By: Josh Brown and Dan McLoone
CINCINNATI- It was a sequence so familiar it would be hard-pressed for Huskies fans to not have it ingrained in their brains by now.
Less than four minutes into Northeastern’s NCAA Tournament opener against North Dakota, Nolan Stevens, who finished his sophomore season with 10 goals and 13 assists in the final 14 games, had the puck with nobody but North Dakota goaltender Cam Johnson in his way.
Stevens took a couple strides into the offensive zone and unleashed a wrister over the shoulder of Johnson to give Northeastern the early 1-0 lead. Unfortunately for the hundred or so Huskies fans who made the trek to Cincinnati and the thousands watching on campus, from that point forward it was all North Dakota.
Behind five unanswered goals that spanned from the 5:43 mark of the first through the first eight minutes of the second period, the Fighting Hawks put the game handily away, defeating Northeastern 6-2 to end a magical run that saw Northeastern go from 1-11-2 to Hockey East Champions last weekend.
“The one thing I just told our players is that they raised the bar for Northeastern hockey,” said Northeastern University coach Jim Madigan. “It’s a bar that we have to retain next year and hopefully advance into the third round. I’m very proud of our guys for how they battled all year long, and for the ride they took me and our coaching staff on from the first half of the season to where we got to.”
“I couldn’t be more pleased and happy for them, and I am glad to be part of Northeastern hockey with them. They have done a great job and represented our institution with pride and class.”
North Dakota, who dictated the pace of play for much of the game, came roaring right back after Stevens’ tally. Just under three minutes after conceding, the offensive pressure of the Fighting Hawks broke through the back line, as Johnny Simonson poked home a pass from Brock Boeser to tie the game at one.
Simonson’s goal opened the floodgates for North Dakota, as subsequent goals from Tucker Poolman and Luke Johnson gave the Fighting Hawks a 3-1 lead after 20 minutes. Goals from Bryn Chyzyk and Brock Boeser in the first seven minutes of the second period pushed the Northeastern deficit to 5-1.
“We were off a little bit,” said Madigan. “You want to get back into it as quickly as you can, and you want to keep the game close. We just couldn’t get there, and you can’t chase games against a team like North Dakota.”
Down by four with 20 minutes to go, the Huskies came out for the third period with new life. Madigan’s squad pushed the tempo and tested Fighting Hawks sophomore goalie Cam Johnson. Northeastern cut the lead to 5-2 with 15 minutes to go when Matt Benning fired home a shot from the top of the right circle.
It was too little, too late for the Huskies, however, who were forced to take a lot of offensive chances, leaving them susceptible on the defensive end. North Dakota capitalized with under eight minutes to go as Drake Caggiula sticked a puck past Ryan Ruck to extend the lead back to four.
The loss ends the Northeastern hockey career of seniors Dustin Darou, Jarrett Fennell, Mike McMurtry, Kevin Roy, Colton Saucerman and potentially Derick Roy as well. The class, which was Madigan’s first recruiting class as head coach, played a large role in bringing Northeastern their first Hockey East Championship since 1988.
“That’s the tough part because we have had tremendous leadership with our seniors and tremendous efforts from all the players all year long,” said Madigan. “The fact that we’re not going to have some of those players back in the locker room next year is sad, but they are moving on with graduation.”