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'It was our time': UConn slays the dragon to win Hockey East Tournament

The Huskies are in the NCAA Tournament for the first time after an overtime game-winner.

Photo: Ian Bethune

UConn women’s hockey has reached the Hockey East Tournament final under the current regime three times before this season, losing to Northeastern all three times. On Saturday afternoon in Storrs, Chris MacKenzie’s squad flipped the script.

After winning the Hockey East regular season title for the first time and securing home ice throughout the playoffs, the Huskies finally slayed the dragon with a 1-0 overtime win over Northeastern in the championship game at Toscano Family Ice Forum on Saturday.

“It was our time,” MacKenzie said postgame. “We've had some really tight ones with Northeastern and it just went our way.”

It didn’t come without a battle. Through three regulation periods and into the final minute of the overtime session, the game was a scoreless tie.

“We knew it was gonna be a dogfight — literally Huskies vs. Huskies,” junior forward Jada Habisch said. “We just stick to our game.”

UConn didn’t do much to make Northeastern goalie Gwyneth Philips work. While it peppered her with 51 shots in total, few of them were screened or re-directed. Still, she didn’t show any cracks through nearly four periods.

“Gwyneth Philips did not want her season to end,” MacKenzie said.

After summer workouts, preseason practices, and a full season that started back in the fall, just a single goal would determine who lifted the trophy and who went home.

Megan Woodworth made sure UConn ended up on the right side of that equation. With 35.0 left in overtime, Ainsley Svetek sent in a wrister and Woodworth redirected it into the net to send the Huskies to their first-ever NCAA Tournament.

“We had some in-zone time and we were just looking to throw it off that outside post,” MacKenzie explained.

Yet after all that time, UConn couldn’t quite begin its celebration. The officials reviewed the play for nearly 10 minutes before confirming the goal.

“It was pretty nerve-wracking I’d say,” Woodworth said. “I was a little bit flustered because I knew it hit my stick but I was a little unsure about whether I was kind of in the crease or not.”

Husky goaltender Tia Chan delivered a heroic effort to make sure the scoreless tie stayed that way, stopping all 38 shots she faced.

“She's been really good all year and she's been through a lot — a lot of injuries that she's been fighting. It's just nice to see her be rewarded for the perseverance and the determination she showed since last year at this time,” MacKenzie said of his net-minder.

For a game that saw one goal at the very end, the contest featured plenty of twists and turns. Chan denied Northeastern on an early advantage with an impressive glove save while UConn had nearly seven straight minutes on the power play in the third — first a two-minute 5-on-3 followed by a major — yet didn’t convert.

In overtime, Northeastern had a power play of its own, but UConn killed it off. Later, Ainsley Svetek laid out to stop a breakaway.

Ultimately, UConn made the play that mattered the most to pull out the victory.

“We made them earn it,” Northeastern coach Dave Flint said.

In the program’s 23rd season of existence, its 21st campaign in Hockey East, its 11th season under MacKenzie, and its sixth all-time Hockey East championship game appearance, UConn at long last came out on top.

To do so, it only had to stop Northeastern’s 23-game conference playoff win streak and stretch of six consecutive tournament titles.

The emotions hadn’t yet sunk in for MacKenzie when he spoke postgame but the weight of his team’s accomplishment certainly had.

“We finally got one,” he said. “If you’re here enough, you're going to come through and that’s what our program just did.”

“I guess there's some storybook stuff in there.”