One year ago, they were one goal away from history. One goal away from taking down the seemingly unbeatable Boston College Eagles for the elusive Hockey East Championship, a piece of hardware the program had yet to bring back to Huntington Avenue.
Fate was not on their side that night, however, as nearly six minutes into overtime, the Eagles netted the golden goal and soared to yet another Hockey East championship with a 2-1 victory.
While the ladies of Chestnut Hill celebrated a feat that has become commonplace for one of the most storied programs in college hockey, the Huskies experienced the all-too-familiar taste of disappointment, their season having been cut short by the Eagles for the second consecutive year.
What’s the best way to bounce back from such a heartbreaking defeat? Recruiting a strong freshman class and training hard in the offseason. The Huskies did just that, welcoming seven youngsters to the pack, including freshman goalie Aerin Frankel, a young prodigy itching to learn from star junior goaltender Brittany Bugalski.
“We had a good group of girls both on and off the ice, so it made it easy for the freshmen to feel welcomed right away,” boasted senior defender Lauren Kelly. “It was just one big team the second they stepped onto campus, and I’m sure the freshmen would say that too.”
Expectations were high for the seven returning seniors. Led by a dynamic duo of forwards, captain Shelby Herrington and alternate captain McKenna Brand, the senior class was poised to take a shot at redemption.
“We were all kinds of hopeful,” remembered Kelly. “We were all looking at BC.”
The Huskies had their prey in sight. They were ready to pick up where they left off.
Except they weren’t.
After stumbling to a 6-6-1 start, it appeared as though the 2017-2018 season had been over just as quickly as it started. For a team with such high hopes heading into the season, the Huskies showed no signs of following the path they’d paved as a dominant contender in Hockey East each of the past two seasons.
However, as head coach Dave Flint noted, all it would take was a spark to get the fire ignited.
“I think [the turning point was] that first full series against [the University of New Hampshire],” Flint said, referring to the team’s first December games that it split with the Wildcats. “There were some tough games that we grinded out with good goaltending, and I think our team got some good confidence from that.”
The emergence of Frankel into an unlikely two-netminder system proved a catalyst in leading the Huskies, a team hanging onto its season by a thread, to a shot at salvation. A high-profile 4-2 victory over No. 2 Boston College proved that the Huskies had the talent to win, but a stumble to the end of the season, featuring a last-place finish in the annual Beanpot tournament, opened the floodgates to the same doubts plaguing the team since the first half of the season.
As Kelly described, failure was the last thing on the mind of the seniors, with only one more shot to give it their all. From this point on, it was win or go home.
“We didn’t want to leave without winning something,” she declared. “We all worked too hard to leave empty-handed.”
The Huskies gained momentum through each of the first two rounds, continuing their string of strong performances against the University of New Hampshire with two solid victories (with scores of 3-2 and 2-1, respectively) and staging a late comeback against a No. 10 Maine team. To achieve the improbable, the Huskies had just one opponent to beat: the Huskies from the University of Connecticut.
In a dogfight under the bright lights of historic Matthews Arena, the Red and Black, anchored by Brand and Frankel, took down the Blue and Black 2-1, and in doing so became the first team in program history to be crowned Hockey East champions.
Brand capped off her season for the ages, scoring not once, but twice in the first period, bringing her point total on the season to 34 – nearly double her 18-point performance from her freshman year.
“I knew that I could grow into that role and we all knew it was going to take a bit of time,” explained Brand in describing her transition into an offensive force. “I just kept patient, worked hard, and everything kind of fell into place.”
“They’ve accomplished a lot,” lauded Flint. “Between the seven [seniors], they played 950 games, notched 192 goals, 294 assists, 83 wins, and they’ve won the first-ever Hockey East Championship for Northeastern.”
Unfortunately, the Huskies ultimately fell short of accumulating more hardware on the season, falling to No. 3 Colgate in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. While the future holds bright things, Brand also believes the best is still yet to come for the rapidly-improving program.
“[This level of performance] is going to become the new standard for Northeastern hockey,” she claimed. “I think the next step is going to be not only making it to the NCAA tournament, but making it to the Frozen Four.”
These ladies proved that the high-profile men’s team isn’t the only noteworthy ice hockey program at Northeastern. While the story of the 2017-2018 team is forever contained within the walls of Matthews, the program’s potential knows no boundaries.
Though they understand the importance of such a monumental victory, these players know that the future is where history will be made. The Huskies have unfinished business to prepare for, and their sights have been set on bigger things.
Photos by Brian Bae