Sydney Herrington initially did not grasp the significance of the Northeastern University women’s hockey team’s series with Clarkson this weekend. When she learned the series will mark the first two NCAA women’s college hockey games played outside North America, Herrington felt honored.
Herrington, a freshman forward from Bow, and her Huskies teammates, including Manchester’s Paige Capistran and Hanover’s Matti Hartman, will face defending national champion Clarkson Saturday and Sunday in at SSE Arena in Belfast, Northern Ireland, as part of the Ulster University Friendship Series. The two teams will play Saturday at 10 a.m. Eastern and again Sunday at 7 a.m. Eastern.
Northeastern (13-2-2) enters the series ranked third in the country while Clarkson (14-4) is No. 5.
“Honestly, I didn’t know it was the first game out of the country until I read it in our local newspaper here,” Herrington said. “It’s really huge for women’s hockey in general.”
Capistran, a junior defender, and Hartman, a junior forward, helped Northeastern make history last season when the team won its first ever Hockey East title. Both are excited to add another historic moment to their Huskies careers this weekend.
“I know we’re going to remember it for a long time,” Capistran said of the series. “It will be a big part of our college careers even though it’s just two games.”
The trip will mark the first time Capistran, Herrington and Hartman have played in Europe and Capistran’s first time visiting the continent. Herrington, who played high school hockey for Bishop Brady/Trinity/West, has previously been to Slovenia and Hartman visited Europe while attending Hanover High School.
The team flew over on Monday and planned to go on local tours ahead of this weekend’s series.
“I’m excited for the team to get closer and to get to spend time together,” Capistran said. “The entire experience will be great for team bonding. We know we’ll be closer when we come back.”
Hartman is looking forward to exploring new surroundings with her teammates but also cannot wait to get on the ice against Clarkson. The Golden Knights’ march to last year’s national championship began with a season-opening sweep of Northeastern in Boston.
“We’ve been around each other in the national rankings so that will be a really good test for us to show our stuff on a big stage,” said Hartman, who won four NHIAA state titles with Hanover.
The Huskies, who sit atop the Hockey East standings, will look to build on the momentum they had entering the holiday break. Northeastern was on an 11-0-1 unbeaten streak before a 5-3 loss at Holy Cross on Nov. 30 and rebounded with a 3-0 home victory over the Crusaders Dec. 2 in its final contest before the break.
The Huskies are 3-1 against ranked opponents, defeating Colgate, Maine and Boston College. Northeastern also won each of its three games against the University of New Hampshire.
Hartman has logged five points (three goals, two assists) while Capistran has six points on two goals and four assists. Herrington, who has played in four games, is still looking for her first collegiate point.
Capistran, Hartman and Herrington credited Northeastern’s first-half success to its strong team chemistry.
“I think we definitely know we played really well the first half of the season but we’ve kind of come to an agreement it doesn’t really mean much if we can’t continue that and improve for the second half of the season,” Hartman said.
Clarkson, which has won three national titles in the past five years, capped its first-half campaign by sweeping St. Lawrence University and entered the break with a 7-3 mark over its last 10 games.
“It’s the first time ever and the fact I’m part of it makes it that much more meaningful,” Herrington said. “But at the same time, playing on a big stage, we can’t let that get to our head or it’ll just affect everything we do. These are two real games and important points we want to get.”
The UNH men’s team has been involved in close games almost all season, with 12 of its 17 games decided by one goal or ending tied. The ripple in that trend is that the Wildcats have started winning those tight affairs.
UNH (5-7-5, 1-4-3 Hockey East) has won three straight by sweeping Dartmouth before the holiday break and defeating Bentley, 4-3, on Sunday.
The Wildcats host Hockey East foe Merrimack College (4-14-1, 2-8 Hockey East) Friday at 7 p.m. and No. 15 Yale of the ECAC (7-4-2) Saturday at 7 p.m.
UNH went 1-6-3 over its first 10 games with five of its six losses coming by two goals or fewer. The Wildcats are 4-1-2 over their last seven games, outscoring opponents 20-13 during the stretch.
“I think we’ve kind of matured as a team,” said Wildcats freshman forward Angus Crookshank, who is the Hockey East Rookie of the Week. “Now that we’ve kind of matured, now we know how to close out games a little better and know how to deal with pressure situations.”
UNH coach Mike Souza said the team has been playing from in front more recently than it was early on this campaign. UNH has scored first in seven of its last 11 games, earning a 3-1-3 record in those contests. The Wildcats surrendered the game’s first goal in five of their first six games.
“Not that you want to be front-runner, per say, but it’s just nice,” Souza said. “You can settle into the game, I think, a little easier. You’re not chasing the game.”
Souza said the team is hopeful that sophomore defenseman Benton Maass will return this weekend. Maass has missed UNH’s last six games with a shoulder injury.
Friday’s game against Merrimack will be Crohn’s Disease Awareness Night at the Whittemore Center. UNH senior defenseman Richie Boyd was diagnosed with Crohn’s Disease at age 14. The Delray Beach, Fla., resident missed all but 11 games during the 2016-17 season due to a flare up that caused him to lose more than 50 pounds.
All proceeds from the Chuck-A-Puck contest during Friday’s second intermission will be donated to the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation’s New England chapter.
“Personally, it’s going to be a great night, I think,” Boyd said. “Just bringing awareness about Crohn’s Disease and everything about it and just kind of reaching out to athletes who go through that process or young kids or anyone, in fact, it’s just pretty special to me. I just hope that we get the word out there and we win, honestly.”