By Sarah Olender
After a historic season, Northeastern women’s hockey fights for the one piece of hardware that is still missing from their shelf: the NCAA tournament championship trophy.
It’s hard to find success in a competitive Hockey East conference during any season. But it’s even harder to win the Hockey East Championship, go 17-1-1 in conference play and 22-2-1 overall, take on the reigning national champion, University of Wisconsin, in overtime of the NCAA championship game and win countless individual, coaching and team awards week after week, especially in an unpredictable season during COVID-19.
That’s exactly what this season was: unpredictable.
Games were cancelled, postponed and scheduled at the last minute. On any given day, there could be a game, and each player needed to be ready.
“Since I’ve been a freshman, we’ve grown so much. We’ve come so far and I think that a lot of time and effort has been put in, especially this year with everything being so unpredictable,” senior defender Skylar Fontaine said after a major win against Robert Morris University that propelled the Huskies to their first Frozen Four game. “I think it’s just a great feeling to come out here and everyone play with the biggest hearts and me as a senior, this is just a great experience and I’m grateful for it.”
Senior goaltender Aerin Frankel had similar thoughts.
“It was a bit different than some of the seasons we’ve had in the past,” Frankel said. “But I think ultimately, whatever team was going to be able to handle the adversity the best was going to be the most successful.”
Frankel also happens to be the most successful women’s hockey player in the country. This past season, she broke the Hockey East shutout record, tallied the most wins in Northeastern goaltender history, unanimously earned USHCO’s goaltender of the year and won the Patty Kazmaier Award, the most competitive and highest accolade a female college hockey player can win.
Frankel may be one of the most awarded players in the country, but she’s also one of the most humble. In every press conference she attended this season, she always attributed her personal success to the team that skates in front of her.
“It’s always incredible to be acknowledged for personal accolades,” she said. “I think a lot of the success that I’ve had is definitely due to my team and our coaches and the strong program that we have, and I’m not able to do what I do without all of them, so I definitely have them to thank for that.”
Frankel wasn’t the only one to rack up rows of awards and accolades. She was joined by junior forward Alina Mueller, who held the most assists on the year of any player in the country, senior defender Skylar Fontaine, who earned Hockey East Defensemen of the year, junior forward Chloe Aurard, who led the country in game winning goals (six) and the list goes on down the roster.
As much as each individual player had highlights, it was the team highlights that stood out the most.
“Probably my favorite moment that sticks out above all was our winning in the Frozen Four against Minnesota Duluth; it was a pretty crazy game,” Frankel recalled. “I think after going down 2-0, we’re all kind of looking at each other like, ‘Oh, what are we going to make out of this?’ But I think we never really lost hope.”
“I think we regrouped in the locker room after the second period and we obviously came out in the third really strong,” Frankel said. “It was a pretty defining moment for us, to show us that we were capable of playing with those tough WCHA teams and that we were good enough to come back from even a two goal deficit to earn our spot in the national championship game.”
It was a season highlight for anyone who had followed this team’s success throughout the year, which made the loss even more devastating.
In a classic underdog story, Northeastern made it to the NCAA championship game for the first time in program history, even after previously fielding teams that rostered some of the world’s greatest hockey players like Kendall Coyne, Florence Schelling and more. Even when Northeastern had those players, they still didn’t make it to the championship, let alone make it past a Frozen Four game, showing that this team was something special.
Though each individual player on the Northeastern women’s hockey team had strong individual talent, no coach can predict what exactly a team will look like together on the ice. But the build up to the championship game wasn’t one of chance: it was years in the making.
A hard fought game against a well-coached Wisconsin group ended in a devastating overtime loss, as Wisconsin’s Daryl Watts bounced a puck in the net after hitting it off the back of a Northeastern defender.
Hearts broke on the ice, in the stands and in the living rooms of Northeastern fans watching from home. It seemed impossible that such a successful season could end on a fluke, overtime sudden death goal.
“[I] wish it was maybe a better goal that ended that game, but that’s the way it goes,” said head coach Dave Flint in the post-game press conference.
Flint’s right: that was the way the cookie crumbled this season. While the trophy shelves were lined with individual, team and coaching accolades, there was still a vacant spot that could’ve held the gold NCAA tournament trophy at the end of the season.
But a runner-up finish doesn’t mean the team wasn’t proud of their stellar performance this season, and excited for what the next season has to offer.
“We gave Wisconsin everything they could handle, so I’m proud of my team’s effort and what they’ve done all year long and all the accomplishments that they’ve had,” Flint said in the press conference that followed the Wisconsin game. “I told them the reason it hurts so bad is because they care about it so much and they’ve worked so hard to get to that point.”
Flint later said, “They’ve set a new standard for Northeastern women’s hockey and it’s not the last time we’re going to be here. [This loss] doesn’t take away from the amazing year that they’ve had.”
And with the roster returning all but one team member next season, the Northeastern women’s hockey team is itching to get back on the ice for another chance at the top prize in college hockey.
“Next year, we’re going to be even more motivated and we’re going to know that we deserve [it] and we’re good enough to play in those final games,” Frankel said. “And I think that we’re just going to grow from this loss and hopefully win a national championship in the coming years.”