As the Boston College women’s hockey team celebrated their first-ever Hockey East championship on Sunday, you could almost notice the team across the way was taking careful notes.
The Northeastern women’s Huskies, having struggled through the league season with a 6-10-5 record, played the role of Cinderella throughout the postseason. The Huskies upset Connecticut and top-seeded Boston University to reach the title game and, when Casey Pickett gave the Huskies a 1-0 lead in the first period Sunday, it looked like Cinderella’s ride might continue.
In the end, justice prevailed and the heavily-favored Eagles gutted out a 3-1 win. The Huskies struggled to generate offense once they fell behind, a factor that coach Dave Flint attributed to fatigue.
“We battled as hard as we could,” said Flint, who returned behind the NU bench this season after coaching the U.S. Women’s Olympic team last year with Wisconsin’s Mark Johnson. “I think we just ran out of gas down the stretch and couldn’t mount a good attack in the third.”
The Huskies depth was a major factor throughout the season, and came to a head on Sunday. Northeastern dressed just 11 forwards, and that number shrunk to 10 when senior center Kristi Kehoe injured her ankle midway through the game.
“Losing [Kehoe], she’s a very good defensive forward, but she can also make things happen offensively,” said Flint. “After we played so hard yesterday and everybody was tired today, the emotion can only take you so far.”
While Sunday’s loss will provide a temporary sting, Flint hopes that it will be a stepping stone for experience as a program.
“The big thing is that we can get here,” said Flint. “That was a big step for us. The last two years, losing in the first round and this year going into the playoffs, I felt like some of the kids were doubting.
“Once they got a little bit of confidence, they started to roll with it. I told them let’s learn from the experience. I thank the seniors for all they’ve done, but for the underclassmen, I told them remember how this feels.”
Flint also knows that success breeds success, particularly in a women’s game where blue-chip recruits aren’t exactly available at a dime a dozen, and most recruits look at a team’s ability to win in clutch situations when making decisions. Reaching Sunday’s final might help address the team’s depth through recruiting.
“To get the better kids, they want to go to the programs that can win,” said Flint. “We’ve put together two pretty good seasons here. So we can show that we can compete with the upper echelon.
“We’ve been in and out of the top 10 for the last two years. That definitely helps in the recruiting process.”
What certainly would help would be if the Huskies can carry their playoff success into next year. Northeastern loses its two captains in Alyssa Wohlfeiler and Julia Marty, but forward Casey Pickett and goaltender Florence Schelling — both selected to the all-tournament team — each return and will be part of the foundation on which this team can build.
And most certainly, the Huskies wouldn’t mind taking a page out of the Eagles playbook. BC isn’t far removed from single-digit, bottom of the league finishes when Hockey East was in its infancy. Even last year, when the Eagles star players Molly Schaus and league and tournament MVP Kelli Stack were playing in the Olympics, BC failed to make the league playoffs. Until Sunday’s win, a Frozen Four bid in 2007 was all the Eagles had to hang their hat on. Now BC will make their third NCAA tournament appearance in five years.
BC coach Katie King sees the Huskies as a team that is on the road to plenty of future success.
“[Northeastern] is a team that never gives up, and that’s a great tribute to their team and their staff,” said King. “They’ve done a great job in getting the program to the final game. It’s setting up for some great hockey in the future for Hockey East.”