Northeastern takes UConn’s best shot in 2-1 Hockey East semifinal victory

Being the No. 1-ranked women’s college hockey program in the country comes with one absolute guarantee.

You are assured of getting everyone’s best shot the moment the puck drops.

UConn put up a fierce struggle before falling to reigning champ Northeastern, 2-1, in Wednesday night’s Hockey East semifinal at Matthews Arena.

“We talk about that a lot,” said NU coach Dave Flint. “When you are the top team you are going to get everybody’s best effort, everybody wants to knock off the top team.

“This week when we got the No. 1 ranking in the USCHO poll it’s nice, but the target on our backs just got bigger. You always see everybody’s best effort. Everybody gets up for you and in our league, there are no easy games.”

UConn goalie Tia Chan had 28 saves while her NU counterpart Aerin Frankel, the Hockey East Goaltender of the Year, finished with 26. Northeastern hasn’t given up more than one goal in 14 straight contests.

Northeastern improved to 19-1-1 and upped its nation-best unbeaten streak to 19 games. The Huskies will look to secure their fourth straight Hockey East championship and automatic NCAA tournament berth when they host Providence on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Matthews.

“That was probably our best game of the year,” said UConn coach Chris Mackenzie. “We really competed well and stuck to our plan on how we wanted to play and we had a few chances.

“We lost to a worthy opponent and best of luck to them going forward.”

UConn gave Frankel all the business she could handle during a three-minute stretch midway through the third period. NU regrouped during a timeout on the ice and brought the play back to the UConn end.

NU defenseman Brooke Hobson was doing time in the box for boarding when Skylar Fontaine led a breakout of the zone. Fontaine, who leads all NCAA defensemen with 23 points, set the puck across the slot to Chloe Aurard, who scored shorthanded at 15:22. It was Aurard’s 14th of the season.

“They were lining up for the faceoff and I just had this feeling in the back of my head that we have a really good chance of scoring a goal here,” said Flint. “I like our chances of scoring a goal if the team turns the puck over and that’s what happened, a great goal and a great effort.”

The first period opened with an unceasing pace with both teams enjoying a sustained presence in the competing zones. UConn employed a pressing dump and chase while NU countered with coordinated rushes through the neutral zone.

NU took a 1-0 lead with 10.9 seconds to play on a sweet collaboration by the Huskies’ first line. Right wing Maureen Murphy got the puck to Aurard, who circled the UConn cage while Alina Mueller crashed the low slot. Mueller collected the dish and flipped it by Chan for her 11th of the season. Both teams registered eight shots on goal in the frame.

Despite being outplayed in the middle frame, UConn tied the game 1-1 on an unassisted goal at 13:37. Sophomore left wing Coryn Tormala forced a turnover and deflected it home off Frankel’s skate from a bad angle for her second of the season. Chan held firm under a torrent as NU outshot UConn, 14-8, in the stanza.

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