(Featured image taken by Merrimack’s Mike McMahon, who is very good at both journalism and photography.)
Coming into the weekend on a three game skid, the Northeastern Huskies played Merrimack to a 1-1 tie on the road Friday Night before coming back with a decisive 3-1 win on Saturday to pick up three key points early in Hockey East play.
On Friday night in North Andover, the expectation was for the Huskies to come out strong to avenge their recent results and get back on track against theoretically outmatched competition, but that’s not really what happened, as the Warriors scored a deflection goal on their first power play to take a 1-0 lead on a 7-1 shot advantage. NU would come back late in the first, at one point putting up 8 shots on goal in a row on the way to a Matt DeMelis game tying goal off a net front scrum, setting up for another patented NU low scoring win after a slow start. But they just never got it together again after that, putting grand total of just 12 more shots on net for the remaining 45 minutes of the game plus overtime, while Merrimack ended up with a total of 40 shots against their former goaltender Craig Pantano and peppered NU most of the night. While not a loss, considering the opponent, the puck possession differential, and the general inability for NU to execute much of anything, I would argue that in context it was among the worst single games NU has played in recent history.
Back for homecoming on Saturday, the Huskies sported special edition camo Veterans Day jerseys and put them to use early when Tyler Madden moved through the Merrimack penalty kill like a ghost and backhanded a shot all alone in the slot and onto the net for the first NU lead of the weekend. NU doubled the lead later on an Aidan McDonough one-timed power play goal, then tripled it in the exact same situation again to go 3 for their first 3 power play chances. They didn’t quite put Merrimack away though, and a late goal made it 3-1 before the Huskies shut the door on their first win since their first game against St. Cloud State.
Overall, much like early in the season, the results on the record book were there this weekend but it certainly wasn’t easy or clean. There’s no need to harp on Friday’s game, but it bears repeating that NU looked outplayed all night and their only goal was off of a scramble. Lawler Rink is, of course, not the best location for NU to showcase their general team speed and offensive lack-of-size, but that didn’t stop them in most of their recent trips there and it doesn’t stop most teams who step foot there either.
Saturday night was another story, and the rebound that was to be expected at the start of the weekend, but better late than never. It is extremely concerning that the Huskies scored just a single 5 on 5 goal on th4 weekend, but NU got out to a significant early lead on both the shot board and the score board and never really looked back, except to see whether Jamie Koharski was making another absolutely unconscionable call from his referee position. There were 23 penalties for 70 minutes called on Saturday, including six for either player misconduct or unsportsmanlike conduct, and I’m 99% sure that at least a seventh was announced in the arena before being later removed from the official scoring. Northeastern had 4 players in the box at one point, while Merrimack topped out at 3 in a separate incident. This game was not a bloodbath, or even exceptionally chippy, players were just being hauled to the box early and often and extra penalties were being added to the box whenever possible, whether the reason be tacking on misconducts to previously called minors, taking both players after an infraction, calling unsportsmanlike conduct on players who are wearing letters and thus legally permitted to talk to the referees about calls, etc. Jamie Koharski has refereed 3 of the past 4 NU games, two of which featured some very questionable work, and after his disastrous showing in the Hockey East semifinals led to appearances in the conference finals and the Frozen Four last year, it bears wondering if it will ever get better.
The gauntlet doesn’t stop for NU after a quick intermission past weekend, as after playing three games against conference favorite UMass they now turn their attention to their first two of three against other conference favorite Providence. The Frairs have replaced Hayden Hawkey with Harvard grad transfer Michael Lackey in net and that’s about where the comparisons with NU end. While NU is a young team that has had trouble scoring, Providence has been scoring at an absolutely unconscious rate, as we sit in the first half of November with sophomore forward Jack Dugan having posted twenty four points already, helped out by 8 goals by Tyce Thompson, 9 goals from Greg Printz, and double-digit scoring campaigns for freshman Parker Ford and defenseman Michael Callahan. The somewhat good news for NU is that Providence is rather top heavy, so if they can shut down those big guns they have a shot, but that’s easier said than done, as opponents of a certain line discovered in 2017-18 when they squared off with the Huskies. Considering the gap in scoring between the two teams and Northeastern’s struggles in recent seasons against the Frairs, it’s difficult to see this weekend ending well. But that’s why they play the games, and much like the two early-season points the Huskies took from UMass, NU needs to pick up points against top competition to compete at the top of Hockey East, especially considering the abilities of the teams that have been matched up against Northeastern for extra games this season.