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 Sweeps UMass Lowell

By Matt Neiser

BOSTON — Hockey East is the closest it’s ever been this late in the season. Coming into Saturday night, three points separated second and ninth place. Northeastern sat at the low end of that range, in a three-way tie for seventh with 19 points. UMass Lowell, with 22, was atop the scrum — tied with Boston College for second place. With the top eight teams making the playoffs in Hockey East, every point is essential for making the playoffs and earning a higher seed.

“My tenure with this league goes back to the first year,” said Husky head coach Jim Madigan. “I was a senior in that first year of Hockey East in 84–85. I’ve got a lot of history with this league and I’ve never seen it this bunched up . . . It’s going to be a dogfight all the way to the end.”

Northeastern clearly understood the importance of this series. Despite missing key players, the Huskies scrapped their way to a 2–1 win over Lowell on Saturday night at Matthews Arena, completing the season sweep of the Riverhawks after defeating them in Lowell the night before.

Northeastern (17–8–3, 10–7–1 HEA) was missing a few major pieces. Jayden Struble is out for the season after sustaining a lower-body injury against Maine on February 7. Matt Filipe missed his third-straight game and is currently day-to-day. Tyler Madden, the Huskies’ star forward and Hobey Baker hopeful, picked up an injury late in Friday’s game. 

Madigan said after tonight’s game that Madden would be evaluated on Monday and the team would have a return timeline after that. However, Jeff Cox of New England Hockey Journal reported that Madden could miss 4–6 weeks with a fractured finger. That’s just a rumor, of course, but it’s worth noting until the team gives more info.

The game itself was much less intriguing than its circumstances. Full of sloppy passes and neutral zone battles, it seemed like neither team wanted to snag the points up for grabs. The Huskies came out of the gates looking disheveled, misplacing passes and struggling to clear their zone.

The River Hawks’ (15–9–5, 9–6–4 HEA) opening goal was borne out of a defensive miscommunication as the Huskies scrambled to find their footing. Carl Berglund made his way into the Husky zone, dropping it off for the trailing Reid Stefanson. Having just lost his stick in a collision at center ice, Jordan Harris was out of his normal defensive position. Stefanson took advantage, finding acres of space on the left side of the zone to step in close and beat Husky goaltender Craig Pantano. 

Much like in their Beanpot victory against Boston University on Monday, the Huskies changed their tune in a big way in the second frame. Whatever was said in the locker room during the break worked, as Northeastern played with more energy, finishing checks and moving the puck around much more cleanly.

That clean, beautiful puck movement paved the way for the Huskies’ second-period equalizer. Starting with Matt Thomson, the puck touched all five skaters’ tapes on its trip around the Lowell zone. The fifth skater was freshman Mike Kesselring, who blasted a one-timer at the opposing net off a feed from Jordan Harris to beat a screened Tyler Wall.

The two sides battled into the third period; neither team found paydirt for the first half of the frame. Finally, with 10:34 remaining, Northeastern broke the deadlock. Remember how their first goal involved crisp passing and a clear shot? Their second was about as far in the other direction as you can go. Instead of trying to describe what happened, we’ll just let you watch the replay:

Not nearly as pretty as the first, but they all count for one point in the end.

As the clock ticked down, the game became more and more frenetic. At one point, a loose puck in front of the Husky net squirted out to an open Lowell skater on the left side of the crease. Pantano, out of position on the right side, flung his leg out at the last second to make an incredible kick save and keep the Huskies on top.

Pantano, when asked about his great play as of late (40 saves in the Beanpot and a shutout win the night before), said, “I think it has to do with the play in front of me right now. They’ve been letting me see shots, and they’ve been giving me the easy plays. I think we’ve been dialing in our defensive game, and that’s helped me too.”

“Other than adjusting our lines, we didn’t change our game plan,” Madigan said of the injured players. “We didn’t really talk much about Tyler [Madden] not being in the lineup tonight . . . Guys stepped up, which is what you need and expect.

“The lines are going to be shuffled. We might as [well] not even put out a lineup chart,” he said to laughter from himself and the gathered media. “The lines are going to be shuffled for the rest of the year. I think you guys got a lineup chart; there’s 11 forwards and 11 doesn’t go equally, at least in my math. It’s going to be that way for the rest of the year.”

The Huskies will look to build off these wins heading into a huge matchup next weekend against Boston College. The home-and-home will kick off on Thursday at Matthews Arena, with Christian Skroce and Matt Neiser on the call for WRBB. Pregame coverage will commence 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 Pulls Away Late in Thriller vs. Bentley

By Matt Neiser

Tyler Madden began Monday with 14 goals and 12 assists, tied for third in the nation in goals and tied for fourth in points. The Vancouver Canucks prospect has been on fire as of late; in only his second college season, Madden has placed himself firmly in the Hobey Baker Award conversation.

The hot streak continued into Monday night, as he racked up another goal and a pair of assists en route to a 4–2 Northeastern victory over the visiting Bentley Falcons. In a game closer than the score suggests, Madden’s goal scoring and playmaking once again helped the Huskies tally a win.

“I don’t think it’s slowed down, I think I just understand it a little bit better,” Madden said when asked about the change in year two. “I think having a first year under your best helped me out a lot. [I’m] starting to get those areas where I score more and just play some good hockey.”

On the back of a 5–2 victory on the road against fellow Hockey East opponent UConn, sub-.500 Bentley (8–11–1) looked like a walk in the park for No. 11/13 Northeastern (13–5–2, 7–4–1 HEA). As it turns out, it was anything but for the Huskies.

Neither team gained any traction in the first period, with the two sides jostling back-and-forth for much of the frame. Bentley held the shot lead for the entire period, ending the first 20 minutes with an 8–7 advantage. Despite the discrepancy, it was Northeastern that got on the board first. As the clock ticked under two minutes, the Huskies went on the power play following a slashing call on the Falcons. As he does so often, Madden dictated play before sliding a perfect pass across the zone, finding freshman Aidan McDonough for a one-timer to take the lead.

McDonough has come on strong for the Huskies this season, proving to be the missing link on a power play unit that struggled to start the season. After sputtering early, the Huskies have brought their conversion percentage above 20 percent, placing them in the top-20 in the nation. Monday’s goal was McDonough’s eighth of the season, all on the man advantage. Those eight PP goals tie him for the lead nationally, no small feat for a freshman on the same unit as Madden and Zach Solow.

After just one penalty in the first frame, the second period turned into a whistle-fest. Starting at the 6:48 mark, three penalties were assessed in the next 10 minutes — two to Northeastern and one to Bentley. Neither team found paydirt on those opportunities, and Bentley even came close to converting on a breakaway as they killed off the Huskies’ first. A Falcon stretch pass found a streaking Matt Gosiewski, but grad transfer goaltender Craig Pantano saved the day with one of many outstanding saves on the night.

If it feels like you’ve read that sentence before, you probably have — Pantano has bailed out Northeastern with spectacular saves in many a game this season. Madden had high praise for his teammate, saying “He’s unbelievable. He’s definitely held us in a lot of games, especially here tonight. It easily could have been 4–4 at the end of that game, and he just came up big.”

The second period ended scoreless, but the final 20 minutes more than made up for that. Just under two minutes into the third, Bentley’s Jonathan Desbiens tucked home a rebound off a Pantano save to even the game at a goal apiece. Madden took matters into his own hands and responded less than three minutes later, sliding home a one-timer from the slot off a feed from sophomore Jordan Harris.

Bentley again brought the game to a dead heat 8:40 into the third with Jakov Novak’s team-leading 12th goal of the season, setting up a thrilling finish.

As the clock went under two minutes left in regulation, overtime looked like a foregone conclusion. Northeastern continued to press hard for the game-winner, and they eventually found it when freshman Matt DeMelis fed a pass into the slot for senior Matt Filipe, who beat the goaltender up high to give the Huskies the lead for good.

Adding insult to injury, Solow got on the end of a turnover and scored an insurance goal just 26 seconds later, bringing the final score to 4–2.

Senior captain Ryan Shea tallied three assists on the night, bringing his season total to a team-high 19. The helpers extended Shea’s point streak to 11 games, dating back to a game against Merrimack on November 9. Solow’s goal boosted his point streak to nine games. Pantano saved 26 of 28 Bentley shots, earning his 13th win of the season.

Husky head coach Jim Madigan praised his team’s ability to step up when it mattered most. “I thought Bentley played well, and they outplayed us and they outshot us for three periods . . . we’ve got a mature group in there, and those are the ones that stepped up and we found a way to win.”

Northeastern is back in action on Saturday, traveling north to Durham to take on the New Hampshire Wildcats. Matt Neiser and Dale DeSantis will be on the call, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Hockey Triumphs in Battle of the Huskies

By Sarah Olender

In a battle between Hockey East’s two Husky teams at the Hartford XL Center on Friday night, Northeastern’s early-game dominance on both sides of the puck carried them to a 5–2 victory over UConn.

Within the team’s first 30 seconds of play in 2020, Northeastern’s Matt Filipe fired a shot into the back of the net on an assist from Ryan Shea.

After Filipe’s goal, play swung back and forth until 10:40 into the period, when Zach Solow’s unassisted goal gave Northeastern a 2–0 lead. Minutes later, Tyler Madden scored another goal, assisted by Aidan McDonough and Grant Jozefek.

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Photos by Sarah Olender

UConn struggled through the entire first period and most of the second, turning over the puck frequently and giving Northeastern many scoring opportunities.

Nearly twelve minutes into the second period, Solow put in another goal, assisted by McDonough and Madden. Northeastern’s score streak continued minutes later, their fifth goal courtesy of freshman Matt DeMelis, who put home a rebound from teammate Neil Shea. 

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UConn finally got on the board with a minute left in the second period, when Vladislav Firstov put home a rebound. Firstov’s goal trimmed the Northeastern lead to 5–1 entering the third period.

Though the final period featured UConn’s second goal (by Jonny Evans seven minutes in), it also brought increased aggression. With just under five minutes to play, McDonough was called for goalie interference. Simultaneously, freshman defender Mike Kesselring was hit with a five-minute major penalty (and a ten-minute game misconduct) for a violent cross-check, putting Northeastern at a disadvantage for the remainder of the game. 

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With nearly three minutes to go in the game, UConn pulled goalie Tomas Vomacka, leaving Northeastern in a three-on-five situation. Once McDonough’s penalty was over, Northeastern defended the more manageable four-on-five penalty kill. 

“We didn’t play as cleanly as I would have liked in the third period,” Madigan said, though he remarked that the “PK did a great job all night long.”

Northeastern netminder Craig Pantano also played a solid game, making 24 saves for a .923 save percentage. 

Northeastern will take on Bentley this Monday in Matthews Arena. Christian Skroce and Dale Desantis will call the game for WRBB, with coverage beginning at 6:45.

Men’s Hockey Upsets No. 4 UMass

Photo by Sarah Olender

By Dale Desantis

BOSTON — Tuesday night’s showdown between the Northeastern Huskies and the UMass Minutemen was a chippy, defensive affair. The teams combined for 15 penalties, then failed to score on every one of the resulting power plays.

The Huskies triumphed in their home opener, topping the fourth-ranked Minutemen 3–1 behind the efforts of their freshmen and their grad transfer goalie. The Huskies have won their first three games and limited their opponents to a single goal in each one.

The game was scoreless well into the second period before the Huskies struck. With 9:23 remaining, freshman forward Matt DeMelis converted a wrister over the head of UMass goalie Matt Murray. The decisive goal opened play for both teams in what had been a stagnant offensive game.

Photo by Sarah Olender

The Huskies added to their lead later in the period after UMass defender Philip Lagunov was whistled for slashing Northeastern’s Jordan Harris on a two-on-one breakaway. The freshman defender took advantage of the penalty shot, confidently bearing down on Murray and flicking the puck over his right shoulder. It was Harris’ second goal of the young season.

Photo by Sarah Olender

The third period was electric. Just as the Northeastern defense looked unassailable, UMass freshman Matt Kessel drove a dagger from the blue line past Northeastern goalie Craig Pantano to make the score 2–1. A dogfight ensued, culminating in a five-minute spearing penalty against Northeastern’s Brendan Van Reimsdyk with three minutes to play. The Husky defense held fast, and Zach Solow notched an empty-net insurance goal with 12 seconds to play.

Pantano shone brightest, steering 34 shots away from the net and reassuring those who doubted the Huskies’ depth in goal before the season. He looked comfortable anchoring a team that heavily featured two freshman defenders in Mike Kesselring and Jeremie Bucheler.

“He gives you calmness, poise, and leadership,” Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan said of Pantano. “He’s been in every building and has won.”

Photo by Sarah Olender

Tune in Sunday at 3 PM when the Huskies take on Holy Cross at Matthews Arena. Matt Cuhna and Adam Doucette will be on the call.