The Northeastern Huskies start off their second half this weekend with a pair of games in Burlington, Vermont for UVM’s annual Catamount Cup, a holiday tournament where I can only assume the winner receives a Cup full of Catamounts. Will we finally learn what a Catamount is this weekend? Stay tuned to find out!
As Northeastern and Vermont are conference-rivals who already have three games scheduled against each other this year and nobody really wants to see a fourth, the tournament will guarantee that NU and Vermont each play both RPI and Alabama-Huntsville while avoiding one another. In the event that the two teams end up with the same record, their total goal differential over the weekend will break the tie. In my opinion they should force them back onto the ice for a shootout to determine who wins the tournament, but unfortunately, I’m not in charge and I’m also fairly certain there are NCAA rules prohibiting that sort of fun.
The first note before we get into the Huskies’ two opponents is that Northeastern continues to be without Tyler Madden, Cayden Primeau, and Jerry Keefe, who are off representing Team USA and looking to bring back a gold medal. That combined with Eetu Selanne’s one game suspension means we’re going to be seeing some interesting names on the ice this weekend. Can Matt Thomson finally return from injury? Will Biagio Lerario make it out of the doghouse? Is this finally the moment for Drew Blackmun or Ryan Solomon to shine? Only time will tell.
First, the Engineers of RPI.
I’m just gonna be blunt here. RPI is the better of the two teams NU will play this weekend but they are… not good. The Engineers enter the second semester in 48th position in the Pairwise, sporting a 4-11-0 record and a five game losing streak. The highlight of their season is a weekend where they inexplicably swept Union while getting heavily outshot just days after Union themselves swept the Huskies. They also split with Lowell because Hockey East is incapable, as an institution, of winning non-conference games with anything resembling regularity.
Behind that 4-11 record is a team that is starved for offense. Junior forward Patrick Polino has 4 goals. Freshman Jakub Lacka has 3. Nobody else has more than two. They don’t play on the same line, so at least the scoring is spread out a little. It should be noted that first line center Jacob Hayhurst does have 12 assists and 14 points on the season, which is surprising only when you consider that RPI has 24 goals as a team. So when they score there is basically a guarantee he was involved. He’s basically Connor McDavid.
In goal, sophomore Linden Marshall started the season as the top goaltender and has three wins, but a GAA entirely too close to breaking 4 led to him taking a back seat to Freshman Owen Savory, who has just one win but a much more pleasant .926 save percentage and 2.55 GAA. He put up good games against both Lowell and Notre Dame and is clearly capable of doing so against NU, and you have to assume he’s the one making the start unless RPI is committed to using both goalies this weekend and thinks Savory has a better chance of stealing the win over Vermont than Northeastern.
RPI’s advanced metrics are.. well… they ain’t great chief. The proud owners of a 5.2% shooting percentage at both even strength and in close situations and an overall Corsi for of 42.4 and Fenwick for of 41.7, RPI is squaerely in the “Bad” category. They have been outshot in 13 of their 15 games this season. Quite frankly they should probably have even fewer wins than they do (As referenced earlier when I said Union outshot them by a million and got swept) but Marshall and Savory have somehow combined for a .922 save percentage when the game is close, which has lifted RPI to some positive results.
The RPI power play is rocking at a solid 12.7%, bottom 10 in the country, and their PK is at 82.5%, which is solidly “alright”. So hey, we’ve found their positives, penalty killing and sometimes goaltending. Good thing NU isn’t without their 1C and their power play architect or anythinhg.
It should be noted that RPI does have three transfers who will be eligible for the first time Friday. Former Providence forward Chase Zieky is unlikely to make much of an impact, but former North Dakota forward Mike Gornall scored 4 goals in 20 games for the Fighting Hawks and we’re already acquainted with former UMass D Shane Bear, so those two will likely make solid additions to the roster.
Now, on to Huntsville. Remember all those times I just called RPI bad? Well, if RPI is bad, Huntsville is a dumpster fire on skates. They are thr proud owners of 3 wins and 15 losses on the season, fifty-eighth in the sixty team Pairwise rankings. However they have won 2 of 3 games to enter the Catamount Cup, which means this dumpster fire is… on fire. (I’ll show myself out.)
Huntsville’s leading scorer, Jesper Ohrvall, has not scored a goal the entire season. Freshman Jack Jeffers is their leading threat, I guess, because he has 5 goals this season. However he has all of 17 shots on goal, which speaks more to “puck luck” than “player I feel threatened by”. Nobody else has more than two goals and the team as a whole is just barely averaging one goal per game.
Their advanced stats make RPI look like the 1980 USSR National Hockey Team. They are shooting 5.9% this season, 4.8% when the game is close. Their Corsi for is 36.1, a number I did not believe to possible, and again drops to 35.1 when the game is close. Similar enough for their Fenwick, at 35.6 and 34.4. This is a bad hockey team. On average, they are outshot 36.6 to 20.6 in any game they play, and they lose 3.0 to 1.2. I would imagine I could make those stats worse by talking out teams like Bemidji and Alaska, but I really don’t see the need to. Somewhat amusingly, they are 0-2-0 when outshooting their opponent this season.
On special teams, Huntsville scores on 7.2 percent of their power plays and has put together 5, count them, 5 power play goals this season. Again somewhat amusingly (I am easily amused), their PK% is actually 85%, or 2.5% better than the PK% of RPI which I had just called the strength of the Engineers. So, they call kill penalties at least, which is nice.
In net, Mark Sinclair is actually saving .927 on the season and has a shutout. But who cares, because the Huskies will not be facing Mark Sinclair. The opposing goaltender will be none other than the prodigal son, the number one goaltender in our hearts, the Notre Dame killer, the man, the myth, and the legend. That’s right folks, we’re talking about Jake Theut. Jake Theut played in five games for Northeastern and started one. He ended his Northeastern career with a shutout in 100% of the games he ever started. In fact, in the entirety of his Northeastern career, Theut only had a single game in which he allowed the opposing team to score, and it was in relief of Ryan Ruck.
There have been two crowning moments in the collegiate career of Jake Theut. The first came on Sunday, November 13, 2016. In a sparsely attended game at Historic Matthews Arena in which a Notre Dame assistant coach had nothing better to do than get the DogHouse’s megaphone taken away then tweet at them to mock them (seriously, I was there, that happened) Jake Theut took the net against Cal Petersen and matched him blow for blow. Through 40 minutes, Theut was sporting a 22 save shutout and had completed four successful penalty kills when a zamboni broke down on the ice and melted a hole through the ice at Historic Matthews Arena. The game was paused and eventually suspended, never to be resumed again. Jake Theut shutout the Irish and in the end kept them juust one point short of hoisting the Hockey East Regular Season title, a performance which will never be forgotten.
The second game came this season, in Theut’s most recent start. Huntsville’s defense was surprisingly stingy in a game against Bemidji State that night and only allowed 23 shots to get on net. Theut did the rest, making 21 saves en route to a 4-2 win, the first win of his collegiate career after five years (and a shutout!) of trying. I can’t say I watched the game, but I can say that there were entirely too many of us following it on twitter and waiting for the final score to come in, and when it did, celebrating a win which couldn’t have happened to a better person.
Yes, Northeastern is without some of their top dogs. Yes, Ryan Ruck is going to be making his first start in well over a year. No, Drew Blackmun is not Tyler Madden. But even in spite of that, there is absolutely no reason Northeastern should not come out of this weekend with two wins and a cute regular season trophy that is not the Beanpot. These games are Pairwise anchors, games that mean nothing if you win and everything if you don’t. The only advice I can give is they had better make sure they win.
After the NU games, make sure you tune into NHL Nework as Team USA has their second game of the tournament at 10:30 PM Friday and their third at 10:30 PM on Saturday against Sweden, as they look to pick up another gold medal in the 2019 World Junior Championship. In all likelihood Primeau will be in net for the game Friday, and of course Tyler Madden looks to be an important part of both contests.