ERIE, Pa. – The Northeastern Huskies advanced to their first-ever NCAA championship game with a 3-2 overtime win over Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs Thursday night at Erie Insurance Arena.
Senior defender Skylar Fontaine intercepted a pass at the blue line and skated across the goal before shooting back at the far post to beat UMD goalie Emma Soderberg and win the game for Northeastern with 26 seconds left in the overtime period.
The Huskies came from behind and scored three unanswered goals to advance to Saturday’s title game. They’ll face the winner of semifinal number two between Wisconsin and Ohio State.
“We’re thrilled for the opportunity to play in our first ever national championship game. I’m proud of my team, their resiliency going down 2-0 and battling back to win in overtime today,” said Northeastern coach Dave Flint.
The top team in the country, Northeastern started this game slowly and looked to be in trouble. Minnesota Duluth flustered them and dominated the shot chart and puck possession in the first period.
The Bulldogs were relentless on the Huskies, pressuring them in every part of the ice and forcing them to make quick decisions, something Flint said his team was unprepared for.
“They were all over us in the first. We just weren’t moving our feet. We hadn’t seen that speed in awhile. They were doing a good job of taking away time and space. We weren’t making good decisions with the puck,” he said.
UMD had the Huskies on their heels, but could not convert in the opening frame, something coach Maura Crowell said it would be easy to look back and say was important, but her team had a lot of other opportunities to score throughout the game.
Northeastern goalie Aerin Frankel has already been named Goalie of the Year and today was named a Patty Kazmaier top-3 finalist and she showed why, especially early on in this game. She was stellar with her glove hand in particular, nabbing everything Minnesota Duluth put on her cleanly.“The style we play is pretty wide open and we’re gonna give up some odd man rushes. We rely on (Frankel) to bail us out in some situations and she did that today. Even when we had a slow start, she kept it 0-0. If we go into the first intermission down one or two, it might have been a different game,” said Flint.
Sophomore Mannon McMahon finally broke it open for the Bulldogs midway through the second. A puck deflected off a Northeastern player’s skate out to Kailee Skinner at the top of the circles. She would up for what looked like a slapshot, but purposefully hit the puck off the back boards. Frankel was tied up on the opposite side of the crease, leaving space for McMahon to get the puck off the boards and score. It was McMahon’s first goal this year.
Junior Taylor Anderson said that is a play the Bulldogs practice and her teammates performed it to perfection.
Five minutes later, Anderson doubled the UMD lead on a play that was set up beautifully by senior Anna Klein, who carried the puck through the neutral zone with speed. She took it wide and ran into a bit of traffic along the back boards before playing it to herself and coming around the other side of the net and trying to backhand it in. The puck hit the post and deflected out to Anderson, who took one touch and picked her spot to beat Frankel.
But things began to unravel for UMD towards the end of the second as Northeastern had a 5-on-3 power play that straddled the period break. They capitalized just 42 seconds into the third, just after the first penalty expired and that seemed to give the team a jolt.
Maureen Murphy slotted home a pass from Fontaine to make it a one-goal game.
Suddenly the smooth-skating, confidence team that entered the game undefeated in 21 games started to emerge. Less than five minutes later, they took advantage of some Minnesota Duluth mistakes to even the score.
The Bulldogs weren’t able to hold the puck in the offensive zone which allowed Northeastern to go on offense. UMD looked to have possession back behind the net, but Veronika Pettey fed it out to Andrea Renner. Her shot was blocked by Maggie Flaherty, but the puck fell to the slot and Katy Knoll had a moment to collect it and size up the net before scoring and tying the game.
“I love the way we started. We came out flying, put a lot of pressure on them,” said Crowell. “The momentum shifted at the beginning of the third. We weathered it. I liked our effort in OT. I thought we got better and better. It comes down to making plays and they made one more than we did.”
Northeastern controlled the puck and the momentum in the third and but UMD weathered the push and the teams played a much more even overtime period.
It was fitting that it was Fontaine that ended it. She ended the game with 16 shots on goal, more than double anyone else in the game.
“When we had four shots in the first period, I said we have to start getting pucks to the net, so if you have a shot, there’s no bad shot. If you have an opportunity, get the puck to the net. I guess Skylar took that to heart,” said Flint.
It was a tough way to end the Bulldogs’ season, but Crowell said she and her team are holding their heads high.
“We could have won that hockey game. We belong,” she said. “Our performances speak for themselves.”
Northeastern extended their unbeaten streak to 22 games. They’ll play for the national championship Saturday night at 7:30 pm eastern on ESPNU.