BOSTON -The Northeastern men’s basketball team released their non-conference schedule last Wednesday, unveiling a challenging twelve game slate that’s sure to get Huskies fans excited about the start of the new season. Coach Bill Coen’s squad will certainly be racking up their frequent flyer miles this fall, with trips all over the country throughout the season’s first month and a half.
An appearance in the PK80 tournament, including away games at Big 5 powers Stanford and Ohio State, headline the non-conference slate.
Per tradition, NU will start the season on Nov. 10 against Boston University, this time on the Terrier’s home court. Last year the two teams squared off twice, with each side winning one game apiece. After a home contest against Wentworth, the Huskies will jump into the heart of their non-conference slate when they head out to California to take on Stanford on Nov. 17 as part of the PK80 Invitational. The tournament is being held this year to celebrate the birthday of Nike co-founder Phil Knight, who will turn 80 in February.
The Huskies will face a quick two day turnaround as they travel from Palo Alto to Columbus to take on Ohio State and first year head coach Chris Holtmann, who takes over for the Buckeyes after the surprise firing of Thad Matta early this summer. Coming off a huge upset win at Michigan State last year, Northeastern will be hungry to knock off another Big 10 opponent on the road. The Huskies PK80 appearance concludes in Nashville with two neutral site games against Utah State and Furman on the weekend of Nov. 24.
Coming off that long stretch of road games, Northeastern will return to the friendly confines of Matthews Arena for a four-game homestand. The team will play host to Harvard, Cornell, Bucknell, and Vermont. Last season NU dropped road contests against the two Ivy League schools, while squeaking past Vermont in Burlington.
The end of the out-of-conference schedule sees Northeastern back on the road, with games against Kent State and St. Bonaventure. The Golden Flashes gave NU a tough game at Matthews last season, with the Huskies hanging on to record a narrow three point victory.
Following a ten-day Christmas break, Northeastern will return for the start of the CAA schedule which tips off on the road against James Madison on Dec. 30.
Last Season: 15-16-6 (8-8-6 in HE, 7th); Lost to New Hampshire in HE First Round
Additions: G Logan Halladay, D Evan Bell, D Dominic Dockery, D Simon Loof, F Jackson Bales, F Logan Drevitch, F Laine McKay
Losses: D Jonathan Lashyn (0G – 6A, 34 GP), F Chris LeBlanc (5G – 10A, 27 GP), F Hampus Gustafsson (15G – 11A, 36 GP), G Collin Delia (9-8-3, .927, 2.15 GAA)
If not for the strength of junior goaltender Collin Delia, the Warriors would have fared much worse than seventh place in Hockey East last season. Delia ended the year ninth in the nation in save percentage, but the anemic Merrimack offense posted just 2.43 goals per game, and the team was bounced in the first round of the playoffs by New Hampshire after posting just two goals in their final two losses.
Now, Delia has his sights set on the pros and signed a deal with the Chicago Blackhawks, forgoing his last year of college eligibility and leaving an already mediocre Merrimack team with a huge question mark in goal. Junior Drew Vogler, who started 16 games last season, should carry most of the load, since junior Craig Patano and freshman Logan Halladay have just one career college game between them. Vogler was less than stellar for the Warriors last year, posting a .897 save percentage, but will have the benefit of a mostly intact defensive corps.
Senior captains Marc Biega and Jared Kolquist lead a blue line that should be a strength for the Warriors. Jonathan Kovacevic, who was fourth on the team with 19 points a year ago, will return for his sophomore season, and freshman Evan Bell is a talented recruit who may be able to make an immediate impact in North Andover. Junior Alex Karle, who played 56 games over the last two seasons, will need to remain durable and dependable as well. Despite the inexperience the Warriors have in goal, their defense has depth and talent that may be able to balance out the loss of Delia.
Up front, the the biggest loss was Hampus Gustafsson, the leading goal scorer from last season. Seniors Brett Seney and Jace Henning should carry most of the load on offense, with junior Ludwig Larsson and sophomore Sami Tavernier likely getting increased roles after strong seasons. Overall though, the lack of high end talent at forward could allow for incoming freshmen to get a crack in the top six. Jackson Bales is the most interesting newcomer. He turned heads last season with the Oakvale Blades of the OJHL by recording 64 points in 51 games, and has garnered praise for his strong skating. The Warriors will also have something of a family reunion, as freshman Logan Drevitch will join his brother Tyler, the sons of Scott Drevitch, a former defenseman for UMass-Lowell.
The Warriors will need to heavily rely on their seven returning seniors next season if they hope to make some noise. Kolquist, Biega, and Aaron Titcomb need to be at their best on the blue line with such inexperienced goalies, and the bulk of their scoring will come from upperclassmen as well. Bell and Bales are intriguing recruits for the future, but aren’t likely to tip the scale this season.
Bottom Line: Dennehy is a capable coach who can make the most of a team without an elite talent. Although the goaltending will be shaky, the Warriors should again find themselves in the middle of the pack in Hockey East. Merrimack has won at least 10 games in seven of the last eight seasons, and that streak should continue this season. They should push for home ice in the first round of the conference tournament, but likely won’t threaten to crack the top six in Hockey East at any point in the year.
Last Season: 12-16-8 (8-10-4 in HE, 9th); Lost to Northeastern in HE first round
Losses: F Brian Morgan, G Rob Nichols, F Evan Richardson, F Tage Thompson,
Newcomers: D Adam Karashik, F Brian Rigali, F Zac Robbins, G Bradley Stone, F Evan Wisocky
The other Huskies of Hockey East have slowly improved in each year of Mike Cavanaugh’s regime, upping their conference record by two wins despite missing out on hosting a home playoff series last year. With the graduation of Evan Richardson and Rob Nichols, the last two players from UConn’s days in the Atlantic Hockey Association are gone and the transition to Hockey East is complete.
Richardson and Nichols are two of just four total departures for the Huskies, but they are all big ones. Nichols served as the squad’s starting goaltender and a strong locker room presence for two and a half years before incumbent Adam Huska burst onto the scene last year, but his 2.66 career GAA is second best all-time in program history. In Richardson (six goals, 16 assists) and Brian Morgan (seven goals, seven assists), the Huskies lose two experienced scorers. But the biggest blow is the loss of Tage Thompson, who chose to forfeit his final two years of eligibility to sign with the St. Louis Blues after a stellar sophomore campaign that saw him score a team-high 19 goals to go with 13 assists and a nod on the All-Hockey East Third Team.
Despite the loss, the Huskies retained the rest of their talented attacking core. Leading the way in his junior season will be Maxim Letunov, an Arizona Coyotes prospect who led the team with 20 assists to go with his seven goals. He will be joined by seniors Spencer Naas (15 goals, seven assists) and Kasperi Ojantakanen (six goals, 10 assists) and juniors Max Kalter (four goals, 16 assists) and Karl El-Mir (nine goals, five assists) to create two dangerous lines in Storrs. The incoming freshman trio of Brian Rigali, Zac Robbins and Evan Wisocky will look to make an impact right away, and expect sophomore Benjamin Freeman to vastly improve on his freshman showing of 12 points with more ice time this year.
UConn returns their entire crew on the blue line from last year, led by second-year team captain Derek Pratt. He is joined by some physical and towering bodies, as senior David Drake (6-6), juniors Miles Gendron (6-3) and Joseph Masonius (6-2), and sophomores Wyatt Newpower (6-4) and Philip Nyberg (6-4) make the Huskies one of the most imposing defensive teams in the conference. Masonius and junior Johnny Austin have both shown their ability to generate opportunities on the attack, logging 11 and eight assists respectively last year.
New York Rangers draft pick Adam Huska returns in net for the Huskies, who will look for another step forward from their youngster. A member of an impressive freshman goalie class in Hockey East last year, Huska took over from Rob Nichols as the starter and posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. At 6-4 and 205 pounds, Huska has the size of a prototypical goalie, and any improvement from last year’s effort will make UConn a formidable defensive team.
Bottom Line: Despite losing Tage Thompson, the offense is still capable of producing goals. The talent is there, but Cavanaugh’s squad will have to find out who will step up as the go-to scorer. The defense will be the strong suit here, though. The Huskies won’t be able to consistently pot four goals a night, so the team will go as far as the returning defense and goalie take them. Look for Huska to take a big step forward in his second year. The size of the defense will make it tough for any team to bully the Huskies physically, but fast teams might be able to net some quick goals. Expect UConn to improve on their eight conference wins from last year and host a first round playoff series.
Last Season: 15-20-5 (7-11-4 Hockey East, 10th); Lost to UMass Lowell in Hockey East Quarterfinals.
Additions: D James Miller, D Max Gildon, F Kohei Sato, F Eric MacAdams, F Charlie Kelleher, D Benton Maass, G Mike Robinson
Losses: D Matias Cleland, F Jamie Hill, D Dylan Maller, F Tyler Kelleher
As the Wildcats look to the 2017-18 season, they hope to improve on their lackluster 15-20-5 record and a 10th place finish in Hockey East last year. Losing only four seniors from last year’s team, UNH will undoubtedly be a more experienced team than they were last year. However, they did lose two critical players in defenseman Matias Cleland (3g, 32a, 35p) and Hobby Baker Finalist Tyler Kelleher (24g, 39a, 63p), who was tied with Northeastern’s Zach Aston-Reese for most points in all of college hockey. Yet, the Kelleher name is not completely gone from New Hampshire, as Tyler’s younger brother Charlie will step into the spotlight this season. While nobody expects the young Kelleher to put up the numbers his brother did last year, expectations are still high for the freshman to be an impact player.
After their tenth-place finish in Hockey East last year, the UNH Wildcats have significant work to do if they want to be a competitive team. The team will need to improve both offensively and defensively, as they only scored 3.1 goals per game (7th in Hockey East) and allowed 3.4 goals per game (10th in Hockey East). Additionally, New Hampshire’s penalty kill was ranked third to last. The only bright spots for the team was their disciplined play, which led to them taking the fewest penalties, and their power play, which was third best with a success rate of 21.2%.
While the Wildcats have holes to fill and improvements to make, it is not all bleak for this team. With the loss of their best offensive asset in Kelleher, the new leaders for the 2017-18 season will be seniors Michael McNicholas and Jason Salvaggio, who both had impressive junior seasons with 42 and 36 points respectively, as well as Ottawa Senator’s draft pick Shane Eiserman, who had 13 points in the 27 games he played. In addition to those seniors, sophomores Patrick Grasso (20g, 13a, 33p), Liam Blackburn (9g, 9a, 18p) and Brendan van Riemsdyk (5g, 10a, 15p) will be expected to build on their rookie campaigns to spark this Wildcat offense. UNH was also able to recruit some potentially impactful freshman in Charlie Kelleher and Kohei Sato. Kelleher had a great year last season in the USHL, first playing for the Tri-City Storm, netting 33 points in 40 games. Kelleher was then traded to the Sioux City Musketeers, where he had 18 points in 21 games, and helped the Musketeers get to the championship series with 10 points in 12 playoff games. The other especially noteworthy freshman, Kohei Sato, who was born in Japan, had 36 points in 48 games for the Northeast Generals of the North American Hockey League. The Wildcats hope these two players will be able to make the transition to this level of play and start proving themselves as soon as possible.
Though UNH looks to have decent offensive fire power, the real questions lie in their defense and goaltending. Senior Cameron Marks will be relied upon heavily in the upcoming season, as he is the only defenseman who had a positive plus/minus. Other than Marks, senior Dylan Chanter, junior Matt Dawson, and sophomore Anthony Wyse will be looked upon to help lead the defensive core. With that being said, coach Dick Umile was able to bring in two recruits who could significantly help this defensive core. Most notable is Max Gildon, who was drafted 66th overall by the Florida Panthers. The 6’3”, 192-pound Texan played for the United States in the IIHF World Junior Championship, scoring 6 points in 7 games. He will surely be expected to contribute right away.
In between the pipes, UNH does not appear to have many great options. Last year they relied heavily on Daniel Tirone, who finished second to last in GAA (2.99) and 11th out of 14 in save percentage (.910). While not all of the blame can be put on Tirone, there still remains questions on whether or not he can perform at a high enough level to keep this team in tight games. Despite Tirone not having the best performance last year, there may not be a better option. The other net minders on the team are untested sophomore Joe Lazzaro, who only appeared in one game, freshman Mike Robinson, and senior Adam Clarke, who has only won 7 games in 25 starts throughout his three years. UNH will need one of these goalies to step up and be able to perform consistently if they want to be in the upper half of Hockey East.
Bottom Line: In Dick Umile’s last season as head coach before retiring, he has his work cut out for him to get his team back in the top half of the league, let alone getting to a Hockey East Championship. While losing a Hobby Baker finalist will always leave a big hole, and the loss of Tyler Kelleher is no exception to this, UNH does have some talented seniors, sophomores, and freshman who may be able to fill in that hole. The Wildcats main problems lie in their defense and goalies, who will need to improve significantly in order for them to win games, especially against high-powered offenses. While I don’t see UNH being a top five team, I do think they will improve from their 10th place finish last year and could see them placing 6th if things go well for them in the upcoming 2017-18 season.
Last Season: 11-21-4 (5-15-2 Hockey East, 11th); Lost to Vermont in HE First Round
Losses: F Cam Brown, F Blaine Byron, D Eric Schurhamer, G Matt Morris
Newcomers: F Adam Dawe, F AJ Drobot, F Brent Hill, F Kevin Hock, F Adrian Holesinsky, F Jack Quinlivan, F Eduards Tralmaks, F Emil Westerlund, F Tim Doherty, F Canon Pieper, D Alexis Binner, D Simon Butala, D Brady Keeper, D Cam Spicer
It was another disappointing year last season the once prolific Maine Black Bears. Legendary coach Red Gendron is entering a pivotal year in Orono after a third consecutive losing season, and he has a difficult task on his hands. Despite not being a senior-heavy team last season, fourth years carried almost all of the offensive load for Maine. Blaine Byron and Cam Brown racked up 41 and 39 points respectively as one of the most prolific duos in the nation, but no other Black Bear reached 25 points. Ultimately Maine sputtered down the stretch after a promising start, going 1-8-1 in their final 10 contests including a sweep at the hands of Vermont in the conference tournament.
Looking ahead, Maine has holes to fill. The offense will rely on Nolan Vesey and Chase Pearson to build on strong campaigns from last year and hopefully help soften the losses of Byron and Brown. After a lackluster sophomore season, Vesey matched a career high with 23 points last year, but will need to improve upon that if he wants to be the focal point in the Black Bears’ offense. Pearson, a 5th round pick by Detroit in 2015, needs to avoid the kind of sophomore slump Vesey suffered from and continue to build upon his impressive rookie season. Mitchell Fossier and Patrick Shea, Pearson’s classmates, will too be expected to take a step forward after recording 16 points each as freshmen.
For the offense to succeed, however, some of the newcomers need to contribute. Maine will add 10 forwards this season, eight freshman recruits and two transfers. Tim Doherty came over from Brown and Canon Pieper transferred from Quinnipiac, and the Black Bears expect both to make immediate contributions.
Swedish newcomer Emil Westerlund is the most intriguing incoming freshman, a 6-foot-1 winger who potted 28 goals in the Swedish Elite U-20 league, before scoring three times in four games for the Swedish junior national team.
The blue line suffered just one loss, assistant captain Eric Schurhamer, and could be improved from last season. Rob Michel had a breakout sophomore season, leading all defensmen in scoring after not recording a goal in his freshman year. Patrick Holway impressed in his rookie season with 13 points, and veterans Mark Hamilton, Sam Becker and Stephen Cochrane are just some of the established Maine defenders set to return.
The Maine defense will have some scoring prowess, and incoming freshman Brady Keeper could help chip in immediately. Keeper tallied 48 points in 48 games, while earning MVP honors in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.
In goal, Rob McGovern will be back as the starter for his junior season. The loss of Matt Morris hurts, but his senior season was by far the worst of his NCAA career. In 11 games, he posted a goals allowed average of 4.27. McGovern, on the other hand, had a .912 save percentage and a 2.99 GAA, taking strides from his freshman season with the team. McGovern is the most important cog on the Maine team which has average offense and defense. They need him to improve, especially in big games. McGovern was rocky against Hockey East opponents, dropping his last five in-conference starts while allowing 24 goals in that span. Sophmore Stephen Mundinger will back him up after a forgettable freshman season, but it’d be surprising to see him start much more than a dozen games between the pipes.
Bottom Line: Maine’s offense will need to be deeper than it was last season, but with a good incoming crop of freshmen, strong transfers and a few capable veterans, their scoring should be less top heavy and overall on par with last season. Keeper could earn a starting spot on defense sooner rather than later, boosting an already mobile and offensive unit, but most of the pressure will fall on McGovern’s shoulders. He’s the X-factor that could help Maine climb out of the cellar and into the thick of things in Hockey East, but the Black Bears will struggle to do much better than 8th in the conference regardless.
Last Season: 5-29-2 (2-19-1 in HE, 12th); Lost to Providence in HE First Round
Losses: D Brennan Baxandall, D Mark Hetnik, F Steven Iacobellis, D William Lagesson, F Ray Pigozzi, G Alex Wakaluk
Newcomers: F Austin Albrecht, G Brad Arvanitis, F Marco Bozzo, F Mitchell Chaffee, F Oliver Chau, D Mario Ferraro, F Jake Gaudet, F Philip Lagunov, F John Leonard, D Cale Makar, F George Mika, G Matthew Murray, F Niko Rufo, D Eetu Torpstrom
It was a rough season for Greg Carvel in his first year at the helm, as the former St. Lawrence bench boss watched his Minutemen struggle to keep pace in Hockey East and ultimately spend most of the year in the cellar. Now in his second season in charge, Carvel can begin to really make the program his own. He’s done just that, with a very strong recruiting class ranked second in the nation.
The Minutemen’s 66 goals on the season (42 in conference play) were far and away dead last in Hockey East, 30 less than next-lowest UConn. Adding to their scoring woes is the loss of the club’s two top scorers in captain Steven Iacobellis (eight goals, 13 assists) and Ray Pigozzi (eight goals, eight assists). Leading the way in the offensive transition will be incoming freshman Jake Gaudet, who amassed 109 points over three seasons in the CCHL and spent the summer at training camp with the Ottawa Senators. The 6-2, 203-pound center will bring the size to an incoming freshman forward class that is more predicated on speed, with Austin Albrecht (10 goals and 37 assists in the USHL last season) and Marco Bozzo (23 goals in the OJHL last year) the most likely to contribute right off the bat. They will join a young returning core, led by the Minutemen’s top returning scorer in junior Austin Plevy (five goals, 10 assists) alongside junior Kurt Keats (five goals, eight assists) and sophomore Griff Jeszka (seven goals, five assists). Graduate transfer student Niko Rufo will also chip in after logging 10 points over four seasons of limited playing time at Providence College.
Defensively, UMass lost two big bodies and a lot of minutes in 6-2 Brennan Baxandall (graduation) and 6-3 William Lagesson (signed with the Edmonton Oilers), but Carvel is bringing in some phenomenal recruits in Cale Makar and Mario Ferraro. Makar became the highest draft pick in program history this summer when he was selected fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche in the 2017 NHL draft. The 5-11, 187-pound defenseman tallied 172 points (44 goals, 128 assists) over 157 career games with the Brooks Bandits of the AJHL, leading the squad to two championships and being named AJHL MVP last season. Ferraro became the second-highest draft pick in UMass history a day later, going 49th overall to the San Jose Sharks. He was named to the USHL First All-Star team and All-Rookie team after finishing the year tied for first among USHL defensemen in goals (eights) and ranking second in points (41) and assists (33). Seniors Dominic Trento and Jake Horton will bring some steady leadership to the blue line, while junior Buffalo Sabres draft pick Ivan Chukarov and sophomore Shane Bear will pitch in.
Carvel will hope that his strong incoming freshman class can shore up the inefficiencies his team has in between the pipes. Backup goalie Alex Wakaluk graduated, but incumbent starter Ryan Wischow did not post gaudy numbers in his freshman campaign, finishing as one of the worst statistical goalies in Hockey East with a 3.28 GAA and .897 save percentage. He will need to improve on his numbers, as neither backup Nic Renyard or incoming freshman Brad Arvanitis seem quite ready to push for regular minutes.
Bottom Line: Carvel is quickly putting his stamp on this UMass team. The first few years of a new head coach’s regime are frequently filled with turnover, and the Minutemen can once again expect to be near the bottom of Hockey East this year. But if this year’s recruiting class is any indication, Carvel is well on his way to turning the program around and bringing UMass back to respectability.
SAN FRANCISCO — For Northeastern men’s soccer coach Chris Gbandi, this weekend’s matchups with Pac-12 powers Cal and No. 1 Stanford represent more than just challenging early-season tune-ups.
It’ll be the second time in three years the Huskies are jetting across the country to battle the two West Coast giants, but this year’s excursion is the first for Gbandi, who took reigns of the NU program last year. Gbandi guided the Huskies to a 6-11-0 record last season, doubling the team’s win total from a tumultuous 2015 campaign.
As Gbandi, a former No.1 overall pick in the 2002 MLS Super draft, prepares for his second season at the helm, he hopes to continue building positive momentum. And he sees Cal and Stanford as models for future Husky success.
“We thought it was important for recruiting to get a trip like this,” Gbandi said just a day prior to the Huskies’ flight out West.
“We get some kids to know that ultimately our goal is to be like programs like Cal and Stanford. In order to do that, you kind of have to see and gauge where you are [compared to them].”
The Huskies are spurning the chaos of early September in Boston, opting for the rolling hills of Northern California as the backdrop for the pair of challenging non-conference matchups this weekend. NU will face off against Cal in Berkeley at 7:30 p.m. EST on Friday, before a Sunday evening matchup with Stanford in Palo Alto at 8 p.m EST.
Both games will be broadcast live on WRBB Sports. Josh Brown, Matt MacCormack and Dan McLoone will be on the call.
The Huskies (0-1-0) dropped their opening game of the season to New Hampshire on Monday. The Wildcats won, 1-0, on an overtime penalty kick after NU senior midfielder Charlton Muhlauri was tabbed with a penalty in the 100th minute.
Seven freshmen appeared in the game for the Huskies, showcasing the scope of NU’s youth movement. The freshman class, which contains 10 players, is Gbandi’s first true recruiting class since he started as coach. The roster is also flush with five seniors, including keeper Jonathan Thueresson and All-Colonial Athletic Association Honorable Mention defender Ackim Mpofu,
“Some of the new guys stepped up and played well,” Gbandi said of the UNH matchup.
“But I thought it took the group overall just a little bit longer than we thought we to get into the game: probably about 15-20 minutes to get into the game.”
Slow starts won’t fly this weekend, with the Huskies facing a major uptick in competition. NU will hope to be more successful in their second survey of NorCal: in 2015, the Huskies fell, 1-0, to then-No.16 Stanford, and 1-0 to unranked Cal.
For Gbandi, the road trip is a great opportunity for the Huskies to practice against play-styles they’ll eventually see in their CAA conference schedule.
“Cal is very similar to Delaware, in terms of how they play,” Gbandi said
“The movement off the ball, the simplicity of their play, pretty creative playmakers, throw a lot of numbers forward, really put pressure on you.
Then Stanford is more the likes of Hofstra in terms of how they’re so direct, how they really get at you athletically.”
Cal struggled through a 5-10-2 campaign last season, but won three Pac-12 titles from 2006-2010 and registered back-to-back NCAA tournament appearances in 2013 and 2014. The Golden Bears (0-1-0) are led by redshirt senior Jose Carrera-Garcia – who led the team with five assists last season – and four other returning starters.
No. 1 Stanford is a bit of a different animal. The Cardinal (1-0-0) are fresh off back-to-back NCAA championships in 2015 and 2016. Stanford didn’t allow a goal during the NCAA tournament last year, and blanked Portland in a 1-0 victory to open the season. All told, the Cardinal haven’t allowed a goal in 638 consecutive minutes of play. What’s more, the team returns nine of its 11 starters from a season ago, and is the only squad in the country to welcome back multiple All-Americans – senior forward Foster Langsdorf and senior defender Tomas Hilliard-Arce.
It will no doubt be a challenging weekend for Northeastern, but it’s also an opportunity for the team to grow and build. Gbandi says the team’s veterans will serve as the perfect example for the abundance of young players on this year’s squad. Many of the team’s elder statesmen went on the same trip in 2015, and have the experience to help younger players prepare. Gbandi estimates as many as four freshmen could start in Friday’s game at Cal.
“I think once the game starts, it’s not old or young, sophomore or freshman; it doesn’t really matter,” Gbandi said.
“Ultimately when the ball’s kicked, it’s just who the best players are.”
It may be getting hot outside, but the WRBB crew still has winter on our minds. Whether it be T.J. Williams pursuing his NBA dream or the hockey team releasing its 2017-2018 schedule, we break down all the news you need to know on this year’s edition of the WRBB summer podcast. Enjoy!
CHICAGO – As was the case for much of the season for Zach Aston-Reese and Northeastern, a promising start did not translate into a desirable finish. Sitting up on stage in the Aon Grand Ballroom, Aston-Reese watched as defenseman Will Butcher of the University of Denver was awarded the 37th Hobey Baker Award, a recognition that he was one of the three finalists for.
Butcher is certainly a deserving winner, helping Denver to the NCAA title game on Saturday night, but many at Northeastern thought that this was the moment Aston-Reese would receive the award recognizing the nation’s top player. The Huskies may not have lived up to the hype that saw them ranked second in the Hockey East preseason poll, but the senior forward and Pittsburgh Penguins signee shattered all expectations that anyone had for him coming into the year, posting one of the strongest statistical seasons in program history and establishing himself as an individual force.
While the disappointment may be palpable, Husky fans shouldn’t diminish the magical season their assistant captain posted. Instead, they should take a step back and applaud him for what it was: the culmination of a phenomenal four years on Huntington Avenue that transformed Aston-Reese as a player and the identity of the entire Northeastern program as a whole.
There was plenty of hype surrounding Jim Madigan’s eleven freshman recruits in 2013, and most of them gave Northeastern fans plenty to be excited about for the future. But if someone told you that one member of that freshman class would go on to become just the second Hobey Hat Trick finalist in program history, smart money probably wouldn’t have been on Aston-Reese.
Matt Benning, Dalen Hedges, and John Stevens all impressed during their debut seasons, while Mike Szmatula looked like a budding future star after posting 15 goals and 24 assists. But hidden behind these other players that looked to be part of a bright future in Boston was a six-foot winger from Staten Island.
Aston-Reese tallied just eight goals and 11 assists during his debut campaign, but as many of his classmates transferred or left the program over the next few years, Aston-Reese doubled down on his commitment. Benning went pro after helping the Huskies win the Hockey East Championship. Szmatula transferred to Minnesota. Hedges succumbed to injuries and left the program.
In an up-and-down season for the Huskies, Aston-Reese did everything he could to carry the team to the finish line.
But amidst all the change, Aston-Reese continued to improve. He upped his scoring during his sophomore season, finishing with 23 points despite playing in four fewer games. It was during his junior year, however, when he finally blossomed.
When early-season struggles led Madigan to tinker with his lines, he unlocked a top three that would terrorize opposing defenses for two years. Paired with John and Nolan Stevens, Aston-Reese posted 29 assists, nearly tripling his total of 10 from the previous campaign, as he developed as a distributor. He added 14 goals and learned to cut down on silly stick penalties that kept him on the bench in key moments during his first two seasons, becoming a crucial member of both the Northeastern penalty kill and power play units.
When the dust had settled after the Huskies made their improbable run to the Hockey East crown in 2016, Aston-Reese, like many of his teammates, had to make an important decision on his future at Northeastern. The core of the defending Hockey East champions could have been absolutely decimated, with Kevin Roy graduating and the potential early losses of Benning, Aston-Reese, and the Stevens brothers. But coming back was an easy choice if it meant another season of that top forward line that had already clicked.
Unfortunately, 2017 did not play out as Aston-Reese or the Stevens brothers envisioned in that regard. Injuries kept the brothers off the ice for significant chunks of the season, forcing Madigan to once again mix and match his offensive lines.
But he never had to worry about Aston-Reese’s offensive production. In fact, Madigan frequently moved guys who were struggling to find the back of the net up to skate with ZAR. Lincoln Griffin could use a spark? Let’s throw him up with Reeser. Sam Kurker needs to get it going? Put him on ZAR’s line. Matt Filipe needs to be more consistent? 12 can help him out.
In an up-and-down season for the Huskies, Aston-Reese did everything he could to carry the team to the finish line. Dylan Sikura and Adam Gaudette both submitted phenomenal seasons and were a big part of the offensive success that Northeastern enjoyed, but when the team needed the big goals, it was Aston-Reese who would deliver. His 31 goals were tops in the nation, while his 63 total points were tied for first. He fittingly climbed to 12th place on the school’s career records for both goals and points while scoring at such a fast pace that most of the nation was chasing him the entire year.
Winning the Hobey Baker Award would have immortalized Aston-Reese in Northeastern lore forever. But, much like the story of the season for Northeastern, giving everything he had just wasn’t quite good enough to separate him from the pack. Even though he didn’t leave Chicago with any hardware, Aston-Reese can return to his new professional career in Wilkes-Barre content with his accolades: assistant captain, NCAA scoring leader, Hockey East Player of the Year, Hobey Baker finalist, Hockey East Champion. Damn good hockey player.