving forward. Once Carter was ejected from Saturday’s contest, it was the sophomore who stepped up onto the top pairing alongside Lily Yovetich and played incredible hockey until the final buzzer. It’ll be exciting to see her grow and develop with more responsibility next season. 

The depth of the forward group found new ways to score as the season went on, and created success from that. While replacing Katy Knoll and Peyton Anderson up front is going to be difficult to say the least, players such as Lily Shannon showed up in moments when it counted. With larger roles next season for Shannon, among others, there’s no reason why Northeastern won’t continue to perform offensively at a high caliber. 

Shorthanded, Northeastern is practically unbeatable. On 105 penalties taken, the Huskies gave up just nine goals all season, a 91.4% kill rate overall. While the players on the units will look different in the fall, that didn’t have too big of an impact on the team this season. The system in place has proven to work, regardless of who’s on the ice to enact it. 

And so for now, it’s the offseason for the Huskies. After three straight appearances in the Frozen Four, Northeastern won’t be in contention for the NCAA tournament after finishing in 14th in the pairwise. UConn receives the automatic bid from the conference and will receive their next matchup during the selection show on Sunday.

This closes the chapter on the careers of some of the most important players of the last half decade, including captain Carter, Knoll, Anderson, and most importantly, Philips. There are question marks to be addressed before next season starts, but before that, the program will have to say goodbye to some of the most successful players to ever don the red and black. 

“They’re one of the winningest classes ever at Northeastern,” Flint said. “I just told them in the locker room, there’s a lot for them to be proud of. They’ve accomplished so much… Today ended a 23 game unbeaten streak in Hockey East playoffs — I don’t know if that’ll ever be touched again.” 

WRBB will continue coverage of Northeastern women’s hockey when they return to the ice in the fall for the start of the 2024-25 season. Thank you for tuning in with us all season, and we look forward to being back on the airwaves for another season of Husky hockey soon.

Kayla Shiao/WRBB Sports