Your Northeastern Huskies welcomed the UMaine Black Bears to historic Matthews Arena for a semi-final matchup in the Hockey East playoffs tonight. The Black Bears had a tough go of it this year vs. the Huskies: In 3 games NU prevailed 3-0 with a 13-1 aggregate score. But this is the playoffs: this is when everyone starts with a clean slate and history is tossed out the window. With a single elimination format, the defending 4x Hockey East champs (not a big deal) couldn’t afford to take Maine lightly. To me, the outcome felt inevitable, and it was interesting on the way to the final horn, but the Huskies prevailed and got the W with a 3-1 final score.
The Huskies dominated play from the
opening third shift of the night. Maine opened up with an aggressive two-skater fore-check and were clogging the neutral zone in order to slow down the NU outlets. That worked for the first 2 shifts, until the NU coaching staff adjusted and then it was all Huskies. How do you counter an aggressive fore-check? You reverse the puck and go D to D and up the wall. You use the aggressive fore-check to open up backside plays and work the weak side. It’s like judo man, use their momentum against them. It was a good game plan by the Black Bears but a better adjustment by the Huskies…..cause? Coaching matters.
The two teams skated fairly evenly to open up the game, but the Huskies started to take over as the period progressed. The Honey Badger Line of Skylar Irving, Miceala Sindoris and Tessa Ward turned the tide in the first with long possessions in the Maine zone and relentless puck pursuit. The longer the teams skated scoreless, the more you could see the speed and intensity ramp up from the Huskies. The teams exited the period knotted at goose eggs and this had to feel like a win for Maine.
Midway through the period Maddie Mills got whistled for a (soft) hook that sent NU to the penalty kill. Once NU killed it off, The Hockey Gods made it right with Mills. In the vulnerable minute after the PP, Mills came down the RW and found Chloé Aurard back against the grain at the inside of the LW circle. Aurard corralled the puck off the outside of her skate (do you realize how hard it is to do that!?!) and put a shot on net while Mills drove the far post. The puck tumbled off G Jorden Mattison and went shoulder-post-Mills-net. It doesn’t matter how, just how many. The Huskies were on the board and as we all know by now: Good things happen when you go to the net.
The physical play ramped up in the middle stanza (I see you out there Katy “brick wall” Knoll) and Maine couldn’t handle the pressure down low in their end. Alina Müller drew a tripping penalty as the Black Bears were desperately trying to relieve some pressure and you can’t put the Huskies on the PP. Have you learned nothing? Did you not get the memo from Merrimack? On the ensuing power play Maureen Murphy doubled up the Huskies’ lead from the high slot when her drag snap beat Mattison over the leg pad and under the blocker. After Skylar Fontaine and Müller weaved up top, Müller laid the puck over to Murphy to do her thing. The NU PP1 is almost unfair. Mills, Müller, Murphy, Fontaine and Aurard – I mean c’mon. While all that was going on at the top of the zone, Aurard had the net drive while Mills was set up at the RW circle to draw the goalie’s attention: just a well executed power play all around.
And do you want to talk about leadership on this team? Late in the first, Mills got in front of a clapper from the point when Maine was trying to generate some offense. Then with less than 10 seconds left in the middle period with a 2 goal lead, Müller eats one at her own blue line to keep Maine off the board. That’s what you call leadership boys and girls.
Maine got on the board with a power play goal that just broke in off Aerin Frankel’s glove as the penalty was winding down. Taylor Leech fed a beauty of a seam pass right into Ida Kuoppala’s kitchen and she uncorked a one-timer from the top of the RW dot. Frankel almost got it, but the shot just broke in off the All-Galaxy goalies glove. I mean she comes pretty close to saving all of them, we can’t really expect a shutout every night can we?
All of a sudden, Maine had some jump and the pace of the game picked up; that was until Murphy put the kids to bed with her 2nd of the night. As good as her first was, this one might have been prettier. Aurard with the possession found Brooke Hobson (who had absolute wheels tonight) in stride in the Maine zone. The Captain took a step to her left at the top of the zone and laid a perfect backhand drop pass to Murphy who was going down the wing. Murphy dog-walked a Maine defender at the RW circle and went far-side over the blocker to ice the game.
Up next for the Huskies is to host the (lesser) Huskies of UConn on Sat night for the Hockey East Championships. I’m hoping to be there at the game with my daughter so she gets to see this wagon of a team in person. She may not understand the rules of the game yet, but she sure knows how to say it: #HowlinHuskies
Some Hockey East awards to mention before we call it a night.
Goaltender of the Year for the 4th straight year – Aerin Frankel
Defenseman of the Year for the 3rd straight year – Skylar Fontaine (also 1 apple away from most in Hockey East playoff history)
Runner up for Best Defensive Forward – Chloé Aurard
Runner up for 3 Stars Award – Maureen Murphy (now the leading goal scorer in NCAA)
Late edit: I was able to speak to Associate Head Coach Nick Carpenito after the game and for once, the perfectionist was (kind of) pleased. “It was a tight game, but a game like that will prepare us moving forward.” When I asked about the size and physicality of the Black Bears, “We expected a tough physical game and we got it. Maine is a heck of a team and defensively we did what we needed to do to be successful.” Classic Carp – just giving me the word salad so he doesn’t end up on anyone’s bulletin board. See you Saturday.