Men’s Hockey Stumbles Against Vermont

By Milton Posner

It was a game Northeastern could hardly afford to lose, and they just might pay dearly for it.

The Huskies took the ice Friday night fully aware of the stakes that awaited them. They sat tied for seventh place in the tightest playoff race Hockey East has ever seen, with just four games left to ensure a top-eight finish and the resulting playoff berth. They looked to rebound from their worst beatdown since 1992, a 10–1 shellacking from Boston College in their last game.

They didn’t. If anything, Friday’s loss might have been more disappointing. Against the Vermont Catamounts, the only winless team in a Hockey East season of record parity, the Huskies faltered, dropping the contest 4–2.

The Catamounts didn’t even wait two minutes before recording the game’s first tally, with Alex Esposito beating Husky goalie Craig Pantano top shelf off a feed from Matt Alvaro.

The rest of the first period belonged to Stefanos Lekkas, Vermont’s senior goaltender. Alex Mella and Matt Thomson try to stuff shots home? Nope. Matt Filipe smoothly swerves from the neutral zone to the doorstep for a point-blank look? Nope. Zach Solow on a breakaway 10 seconds later? Stuffed.

Jordan Harris wrister? Point-blank push from John Picking? Numerous passes tossed into the slot and a pair of two-on-ones? No, no, no, and no.

Some chances were worse than others, but there were chances, and Lekkas erased them. After one momentum-killing save with 2:39 to go, he laid flat on his back on the goal line, hands by his head, as if to catch his breath. He saved 12 shots in the period to Pantano’s nine, and despite Northeastern leading by two in shots, they trailed 1–0 after the first period.

Lekkas entered the evening with 3,816 career saves, the most in Hockey East history. During Friday’s game he moved into eighth place on the NCAA’s all-time list. But he wasn’t invincible, and Huskies cracked him almost immediately after the first intermission.

A little more than a minute in, a scramble for the puck behind Lekkas drew five skaters below the goal line and de-congested the offensive zone. When Aidan McDonough won the scrum and forced the puck through to Matt DeMelis in the high slot, Lekkas went to his knees anticipating a DeMelis one-timer. But DeMelis had other ideas, sliding a pass to a wide open Biagio Lerario at the bottom of the right dot for the one-timer that evened the score.

Vermont, not content with a tie, upped its aggressiveness and pushed into the Huskies’ zone. After a Pantano save had the puck sitting loose in the crease for what seemed like an eternity, Vermont’s Andrew Lucas tried to stuff it home and thought he had, but the puck just barely stayed off the goal line.

No matter; a faceoff in the Catamounts’ offensive zone led to Esposito’s second goal of the night — and fifth of the season — just ten seconds later.

Two minutes later came another. Frequent turnovers by both teams in the neutral zone led to a Vermont rush before Northeastern could set its defense. William Lemay fielded the puck at the center of the left dot and rifled it to captain Derek Lodermeier, who launched a missile past Pantano to make it 3–1.

Vermont’s passing was crisp, their movement smooth, their aggression apparent. When the Huskies turned up their aggression in the back half of the period, it backfired. A point-blank shot by Northeastern’s Tyler Spott was met by a full-body save from Lekkas, at which point most Husky skaters were deep toward the goal. The Catamounts sprung into transition; Ace Cowans moved largely unimpeded through the neutral zone to the left dot before slapping the puck into the top corner for Vermont’s fourth score.

About a minute later, what had been a strikingly calm, clean, penalty-free game took a sharp turn when a puck in close resulted in most of the players on the ice rushing the goal as Pantano threw his body on the puck. The pileup yielded a bit of extracurricular shoving, and McDonough and Vermont’s Max Kaufman headed to the penalty box with coincidental penalties for hitting after the whistle. Matt Alvaro also drew a roughing penalty, giving the Huskies the evening’s first power play with two minutes to go in the period.

Northeastern subbed in its top line for the man advantage but attempted just two shots, neither of which had much of a chance. The Huskies moved deliberately and struggled to open up passing angles. The Catamounts outshot the Huskies by just one in the second period, but the gigantic disparity in shot quality yielded a 3–1 scoring margin and a 4–1 lead.

The third period began on a strong foot for the Huskies, as McDonough chased down a loose puck in the corner and fed a cutting DeMelis for a nifty score.

The Huskies were aggressive in stretches during the third period but tried just eight shots and didn’t put any past Lekkas’ pads. Besides a couple of narrowly avoided Vermont empty-net goals, the third period passed without incident.

“Disappointing game for us. We didn’t have the consistent 60-minute game,” Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan observed. Madigan also spoke of the Huskies’ failure to execute their “identity plays.”

“Chipping pucks in below their goal line. We turned two pucks over at the blue line because we didn’t want to put it down low,” he said. “We blew a faceoff play assignment that we just went over at meal today. When you have those mental mistakes, and there was three of them . . . you’re going to come out on the short end.”

Pantano allowed four goals for the second straight game, and the 34–33 shot margin would seem to implicate him heavily in the loss. But he can hardly be blamed for letting in some of the uncontested rockets Vermont launched his way.

Northeastern’s third consecutive loss dropped them to 17–11–3 (10–10–1 HEA) and kept them tied for seventh place in Hockey East, albeit with one less game in hand. Vermont’s first conference win was their first of 2020 and their fourth of the season. The teams rematch Saturday at 7 PM EST, with the stakes still sky-high.

“We’re running out of runway here,” Madigan remarked. “We’ve got three games left and we’re in a playoff battle and I don’t know if the guys have understood the sense of urgency we’re at. They’ve heard it enough, but they’re not reacting and responding enough to the urgency of the situation we’re in.

“If I’m a player and I see where we are in the standings and I’m a senior and my career is winding down, there’s a sense of urgency. So they’ve got to take some stock in themselves and as a group we’ve got to come together tomorrow night.”

Men’s Hockey Falls to Boston College

By Matt Neiser

BOSTON — Coming off a hard-fought weekend sweep of UMass Lowell, No. 10 Northeastern hoped to carry their momentum against another top Hockey East team Thursday night at Matthews Arena. This time it was the No. 5/6 Boston College Eagles, holders of the top spot in the conference.

Despite encouraging play in the first and third periods, a rough second frame doomed the Huskies as they dropped the game — and crucial points in the Hockey East playoff race — by a 3–2 score.

“I thought Boston College was a better team than us tonight,” said Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan after the game. “They’re a very well-balanced team with a great goaltender . . . If we’re gonna get wins against very good teams like them, we’re gonna need a much better effort for a full 60 minutes. Disappointing to have that inconsistent effort.”

Unlike some of their recent games, the Huskies (17–9–3, 10–8–1 HEA) got off to a great start. They established the forecheck early, which led directly to their first goal. Julian Kislin held up the puck as the Eagles (20–8–1, 13–6–0 HEA) tried to clear the zone, shuffling the puck to Riley Hughes. The freshman threw the puck into empty space in the Boston College zone, allowing Matt Filipe to run onto it. Filipe, fresh back from an injury that held him out for four games, picked up the puck and wrapped around the opposing net, playing a shot in front that appeared to bounce off a skate and into the net.

Despite Northeastern being arguably the better team for most of the frame, the Eagles struck back late in the period when Julius Mattila fired home a shot after a slick drop pass from David Cotton to open him up. The goal allowed Boston College to enter the break none worse for wear after a lackluster first period.

It also served as a springboard for the Eagles, who thoroughly dominated the Huskies for much of the second frame. After peppering Northeastern netminder Craig Pantano with countless shots, one finally leaked through at the 10:45 mark of the period. After making the initial save on Alex Newhook’s redirect from the slot, Pantano couldn’t scramble back into position to stop Marshall Warren’s follow-up.

Mattila added his second of the night on a two-on-one breakaway six minutes later to make it 3–1.

Northeastern turned the intensity back up in the third period, competing at a much higher level. Just under seven minutes in, their hard work paid off when Biagio Lerario got the tip of his stick on a Jordan Harris shot from the slot. The tip did just enough to throw off Eagles goaltender Spencer Knight, who slowed the puck down under his pad but couldn’t fully stop it.

Madigan praised his team’s third-period turnaround, saying, “I thought our compete level was better; I thought we had a good first period as well. We had our backs against the wall and we had to respond, but we just didn’t respond enough.”

The Huskies continued their push for an equalizer and generated some quality opportunities, but the final product just wasn’t there as they failed to net a third tally and succumbed to the Eagles. Madigan emphasized that despite midseason trophies like the Belpot and Beanpot, the team has much bigger goals this year.

“I’m hoping it’s a wakeup call for our guys. We need to play better or else we won’t get the result we need tomorrow night,” Madigan said. “We’re in a playoff hunt, you know? We haven’t won anything yet. Our goals are measured by what we do at the end of the season. I think they need to understand in our locker room that we haven’t won anything yet. Some of these guys might have won something in the past couple years, but this team hasn’t won anything yet.”

These two teams will face off again on Friday night, this time in Chestnut Hill. Christian Skroce and Matt Neiser will be on the call, with pregame coverage starting at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Hockey Prevails, Pushing Past Providence

By Jack Sinclair

BOSTON — An extra week off of the ice usually results in one of two things. Either the team returns rested and with fewer injuries, or they look sluggish and uneasy.

Northeastern came off their 12-day break with nothing but benefits. They were rested, and the return of Julian Kislin after a four-week absence gave the Husky defense added depth.

Friday’s contest against Providence was critical in determining Northeastern’s destiny in Hockey East and NCAA as a whole. The Friars are always a fierce opponent, and they entered Matthews Arena with only one road loss. That the loss came by four goals against Northeastern guaranteed nothing for Friday night’s game.

Providence sat tied for second in the Hockey East; the Huskies, while only three points behind, sat tied for sixth. If the last few weeks of Hockey East action have taught us anything, it’s that nothing, nothing, is certain. With bottom feeders like UConn and UNH surging, and previous leaders like Northeastern and BU faltering against easier opponents, Hockey East is as wide open as ever.

The game started off slowly for both teams, with no fantastic chances for either side. After about 10 minutes, the Huskies found their footing in the dynamic of the game, and their forward check came into full swing. Northeastern, with the help of Matt Filipe and Zach Solow, put considerable pressure on Providence and its goaltender Mike Lackey. The puck rarely made its way to Northeastern’s side of the ice, and Providence began to tire. That fatigue became most apparent when Tyler Madden forced a turnover in the neutral zone and carried the puck all the way to the goal, putting the Huskies up 1–0. 

The Huskies continued to dominate the physical and mental tempo of the game. Only four minutes after Madden’s breakaway goal, Matt Filipe and Matt DeMelis found themselves in a two-on-one rush, and netted another goal for the Huskies.

The period ended with both teams receiving penalties, resulting in a four-on-four that only saw more Northeastern dominance over the puck. The period ended with the Huskies holding onto their 2–0 lead.

As tame as the start of the first period was, the second period was insane. Providence came out with some good looks on net, but Craig Pantano had absolutely none of it, making some difficult saves look trivial.

When two quick Northeastern penalties gave Providence a five-on-three, Mike Kesselring displayed his spectacular stick skills on the penalty kill and willingly put his body on the line. He took a scorching shot high off the arm and was clearly in considerable pain, but fought through until the best opportunity for him to make a change.

Kesselring did not return to the ice for the duration of the kill, and that is perhaps what led to Providence breaking through and putting themselves on the score sheet. Tensions ran high between the two teams, with forwards Greg Printz and Zach Solow exchanging pushes and what could only have been the most pleasant of compliments.

The physicality of the game skyrocketed, with both teams exchanging savage stick slaps and brutal body blows. This culminated with Biagio Lerario’s massive check against Printz right in front of the Providence bench, which drew a five-minute major penalty against and Lerario’s ejection.

The Northeastern penalty kill took the ice and took no prisoners. It didn’t even feel like a penalty kill, as they held Providence to a grand total of zero shots for the first 4:40. The whole PK unit skated their butts off, beating every Friar they could to the puck and making Pantano’s job between the pipes easier. This momentum carried into five-on-five play after the penalty, as Aidan McDonough netted his ninth goal of the season less than a minute later. 

McDonough’s goal only made the Friars upset, as they played most of the rest of the period on Northeastern’s side of the ice. Patrick Moynihan forced a turnover right in front of the goal on the forward check, spun, and slipped the puck past Pantano. The tumultuous second period concluded with the Huskies leading 3–2. 

Providence dominated the beginning of the third period. The only thing keeping the Friars from tying the game was an admirable performance by Pantano, who went so far as to lay across the ice to keep the puck out of the net. But Jack Dugan made the most of a Providence faceoff win on their offensive side, pounding the puck past Pantano to tie the game. 

Northeastern soon went to the power play, but unlike those earlier in the game, the top line of McDonough, Madden, and Jozefek was unable to get things done, and almost allowed a shorthanded goal. The unceremonious power play resulted in the return of Providence dominance, and more amazing saves from Pantano.

With only a quarter of the period remaining, Providence’s Parker Ford was sent to the penalty box for hooking. This Northeastern power play began much like their last, but about halfway through it, they worked the puck into the offensive zone. This kicked off a beautiful sequence of about 20 passes where the power play unit methodically broke down the Friars’ defense, slowly applying pressure and working the puck closer and closer to the net.

Finally, the breakthrough came. Zach Solow found himself, and more importantly, the puck, right in front of the net, after a precise pass by McDonough right to his stick. Solow’s job was made easy and he executed perfectly, placing the puck into the bottom left of the cage, giving the Huskies the lead with only five minutes remaining. 

After the game, Providence head coach Nate Leaman expressed his displeasure with his team’s physicality, saying that it “hardly felt like [they] checked anybody all night.” On the flip side of the hockey coin, Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan expressed his pleasure with his team’s approach to the game.

“You can’t sit back and wait for goals to happen,” he said. “You have to go out and earn them against a team like this.”

The Huskies head to TD Garden this Monday to face Harvard in the first game of the Beanpot. Christian Skroce, Matt Neiser, and Dale Desantis will call that one, with coverage beginning at 4:45 PM EST.

Men’s Hockey Bests Merrimack in Fight-Filled Penalty Fest

Image credit: nuhuskies.com

By Catherine Morrison

Saturday night’s homecoming game was a tension filled dramafest. Multiple fights broke out. 23 penalties were called, with Merrimack’s 13 and Northeastern’s 10 both setting season highs. Three players were hit with 10-minute misconduct penalties.

And amid it all, Northeastern pulled out a 3–1 win.

NU’s Tyler Madden celebrated his 20th birthday by opening the scoring. Eight minutes into the first period, he fired a backhand shot into the top right corner of the goal for his sixth of the season. Only a great save by Merrimack goalie Jere Huhtamaa prevented a second Madden goal in the period.

Although there were no more first-period goals, the drama was still there as Northeastern’s Matt Filipe got into a scuffle with a Merrimack player behind the net. Filipe was called for cross checking, and Northeastern held down the fort while he was in the penalty box. Madden looked angry as he argued with the referee after the call, and was whistled shortly after when he got into it with Merrimack’s Liam Walsh. Both players were sent to the penalty box.

The second period started with two Northeastern players and one Merrimack player in the box. With thirty seconds left in the power play, Filipe joined them after he was called for hooking. Filipe slammed his stick against the glass as he skated in, drawing a whopping 10-minute penalty for misconduct.

Seven saves by Husky goalie Craig Pantano and an unsuccessful Merrimack penalty challenge helped Northeastern emerge unscathed. But the box wouldn’t remain empty for long. Northeastern’s Biagio Lerario and Merrimack’s Regan Kimins kept the seats warm after a heated faceoff yielded a dual unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

Two minutes later, Merrimack’s Tyler Irvine was whistled for hooking. Before the PA announcer could finish announcing the penalty, Aidan McDonough slapped home a one-timer off an assist from Madden and Ryan Shea.

Shortly afterwards, Northeastern’s Zach Solow was aggressively knocked down and ate ice, but the refs didn’t call it, despite penalizing nearly everything else. The Huskies got their revenge when — after Merrimack’s Declan Carlile went to the box for interference — Aidan McDonough chipped in a floater for his second goal of the period.

The third period started with yet another power play after Northeastern’s TJ Walsh was called for tripping. With 11 minutes remaining, Lerario slammed into Merrimack’s Colin Murphy, flew over his head, and got into a scuffle on the side of the rink with some displeased Merrimack players. The fracas yielded an interference penalty for Lerario and a penalty apiece for Merrimack’s Logan Drevitch and Zach Vinnell. Northeastern failed to convert on the power play.

With five minutes remaining, Carlile finally put Merrimack on the board off an assist by Ryan Nolan and Liam Walsh. Northeastern challenged the call saying there was interference, but the call stood. The win moved Northeastern to 5–3–2 (2–2–1 HEA) and dropped Merrimack to 2–7–1 (1–3–1 HEA). The Huskies continue play with a home-and-home against Providence Friday and Saturday.

Men’s Hockey Bounces No. 14 St. Cloud State 4–1

Image credit: nuhuskies.com

By Adam Doucette

ST. CLOUD, MN — The Huskies bounced back in a big way on Friday night in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

They looked nothing like the team that suffered a disappointing 2–2 tie against Holy Cross last Saturday. The intensity was there from the get-go — something coach Jim Madigan emphasized after the last game.

He called it “a great team effort,” and “a great response from last weekend’s game.”

The battle of the Huskies began with Northeastern imposing their will early in the first period. Center John Picking, a big net-front presence as of late, got the scoring going for Northeastern 8:32 into the first period.

In the final minute of the first period, St. Cloud mounted a furious attack. They created numerous offensive chances, but Northeastern’s defense and goaltender Craig Pantano stood strong and took a one-goal lead into the first break.

St. Cloud came out strong in the second period and center Sam Hentges notched the tying goal just 4:30 into the frame. It appeared that the momentum had swung in favor of St. Cloud and their raucous home crowd, but Northeastern would not let that happen.

Play evened out towards the middle of the period, and Tyler Madden put Northeastern back on top with a goal halfway through the second. He tacked on another with just 36 seconds remaining in the period, giving Northeastern a two-goal cushion. Madden has four goals in the team’s first five games.

The third period opened with relatively even play from the two Husky squads, but midway through the frame St. Cloud fed the puck to a streaking forward. What seemed like a one-on-one chance was negated when Northeastern defenseman Jordan Harris made a fantastic diving stop, laying out and poking the puck away while avoiding a penalty.

It wasn’t pretty, but the Northeastern defense weathered the St. Cloud storm in the final ten minutes. Goaltender David Hrenak was pulled with under two minutes remaining and Northeastern took advantage, icing the game with a Biagio Lerario empty-netter.

This marks Northeastern’s second game, and second win, against a nationally ranked opponent this season. The No. 11 Huskies sit at 4–0–1 (1–0–0 HEA). St. Cloud, playing its first game in two weeks, suffered its first loss of the season after two ties.

“We kind of went at our guys, and they really responded,” said Madigan on the coaching staff challenging the team.

The strong start was crucial, and the end result was exactly what they wanted.

Northeastern and St. Cloud face off again Saturday at 7 PM ET (6 PM Central). Matt Neiser and Adam Doucette will have the call beginning fifteen minutes before puck drop.

Men’s Hockey Notches Second Straight 2–1 Win Over Union

Image Credit: nuhuskies.com

By Christian Skroce

SCHENECTADY, NY — It was another stressful outing for the young Huskies team, but Northeastern was again victorious in a come-from-behind effort against the Union College Dutchmen. The game started as a defensive slugfest, with the first two periods devoid of scoring and chock-full of penalties.

Union finally scored early in the third period. Union forward Anthony Rinaldi swooped in from the left wing and fired a poorly angled shot on goal. Despite a nice save from Northeastern goalie Craig Pantano, the puck remained untouched in the crease, and Morton — who entered the offensive zone from the penalty box just as Northeastern’s power play ended — put away the easy chance.

For a while Northeastern’s offense continued to struggle as they failed to capitalize on another power play. Then, with 11 minutes remaining in the third, freshman forward Riley Hughes came to the Huskies’ rescue. He stole the puck from a Union defender, earned a one-on-one breakaway against Union goalie Darion Hanson, and sent a shot through Hanson’s legs to even the score.

Northeastern didn’t take long to gain the upper hand. Just three minutes later, senior forward Biagio Lerario finished off a rebound from a long-range effort by fellow forward Zach Solow. The Huskies would not look back, as they fought their way to their second consecutive one-goal win during opening weekend.

“Well you’re playing with danger, you have to play well,” coach Jim Madigan said. “It’s good that we can find a way to win in a close game in the third period, and that shows resiliency and a mature team, but at the same time, there’s an identity we want to start playing to.”

While the Huskies were happy to come away with two weekend wins, there were clearly some growing pains for the team’s younger players. As Madigan pointed out, the coaches clearly have a plan for this team, and while it was a tough two games, the team held their own and begins its season undefeated.

Tune in Tuesday night at 7 PM when Northeastern returns to action against UMass Amherst; Matt Neiser and Dale Desantis will be on the call.