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Mia Brown, a Woodstock native and Kimball Union grad, looks to Huskies’ next run

  • Northeastern University sophomore Mia Brown (15) gives the Hockey East championship trophy a kiss after the Huskies' 9-1 win over UConn to win the Hockey East women's hockey tournament championship in North Andover, Mass., on March 8, 2020. Brown, a Woodstock native and Kimball Union Academy graduate, saw her team's NCAA hopes get dashed a week later when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out. Brown and Northeastern advanced to the finals of the NCAA women's hockey tournament earlier this month, losing to Wisconsin in overtime, 2-1.

  • Northeastern's Mia Brown (15) and Matti Hartman (16) battle for the puck in front of the UConn goal during the Hockey East women's hockey tournament championship game in North Andover, Mass., on March 8, 2020. The Huskies won the game, 9-1, to make the NCAA tournament, which was cancelled by COVID-19 a week later. It would be the final game for Hartman, the former Hanover High star; Brown, a Woodstock native and Kimball Union Academy graduate, returned to join the Huskies on a run to the NCAA final earlier this month.

  • Northeastern's Mia Brown (15) chases after a bouncing puck in the UConn defensive zone during the Hockey East women's hockey tournament championship in North Andover, Mass., on March 8, 2020. A Woodstock native and Kimball Union Academy graduate, Brown was part of Northeastern's recent run to the NCAA finals a year after COVID-19 cancelled the team's bid for a national championship before the tournament could start.

Valley News Sports Editor
Published: 3/29/2021 8:37:22 PM
Modified: 3/29/2021 10:00:14 PM

If it’s closure, then it’s the kind Mia Brown expects to serve as motivation again in the coming year.

A forward on the Northeastern University women’s hockey team, Brown saw her hopes for a deep NCAA tournament run with the Huskies canceled by the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic this time last year. The situation dominated everything about the recently concluded season, too, but not enough to deny the Huskies a shot at national honors this time around.

Northeastern came up short in a 2-1 overtime loss to six-time champion Wisconsin on March 20 in Erie, Pa. A step closer to the goal, a step short of the goal ... but a step in the right direction.

“Honestly, we just took that rage and sadness and just carried it through the summer,” said Brown, a Woodstock native and Kimball Union Academy graduate, during a phone interview from Boston last week. “We were remembering we weren’t done yet, that we had unfinished business, so when we got back this year and were able to play, we were doing all we could.

“We weren’t seeing anyone. It was in the dorms with our roommates, to the rink and back to the dorms for months. We used all the energy we had last year and carried it over this year. We did our very best.”

In the 12 years since the Boston higher-education school plucked coach Dave Flint off the bench at Manchester’s St. Anselm College, Northeastern women’s hockey has been on a gradual upward trajectory. Where UNH, Boston University or Boston College have carried the Hockey East mantle, the Huskies — with four straight HEA championships — are now the league’s standard bearer.

All of that amounted to nothing in the face of the pandemic, however. Brown and her teammates, including former Hanover High star Matti Hartman, had just dusted UConn in the 2020 league tourney title game, 9-1, and had an NCAA quarterfinal date with Princeton on the schedule when COVID-19 brought sports to a halt.

“To say the day was heartbreaking was an understatement; it was a very tough time, especially for the seniors,” Hartman recalled in a phone interview last week. “After the initial disappointment, we were just excited that this team would be mostly the same the next year. We knew they would be in a good position to win the title this year.”

The pandemic still dictated Northeastern’s campaign this winter. Instead of the usual slate of nearly 40 games, the Huskies (22-2-1) played just 25. Instead of the usual early October start of game action, Northeastern didn’t compete until a home-and-home with BC on Dec. 11 and 13, splitting the two contests.

The Huskies didn’t lose again until the NCAA championship game with Wisconsin a week and a half ago.

“I think we found a lot of success by buying into it,” Brown said. “We all knew it would be a grind and not always be the most fun or the most stable situation. ... We could be at practice one day, and the next day we could all be in quarantine. A game could be canceled.

“We could be on the bus to a game, and it could be canceled because of COVID on our team or the other team. We had to get used to that and keep going one day at a time.”

That approach also helped Brown get through her own bout with COVID-19 in January, one that cost her three weeks of games between symptoms and the required return-to-play protocol she had to follow after recovering.

“I feel grateful,” said Brown, who played four years of hockey at KUA for former Olympian Molly Engstrom and ex-Dartmouth women’s hockey coach Mark Hudak. “It wasn’t bad at all; I had a sniffly nose and lost my taste and smell, but I was fine. I was able to work out as much as I could, being in my room.”

As the regular season was, the NCAA reduced its eight-team tournament to one week, using a single-elimination format and centralizing all competitors in Erie. Northeastern beat Robert Morris (5-1) and Minnesota-Duluth (3-2 in overtime) to reach the final.

Pennsylvania had relaxed crowd restrictions by then, giving Hartman the opening to fly west and witness her former teammates going after the crown COVID had denied them a year earlier.

“I told the girls after the game I’m so proud of them,” said Hartman, who graduated last spring and is working at Boston Children’s Hospital. “Obviously, it would have been amazing to have won, but they have to realize what an amazing season it was to get that far. I know they will be back.”

And Brown will be back, for one more try. Skills developed through Woodstock and Hanover youth hockey, KUA and the Massachusetts-based East Coast Wizards program have made Brown a dependable two-way forward who is a key part of Northeastern’s penalty-killing unit. Although she scored just once this season, Brown pumped in 11 goals during her pandemic-stopped sophomore season.

She’ll use the offseason to focus on what she and the Huskies nearly won this winter rather than what they lost the one previous.

“I’m just getting excited after losing that game,” Brown said. “I literally turned to my coach and said, ‘I want to just get back to training.’ ... I’m looking forward to that and get as good as I can and be ready to jump right in and pick up where we left off.”

Greg Fennell can be reached at gfennell@vnews.com or 603-727-3226.




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