The No. 7 University of Maine women’s ice hockey team strode into Northeastern University’s arena on Saturday, March 7 for their semifinal matchup against the No.1 Huskies. Maine had swept the second-seeded Boston University Terriers the weekend prior, while the Huskies made quick work of the eighth-seeded University of Vermont Catamounts on their own sweep the same weekend.
The Black Bears, riding the enthusiasm of going into Boston and defeating the second-seeded Terriers, looked to the No. 1 seed as the last true opponent left in the conference. The Huskies are no joke, having gone 31-4-2 through the regular season and playoffs, including a 24-3 record within the Hockey East. The most stunning stat though, is their goals for versus goals against, as the Huskies have scored 106 goals all season while only allowing 20 to be scored on them, which is by far the best ratio in the conference.
With fourth-year goaltender Carly Jackson starting in net for the Black Bears, Maine had a strong chance to usurp the conference’s powerhouse by stopping their offensive firepower. The Black Bears won the opening faceoff and went on the immediate offensive. Fourth-year forward Teresa Vanisova won the puck and quickly fed it out to third-year defender Taylor Leech, and after slipping through defenders, Huskies’ third-year goaltender Aerin Frankel deflected her slapshot, leading to a multitude of Black Bears taking shots on goal in the opening minute.
After finally recovering the puck, Northeastern gathered themselves to make an offensive push of their own and rattled off seven shots in under two minutes at Jackson. Though the Huskies were successfully generating pressure down in Maine’s zone, their offensive push cost them a penalty accrued by first-year forward Jess Schryver. Schryver was called for tripping while digging for the puck, and the power play push from Maine came to quick fruition.
Taking advantage of the lack of defensive coverage, the Black Bears worked the puck around the outside corners before finding their angle of attack. First-year forward Ida Kuoppala fed second-year forward Ali Beltz in the corner from the opposing faceoff circle and redirected it to second-year defender Ida Press, who was uncovered near the blue line. Press sized up the chipshot, then fired home a rocket into the top right corner of the goal and grabbed the 1-0 lead for the Black Bears. Maine finished the first period with nine shots on goal while Jackson made 12 saves to help preserve the 1-0 lead going into the first intermission.
Some sloppy action in the second period was surprisingly not costly for Maine, as Vanisova and third-year defender Daria Tereshkina both accrued penalties to keep the Black Bears short-handed in the period’s closing minutes. Group defensive effort and stellar play from Jackson helped Maine keep their slight lead afloat, as they stopped 15 shots from the Huskies while putting up a paltry six shots on Frankel. Jackson stopped eight of the shots, while her teammates and bad shot trajectories took care of the rest. Maine skated into the locker room excited with their defensive effectiveness, stifling the best offensive team in the conference, but they still needed to lock down the Huskies for one more period.
Northeastern, riding the remainder of the power play from Tereshkina at the end of the second, took the opening faceoff down to the Black Bears zone and worked their way in. With one attacker uncovered, Maine’s rotating defense managed to block two shots before third-year defender Skylar Fontaine found an opening and crushed a wrist shot into the net to tie the game back up at 1-1. Second-year forward Alina Mueller and second-year forward Chloe Aurard picked up the assists.
Vanisova would win the ensuing faceoff for Maine, but a bad bounce on a shot by third-year forward Michelle Weis gave the Huskies momentum cruising down towards Jackson, with Black Bears in pursuit. After two wide shots, Mueller cruised into the slot to crank a slapshot above Jackson’s stick-side shoulder to take the lead for Northeastern less than two minutes after scoring their first.
Maine was fighting to tie the game at two but the Huskies stopped all their chances, including scoring an empty-net goal with less than 30 seconds left after Jackson was pulled. Even with six attackers, the Black Bears were unable to levy the score and fell by a final of 3-1.
Maine took 20 shots on goal in the contest, while Jackson, in her final game in a Black Bears uniform, made 35 saves on 38 shots. The Black Bears will immediately dive into their offseason preparations for next year, aiming to find themselves back in contention with the best the conference has to offer in a year’s time.