“Our team goes as Brooke goes”: Northeastern’s elite D a key factor heading into the NCAA Tournament

Northeastern's Brooke Hobson fires a pass across the ice.
Senior defender Brooke Hobson has helped Northeastern to four straight Hockey East titles and the No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. (Michelle Jay)

You don’t earn the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament without some kind of a competitive streak. That’s clearly been a hallmark of Northeastern’s squad, and it manifests itself in all different ways, from Alina Müller’s exuberant post-goal celebration hops to the Huskies’ propensity to pile on goals and handily win Hockey East Tournament championship games.

It’s a trait that stands out among their defensive corps, too. Northeastern assistant coach Lindsay Berman sees it from senior Brooke Hobson regularly.

“The joke we have with Brooke all the time is like, ‘Oh, you’re making more friends out there?'” Berman said. “She’s not making any friends out there. Ever. Because she just competes so hard.”

While Northeastern is led by arguably the best line in college hockey and the runaway favorite for the first-ever Goaltender of the Year Award, maybe their biggest X-factor heading into the NCAA Tournament is their top pairing on the blue line—Hobson and classmate Skylar Fontaine.

Fontaine collects more of the accolades thanks to her offensive production, but Hobson is just as key to setting the tone for the Huskies’ D and the rest of the team. She’s a captain for Northeastern, an honor she earned due to the example she sets and the care she shows for her teammates. 

Berman describes Hobson as your quintessential Saskatchewan native (“If you can picture a person from the middle of Canada, that’s Brooke,” she says) and a wholehearted human being who does everything to the fullest.

“The kid wants to win, and she’s proven that she can, and she brings everybody along with her,” Berman said. “She doesn’t leave anybody behind, which obviously is a great quality in a captain, but she’s been doing that since the day I met her.”

As a freshman, Hobson helped Northeastern win their first-ever Hockey East Tournament championship as underdogs. Berman joined the Huskies as an assistant the following season, tasked with coaching the D. Since then, they’ve won three more titles to make it four straight.

That chance to make history at Northeastern—in a way that couldn’t be done at a program that had already won a slew of championships—was exactly the reason why Hobson decided to come play for the Huskies.

“I didn’t want to go to a program that already had success after success,” Hobson said. “I wanted to go to a program where I could potentially be part of that history and part of that growing atmosphere.”

Four conference titles later, it’s safe to say she, along with the rest of her classmates, accomplished that in the most resounding way possible.

Hobson has been one of the steadiest defensive players on the Huskies’ roster during her career, but Berman notes that the way she plays is often in direct contradiction to her personality off the ice.

“When I first met her, I was surprised by how shy she seemed because she plays such a big game,” Berman said. “She plays a really heavy game. And then you see her off the ice and she’s a little bit innocent looking and very soft spoken. But then she puts her helmet on, and she’s like an enforcer almost, but a skilled one.”

Hobson says her first priority is being defensively responsible, but she’s developed her offensive acumen over the past few years to become a transitional threat for the Huskies.

“Brooke’s first pass out of the defensive zone is always so crisp, and that has improved a ton,” Berman said. “The best thing about Brooke is that she moves so well so she can always get back. So if for some reason, and it’s a rare occasion, she does make a bad decision, she gets back, and she usually beats everybody else back, too.”

Hobson is also an excellent golfer; before coming to Northeastern, she was a three-time Saskatchewan junior women’s golf champion. She notes that a major part of golf is the mental aspect, and she’s been able to apply those skills to her hockey career as well.

“It’s definitely helped tremendously, on and off the ice, and just trying to be able to level your mind when you’re at sort of a high on the bench, or if you’re getting too down on yourself,” she said. “It’s a good skill that I’ve learned and that’s definitely adapted from my golf game.”

Her approach mentally has helped her handle high-pressure situations with a certain level-headedness. No matter the situation in the game, Berman says, Hobson is always the same—maybe the most important trait any player, especially a defender, can have.

That quality has a major impact on her teammates as well, and it’s been especially important this season, with so much uncertainty week-to-week due to the pandemic and related stoppages.

“I talked to her at the beginning of this year, because this year obviously was super challenging—I don’t think anybody has a tougher job than a captain of a team that’s playing this year,” Berman said. “And I told her, ‘They go as you go.’ And it’s so true. Our team goes as Brooke goes.

“I think if her mental game was kind of all over the place, then our team would follow suit. But since Brooke is so level and focused all the time, it’s infectious and our team feeds off of that.”

Northeastern's Brooke Hobson looks to pass the puck to a teammate.
Hobson has developed into a strong, steady defender with offensive upside and poise to her game. (Michelle Jay)

It helps the Huskies immensely to have even more talent on the blue line. Hobson’s classmate Fontaine, a Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award Top-10 Finalist, is the top defender in the country. She just took home Hockey East Best Defenseman honors for the second year in a row, and leads all defenders nationally with 25 points in 22 games this season. She’s finished among the top-two highest scoring defenders each year since breaking out as a sophomore.

She’s a very dynamic player with great speed, who can beat pretty much anyone either in short bursts or the full length of the ice.

“I think obviously most people would say her speed [is her best attribute] but just beyond that, I think her vision on the ice, that’s just crazy itself,” Hobson said of her teammate. “She sees the whole entire ice while she’s making plays and she sees where she’s going to put the puck before anybody else knows.”

From Berman’s perspective, there’s an added dimension to Fontaine’s game this year.

“What I’ve really noticed about Skylar this year is her selflessness; just her willingness to give up the puck,” she said. “I guess if you look at her points, you would think that she just holds on to it and tries to do it herself, but it’s actually the complete opposite. And what’s really nice about having Skylar is she makes something happen every time she’s on the ice.”

Fontaine is also a stand-up leader for the Huskies. Berman says that she’s often the first person to pull a younger player in and take them under her wing. This is a part of her leadership role that Hobson takes seriously as well.

“Hockey success is one thing, but I’ve always been taught to sort of focus on the personal aspect before that,” she said. “I think my last couple years here, I do like being the older player and sort of taking the younger players under my wing and helping them out through situations that maybe I’d been in in the past. It’s just a whole other aspect to hockey that I enjoy and I take pride in doing.”

There are pretty stark differences in the way Hobson and Fontaine play, but as a pairing they complement each other really well. They’re each dominant players in their own right, but they’ve seemed to hit an all-new gear this year as regular partners.

“They’ve done a really good job of reading off of each other and picking their spots,” Berman said. “I think because they’re both so good, they just trust each other. I think you’ll see passes made between the two of them that not everyone will make to one another, because it’s either really tight or a little bit risky, but you know the one giving it knows that the other can handle it and make a play with it.”

They also gel together personality-wise, and they’re able to keep each other balanced through the ups and downs of a game.

“If I get down on myself, she knows when that’s happening and she’s able to lift me up,” Hobson said of Fontaine. “I think just having that person with you for four years who kind of knows your personality and that sort of thing also helps with the mental part of the game, and just having fun while we’re out there.”

Fontaine is the engine behind the offensive output that comes from Northeastern’s blue line, but the group as a whole has carved out a certain identity: namely, a fast-paced, mobile core of defenders who are not afraid to push the play forward. That’s a directive that comes right from the top, and the style that head coach Dave Flint wants to play.

“Because of our personnel and how quick and fast most of our players are, we can play at a pace,” Berman said. “When we watch video, we talk a lot about quick transition. If the other team turns the puck over anywhere around the neutral zone, we want to go the other way as fast as we can and get up there with all five.

“We do try to play to that style, and luckily for us we have the personnel that we can.”

First up for the Huskies in the NCAA Tournament is a quarterfinal matchup against eighth-seeded Robert Morris on Monday afternoon. The Colonials won the College Hockey America conference title a week ago to earn an automatic NCAA bid.

There’s basically no shortage of reasons why the Huskies are favorites to win their first national title this week. Their top line of Alina Müller, Chloé Aurard, and Maureen Murphy is one of the most dynamic in the country. In net, senior Aerin Frankel comes into the NCAA Tournament with a .969 save percentage and 0.70 goals-against average.

There’s also some added motivation for Northeastern due to the way things ended last year, though they’re not totally alone in that. Because of the pandemic, the 2020 NCAA Tournament was canceled just two days before the Huskies were set to host the quarterfinals—a heartbreaking end to a season that held so much promise for them.

As difficult as that was, Hobson says that’s given the team a newfound appreciation for the game and the opportunity at hand.

“Last year, obviously, our season ending like that was an eye opener, and we’ve kind of used it as motivation this year to be together as a team while we’re at the rink and just enjoy every moment together that we can,” Hobson said. “I know our seniors last year were heartbroken that they never got the opportunity for this, so we have that in the back of our minds that if we win this year it’s just as much for them.

“Last year we also had a culture that really believed that we could be national champions, and we haven’t really lost that idea since the season ended last year. It’s kind of pushed us even further to make this run as great as it can be.”

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