Hockey East Previews: Northeastern Huskies
Last Season: 13-16-5 (9-14-4), Finished 9th in Hockey East
What Happened: The roller-coaster ride that was to be Northeastern’s season began long before the Huskies ever hit the ice last year. A coaching change and the loss of a top recruit in the summer of 2011, combined with only one win in the first ten games had many fans bracing themselves for a long winter on Huntington Ave. Typically, Northeastern’s hopes were raised by an exciting eight-game unbeaten run that included marquee road wins over Michigan, Notre Dame and Minnesota. Unfortunately the Huskies were unable to carry that level of play into the second half of the season, as they went 4-8-2 over their final 14 league contests and missed the playoffs for the second time in three years.
- Steve Quailer (F): In his third season for the Huskies, Quailer showed flashes of the offense skill and playmaking ability that convinced the Montreal Canadiens to draft him in the third round of the 2008 NHL Draft. His line of 8-17-25 was second-best on the team, and it was no coincidence that Quailer’s best stretch of the season was the same time frame as the Huskies eight-game unbeaten run. Quailer scored a point in every game from November 12 to January 13, tallying six goals and nine assists. His importance to Northeastern’s offense was never more evident than after he suffered a knee injury that forced him to miss six games, of which the Huskies only won one. As many expected, Quailer signed a professional contract with the Canadiens following the season.
- Mike McLaughlin (F): The senior concluded a fine career at Northeastern by serving as team captain last year, notching five goals and ten assists along the way. McLaughlin’s game was not predicated on his offense production, but the tenacity, grit and determination he showed on every shift. Unfortunately, injuries limited McLaughlin to 26 games in his final campaign and his last time on the ice at Matthews Arena as a Husky was in street clothes on Senior Night.
- Anthony Bitetto (D): It would have been easy to leave Bitetto off this list, given some of the poor performances he put in during the second half of the year. But the key loss here is the player from 2010-11 who turned heads with an impressive rookie campaign; the freshman who led all Northeastern defensemen in scoring and was named to the All-Hockey East Rookie Team. Bitetto had a solid start to his sophomore season, compiling a four-game point streak from late-November to early December. But after the calendar turned to 2012, it become abundantly clear that Bitetto was not fitting in well with Coach Jim Madigan’s new system. With that in mind, it came as a shock to no one when he decided to forego his last two years of eligibility to sign a professional deal with the Predators.
- Chris Rawlings (G): As Rawlings went, so went Northeastern in 2011-12. His strong play was the most vital component to the Huskies mid-season successes, but the cluster of soft, bad-angle and long-distance goals allowed during the February stretch run played a huge role in Northeastern only winning two of its final nine games. Rawlings has shown more than once that he has the ability to be a top-level goalie in college hockey. What the Huskies need him to show in his last season at Northeastern is that he can play at the top of his game on a more consistent basis.
- Vinny Saponari (F): After posting a line of 7-16-23 in his return to college hockey, Saponari will certainly be gunning to break the 30-point plateau in 2012-13. Saponari will sport the “C” on his sweater in 2012-13. Madigan and his staff are obviously very high on Saponari’s ability to lead, both on and off the ice, and are hoping his experience winning a national title with Boston University will prove beneficial to Northeastern.
- Ludwig Karlsson (F): The big Swede missed the first two games of his freshman season due to NCAA Clearinghouse issues, but following his return he wasted no time in adjusting to life in Hockey East. Karlsson compiled a line of 10-16-26, third-best for rookies in Hockey East and tops among all Northeastern skaters, making him the first rookie to lead the Huskies in scoring since Chad Costello in 2006-07. Northeastern will need him to be a consistent threat in the offensive zone, particularly on the power play.
Outlook: Looking at this team on paper, there are reasons for optimism in 2012-13. Madigan has remained confident when saying that the Huskies won’t be left wanting on offense, and with good reason. Northeastern returns four 20-point scorers and are boosted by the late-summer addition of 2011-12 USHL Player of the Year Kevin Roy after he decommitted from Brown. But after losing half of its defense corps from last year, Northeastern will undoubtedly need sizeable contributions on the blue line from some of the newcomers, to say nothing of consistent play from Rawlings. The good news for the Huskies is you would be hard-pressed to say they are in any worse shape than the likes of New Hampshire, Providence and Maine.
- Ben Horner