Scintillating Schelling helps put Northeastern on the map

Florence Schelling’s eighth of 10 first-period stops in last Tuesday’s Beanpot semifinal cemented her supremacy on Northeastern’s all-time saves leader board. However, she resisted savoring her individual achievement until after she worked overtime to pole-vault the Huskies over a team hurdle.

Nor does she plan on relishing much until her concoction is complete, which she hopes will not be until mid-March. As if the world-class senior goaltender has not had enough between the NCAA and IIHF.

“I still have a lot more to go,” she said.

That she does, both in the way of additional individual records and a quest to help the Huskies splash some tournament championship droughts.

After stoning Blake Bolden in the top of Tuesday’s second shootout round, Schelling watched teammate Brittany Esposito beat Corinne Boyles at the other end to beat Boston College.

Schelling, who surpassed Chanda Gunn upon bringing her career saves bushel up to 2,448 earlier in the 1-1 regulation deadlock, is officially 1-8-2 against the Eagles. The memory of the lone win, back on Oct. 13, 2009, was as good as clouded by a subsequent 0-6-1 skid, including a 3-1 falter in last year’s Hockey East championship.

While Tuesday’s game counts as a tie on her transcript, the shootout triumph against the same team at the same site of Boston University’s Walter Brown Arena was as good as vindication; she had solved a nemesis with hardware on the line.

“I went into that game knowing it could be the last time I play them,” Schelling added. “So I definitely wanted to get a win out of that team.”

Check. Now, with one record in hand and a reasonable chance for four more, Schelling will enter this week’s final vying to backstop the Huskies to their first Beanpot title since 1998.

With the Huskies joining BC as the first two teams to clinch a Hockey East playoff berth, she will then seek to garnish her legacy by bolstering the team’s first conference pennant since 1997 and first-ever NCAA tournament bid.

For her, the cumulative saves record was to the remainder of last Tuesday’s tilt what it is to the final homestretch of her glossy career, namely sights along the path. How far she takes NU, owners of the league’s top offense and defense, and how high she ascends in the record books, could inevitably correlate.

That is how it has worked up to this point, as the Huskies have garnered exponentially more respectability over Schelling’s career.

“She has definitely been a stepping-stone throughout the whole process,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint. “Without her, maybe we’re not where we are right now.”

Schelling enters the Beanpot title tilt with a 1.79 goals-against average and .938 save percentage through 92 career appearances. If she keeps the former below 1.89 and the latter above .936 for the balance of the season, she will have sole possession of two more team records.

Assuming she sees all of the allotted crease time on the schedule, Schelling should unseat Shannon Meyers atop the Huskies’ minutes-played charts by next weekend. If Northeastern cracks the national bracket, she could join Meyers as the only other stopper in program history to see action in 100 games.

None of those potentialities would surprise Flint, who arrived on Huntington Avenue with Schelling in 2008 and has since seen her consistently wage a valiant battle with internal and external competition.

“When Florence came in here, I knew that she was a kid that potentially would break the records here,” said Flint. “Northeastern’s historically has great goalies, so there are some pretty impressive records. But knowing her background and knowing what she was capable of, I knew that she would at least be in contention to break those records.”

Before any of that, though, she needed to contend for a coveted starting job with Leah Sulyma, who was one year ahead of her and already the Huskies’ reigning team MVP.

“I told the goalies early on in Florence’s freshman year that they would compete against each other and if somebody emerged as the starter, then that’s who I would go with,” Flint said.

“They both started out red hot and we kind of alternated. As time went on, Florence emerged as our starter, and that just says something about her competitive nature. When she goes into a new program where you have strong goaltending, she battles to win a starting job. I think that’s one of the qualities that make her such a great goalie.”

At season’s end, Schelling also supplanted Sulyma as the team’s MVP. And although both halves of “Schellyma” continued to fulfill their duties reliably for rest of their partnership, the time split grew increasingly disproportionate in Schelling’s favor. She started 20 out of 33 games in 2009-10, and may have logged more if not for her Team Switzerland obligations at the Vancouver Olympics.

Sulyma left uneventfully last season, mustering an uncharacteristic 3.00 goals-against average, .893 saves-percentage, and 3-4-2 record. Conversely, Schelling’s junior totals included a 13-9-6 record, 2.02 GAA and .930 save percentage.

Along the way, she forged well-documented rivalries with a cornucopia of other stingy Hockey East stoppers. More uniquely, she has warded off fatigue for the sake of pulling off a double life between Northeastern and Switzerland.

In the first week of January 2010, Schelling spent Tuesday in Ravensburg, Germany, repelling 31 out of 35 shots in an altogether respectable 4-1 loss to Canada in the MLP Cup. By that Friday, she was at Fenway Park, turning away 28 out of 32 shots as part of history’s first NCAA women’s outdoor game.

On January 2, 2011, Schelling played her second collegiate game in as many days, her 39-save effort helping Northeastern nip St. Cloud State. Two days later, she was back in her native country for the 2011 MLP tournament and assumed the backup role for the opener.

The following day, though, she was ready to combat Team Germany, giving her three starts and four skates in five days and two continents, all sandwiching a travel day that covered 4,500 miles between Minnesota and Switzerland.

Another three sleeps passed before Schelling buoyed an upset of Finland with 67 saves en route to a 3-2 win for the host Swiss squad. That was one week before she resumed her intercollegiate itinerary, beating Maine to start a hard-earned homestand at Matthews Arena.

“It just shows her commitment level, not only to Northeastern, but to the Swiss national team,” said Flint. “She wants to be the goalie in big games and that’s a credit to her.”

Hard to believe that there once were no big games to be had on the Huskies’ slate. Northeastern remained a sub-.500 team in Schelling’s freshman year, and national polls were an afterthought until last season.

Apart from a 1-0 loss to Harvard in the 2010 Beanpot final, the Huskies made no real ripples in any tournaments until her 44-save dolphin show in last year’s semifinal upset of the defending champion and tournament host from BU.

Starting today, 25 days before the Hockey East championship and the NCAA selection show, the search for a Sharpie-strong stamp on Schelling’s legacy begins.

“That’s definitely my personal goal and our team goal,” she said. “To win the Beanpot, win Hockey East, go to the NCAA tournament. We haven’t achieved any of this yet.”

In Flint’s eyes, anything shy of a hugful of hardware and passport to the NCAA’s elite eight would cheat the foundation of his program’s renaissance out of fulfillment.

“That’s the icing on the cake for her,” he said. “She talked me at the beginning of the year and said she wanted to make this her best year yet.

“She’s worked really hard on and off the ice and I know deep down, she wants to go the NCAAs, she wants to win a Hockey East championship, she wants to win a Beanpot title.

“Those are all goals that she’s set, and I know how prepared she is to do everything in her power to help us achieve those.”