North Andover, MA – For the 1st time in its 18 year history, the Women’s Hockey East Tournament saw three lower seeds advance out of the Quarterfinal round. Never before had the Tournament even seen two lower seeds advance. That’s progression, which is something women’s hockey has done a lot of lately. The lone higher seed to win in the round-of-eight was top seeded Northeastern. So it was a somewhat unexpected when the Huskies slotted against the #7 seed University of Maine in the first semifinal game.
After upsetting Boston University in sweep fashion in the Quarterfinals the task would get no easier for Maine. A berth in the Hockey East Championship was on the line in a game between the two for the 2nd time in three seasons. It also happens to be the case that those are the only two times that NU and Maine had met in the postseason.
If Northeastern wasn’t sure about whether or not they’d get a game, the first 5 minutes told them all they needed to know. The Black Bears were anywhere but out of place. A power play goal less than 5 minutes into the game gave the Black Bears the early 1-0 lead. And in a mostly back-and-forth 1st period it was hard to decipher who was the #1 seed and who was #7. Northeastern ended the 1st period with a 12-9 edge in shots, but Maine had the better of the scoring opportunities. After 20 mins: Maine led 1-0.
Northeastern had a good start to the 2nd frame, popping off the page with a ton of energy. The back-to-back defending champs were the heavy favorites, and were making their 10th straight Hockey East Semifinals appearance. The middle frame was defined by Northeastern’s ability to develop consistent zone time and to be quick out of their own. After the initial power play goal from Maine, Northeastern killed off the other remaining three. Spoiler Alert: Maine’s Head Coach Richard Reichenbach thought his team may have cost themselves the game by not generating more scoring opportunities on their subsequent power plays. The Huskies continued to assert themselves as the better team in the middle period. Both groups continued to defend well, the game presented itself as a traditional defense first, tight checking playoff hockey game. Through 40 mins: Maine was able to maintain their lead 1-0.
Alas the sleeping giant was fully woken up come the 3rd. Northeastern began the final period on the PP, and Skylar Fontaine snapped one through traffic to beat Carly Jackson, who never saw it. Just 2:40 later, Fontaine forced a TO in the offensive zone and put it on a tee for Alina Mueller who slipped it passed Jackson and just like that Northeastern had their first lead. Head Coach Dave Flint said that between periods he had no worries about his team. He could tell by the vibe that the room wasn’t worried, and so neither was he. The #1 seeded Huskies outshot Maine 18-5 in the 3rd period, Fontaine added her third point of the day on an empty netter and the game was over. Northeastern is heading to the Hockey East Championship for a 4th consecutive year, with a chance to win their 3rd straight title tomorrow. Final: Northeastern 3, Maine 1.
Both #5 seed Connecticut and #6 seed New Hampshire earned their way to Championship weekend on the road. UConn, after losing Game 1 at Boston College, won both Games 2 and 3 to punch their ticket. While New Hampshire swept a very talented Providence team in an unforeseen ending to earn their first championship weekend invite in a decade. It was UConn and UNH matched up in the playoffs for the 1st time since 2016.
The 1st period didn’t encompass the whole game, but it definitely defined it. New Hampshire outshot Connecticut in the frame, but it was UConn that put a dent on the scoreboard twice. The Huskies got goals from Taylor Wabick and Viki Harkness. Wabick maneuvered her way through the defense (who barely bit) and had enough space to sneak the puck underneath Ava Boutilier. Harkness snapped one top corner on Boutilier who had a late reaction and all of a sudden it was a 2-0 game after 20 mins.
The Wildcats were stunned. They never really bounced back, and seemingly played shocked in the 2nd period. They were completely dominated territorially and managed just three shots on goal. Connecticut got another goal, from another Wabick, (in the 2nd) this time it was Morgan. She scored in a similar way as her sister, on a shot that appeared to be stoppable. You could argue that Ava Boutilier was the reason why New Hampshire had found themselves in the semifinals. Today wasn’t like last weekend. I think she’d like to have all three back. Don’t get me wrong: this was a team defense thing, especially on the two Wabick goals where there were several blue jerseys around the puck carrier and no one asserted themselves defensively.
It wasn’t as if New Hampshire was bad defensively all night. They managed to block 17 shots and limit a number of potential chances, but when they were bad it was blatant. On at least two of the first three UConn goals the UNH defense just waved at the puck. Glaring mistakes in combination with what appeared to be lack of confidence was what led to the end of UNH’s season. The Wildcats had very little in the way of offense through the last 40 mins and like I mentioned before, this game was over after the 1st period.
When UConn got to the middle of the ice it was unlike any team I’ve seen in this years playoffs. They will not have that kind of space against Northeastern tomorrow. UConn was much stronger on pucks than UNH and they used their size advantage incredibly well. The Huskies managed the 3rd period perfectly with a three-goal lead, and added an empty netter late. Like the first semifinal, the better team was the one who deserved to win and did. On this Saturday in March, the two Huskies were best in show. For the 2nd time in three years it’ll be all Huskies in the Hockey East Championship as they meet tomorrow for a shot at history. Final: UConn 4, UNH 0