NEW HAVEN, Conn.—Reaching the NCAA Women’s Frozen Four has become a spectacular habit for the Northeastern Huskies, who earned a third straight appearance on the sport’s ultimate stage with their 4-1 quarterfinal victory at fourth-seeded Yale on Saturday at Ingalls Rink.
Fifth-seeded Northeastern (34-2-1) moves onto a national semifinal Friday in Duluth, Minnesota, against top seed and defending champion Ohio State (32-5-2). The Huskies are seeking to earn Northeastern’s first NCAA championship in any team sport.
They’ve won an NCAA-best 22 straight games since mid-November while celebrating titles in the Beanpot, the Hockey East regular season and its conference tournament. The last remaining question—and the main driver of their inspiration all year—is whether they can win twice more.
Freshman Lily Shannon scored the opening goal for Northeastern after 25 tightly contested minutes. The prolific trio of graduate students Chloé Aurard, Alina Mueller and Maureen Murphy (who each tallied two points) added final-period goals to extend the Huskies’ championship dream for another game at least.
Making it all possible was senior Gwyneth Philips, who made a season-high 38 saves while holding Yale scoreless for 55 minutes. She won a showdown against Yale’s Pia Dukaric, one of her two rivals for the upcoming national goaltender of the year award.
Yale instantly emerged as the toughest opponent Northeastern has faced in this postseason run. The Eli (28-4-1) repeatedly pinned the Huskies in their own end in the opening minutes. A turnover late in the period left Philips vulnerable to waves of Yale challenges, which were altogether enervating and unsuccessful.
But those scares were offset at the other end where Murphy, Aurard and Mueller all offered threatening challenges. Both sides came away believing they were on the verge of the crucial opening goal after first-period shots by Yale’s Kiersten Goode and Northeastern’s Megan Carter each clanged off the pipe.
“Regardless of who was going to get that first goal, I had so much confidence in the team that it didn’t really matter what the other team accomplished,” said Philips, who was prepared for a busy afternoon. “I told the team between periods that I was having a tough time covering pucks and I asked them to do it.”
With the inspired backing of a loud traveling party of Huskies faithful, Northeastern skaters blocked 14 shots. Carter (three) had as many blocks as all the Eli combined.
“Our fan support has been tremendous all year long,” Northeastern coach Dave Flint said. “You go into a visiting arena and your fans seem louder than the home team’s fans, that really boosts the players. I think one of the big reasons for our success is the support that we get.”
The Huskies broke open the scoring five minutes into the second period when Skylar Irving’s blue-line pass found Shannon breaking to the crease. The third-line freshman faked to Dukaric’s left skate before scoring her sixth goal of the season.
“That wasn’t an easy goal,” Flint said. “She got that puck on her stick tight and she had to get around the goalie pretty quick—and their goalie is very good.”
Flint had recruited Shannon without being able to see her in-person during the COVID-19 pandemic. Originally, he said, he had planned to redshirt Shannon. But that plan changed after watching her excel in the opening week of practice.
“For a freshman to step up and get that big goal for us was really, really important,” Flint said. “Once she scored that goal, everybody relaxed a little bit.”
The explosive Eli—the nation’s fifth highest-scoring team—responded to their deficit with greater urgency than ever and Philips bore the brunt of it. During an ensuing power play they were on top of her three times to no avail.
The hosts thought they’d pulled even in the closing minutes of the second period when an endline shot by Kiersten Goode took a fluttering hop and was deflected into goal past the high lunging reach of Philips. But the goal was disallowed on a high-stick call against Yale—the second time in a span of three postseason games that the Huskies had benefited from an overturned goal.
Philips, the national leader in goals-against average (.81) and save percentage (.960), was saving pucks high and low, whether they were bouncing at her like footballs or sizzling through traffic.
“They were disciplined, they played really well, they were very compact,” Mueller said of the Eli. “But in the end we deserved it, we worked really hard and Gwyn made some unreal saves. Without her we wouldn’t be sitting here.”
The Huskies outscored Yale, 3-1, in the final period despite being outshot, 18-9.
Hungry for insurance to take pressure off Philips, Aurard and Peyton Anderson opened the third period with point-blank shots—both staved off by Dukaric, but hints of what was to come.
Not four minutes later, Mueller stole the puck in the attack zone and relayed it out top to Carter, whose shot from above the circles was converted by Aurard with her back to the net into her 20th—and most important—goal of the season. The Huskies now held a 2-0 lead and the nation’s best defense to protect it.
But there was no settling as they maintained their counterattack, appearing to grow stronger as their return to the Frozen Four neared.
Less than 10 minutes remained when Lily Yovetich released Mueller to speed up the right side for a two-on-one. She crossed to Aurard, who held the puck for a beat before putting it back on Mueller’s stick. Mueller blasted it inside the near post for her team-leading 27th goal this year. It extended her Northeastern career scoring record to 254 points and counting, but more important to Mueller is that she’s now two games away from the national title.
“I truly believe this team works for each other,” said Mueller, who has scored in 11 straight games and has had a hand in 23 game-winning goals this year. “They want the best for the team. Nobody wants to win for herself. We want to win this together. And that’s why I’m very confident.”
Yale cut the Huskies’ advantage to 3-1 when Anna Bargman put away a rebound with 4:38 remaining. Soon thereafter the Eli found themselves killing a penalty at a cost of two precious minutes.
They pulled their goalie in conjunction with a Northeastern penalty at 1:39 to go. But Philips held strong. With 40 seconds left, Murphy crept up on Yale’s top defender, senior Emma Seitz, and relieved her of the puck for a double-shorthanded empty netter—Murphy’s 20th goal this season.
The Huskies’ leaders know the challenges awaiting them on the final weekend of the season. As they skated their happy postgame lap, slapping at the endzone glass to show respect for the traveling DogHouse, there was a sense that this could be the year for the greatest celebration of all.
“I’d love to see them go and rocket [to the championship],” Yale coach Mark Bolding said. “They’re a good team and they’ve been successful. So if not us? Let’s go Huskies.”
Ian Thomsen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @IanatNU.
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