This last weekend, Northeastern went back to where it all began. It was Black Friday 2015, the Huskies were in the locker room at the Friendship Four in Belfast, having just blown a very winnable conference game against UMass-Lowell to fall to 1-12-2 and extend their streak to 14 consecutive games without a win. To say that the situation looked dire for one of the worst teams in the country would have been an understatement. Of course, we all know what happened after, they walked in the next night and blew the doors off of Colgate. They came back across the pond and took a point off Frozen Four bound BC the next weekend. 23 games later, the Huskies had lost just a single one of them, culminating in a 12 game winning streak, the first and only 6-0 performance in the history of the Hockey East Tournament, and the Lamiorello Trophy finding it’s way to Punters Pub for the first time in 28 years.
Oh yeah, and they’ve been a pretty good team since too.
This past weekend the Huskies were able to right one of the last mistakes they made that season, by taking the Belpot that slipped through the grasps of that team four long years ago and inspired a streak of play the NCAA has hardly ever seen before.
On Friday it was the New Hampshire Wildcats and former NU commit Robby Griffin on the other end of the ice. UNH had noted scoring difficulties against NU during the Cayden Primeau era, going winless over six games and being shut out in nearly all of them. The Craig Pantano era didn’t start much better for them on this Belfast afternoon, as the Wildcats didn’t put one past him either, as the grad transfer piled up 25 saves en route to his first Northeastern shutout. On the offensive side of things, the Huskies outshot UNH in the first without much luck, but that changed in the second when Ryan Shea took over. The senior wired a shot from the point over Mike Robinson for the game’s opening goal, then near the end of the period fired another shot that was evidently deflected by Zach Solow (the official scoring on this goal changed at least twice before settling on him) off the iron and into the back of the net. The game was essentially over at 2-0 after 2, but just to make sure, the Huskies added two more in the third, first from TJ Walsh cleaning up a loose puck in front, then from John Picking collecting his third goal of his senior season.
With the 4-0 win the Huskies took first place outright in Hockey East and finally came full circle from 2015, swapping a late heartbreak as the last ranked team in the conference for a dominating finish to put them alone on top. The late game saw Colgate take down Princeton, and if there is a decided advantage to playing the early game in this sort of setup, the Huskies certainly had it…
… and used it. The Huskies blasted off to a 3-0 lead on Colgate with 3 goals in just 72 seconds, first from Jayden Struble, followed nearly instantly by a Matt DeMelis finish and a Tyler Madden power play tally following his own blocked shot. Colgate fought back admirably though, playing a heavy game that’s become so typical of ECAC hockey and getting a goal back before the end of the first period and another one in the second, despite the Huskies continuing to have the better of the high-danger chances. The teams traded off failed power plays throughout the third, but a Struble penalty with 2:22 to play looked like it could be a big moment. Instead, the captain came through again, finding the empty net shorthanded to make it 4-2, a goal that would become pivotal when Colgate scored with 18 seconds left to make the final tally 4-3 as the Huskies jumped off their bench in celebration.
With the win in front of Mayor Marty Walsh, who was part of the planning of this event before the original 2015 edition and compared it to the Beanpot, the Huskies are the first team to ever hold the Beanpot and the Belpot at the same time, and will become the first team to enter the Beanpot as Belpot champions in February. Ryan Shea was named Tournament MVP for his 2 or 3 or 2 goal performance, which included both game-winners and was also the Hockey East Player of the Week, while Madden took home Hockey East Player of the Month honors.
The first place Huskies now look ahead to a single game against a BU team that fits their normal description from the past few years, young, talented, high-pedigree, and never to be taken lightly, let surprisingly underwhelming when you check the standings. They have the veteran leadership up front, with senior captain Patrick Curry leading the way with 10 goals and 6 assists and Patrick Harper on a 6-13-19 line. The youngsters are there too, with Trevor Zegras on 5-9-14 and both Matthew Quercia and Robert Mastrosimone on 9 points already. On the defensive side of things, David Farrance is a huge threat with 10 goals including both a hat trick and a 5 goal weekend on the year, and is the team’s leading scorer with 11 assists on top of it. Behind him, familiar faces Cam Crotty and Kasper Kotkansalo are joined by freshmen Alex Vlasic, Domenick Fensore, and Case McCarthy. In goal, Yale grad transfer Sam Tucker leads the way, who has followed a slow start to the year by saving .922 over the last month or so entering this grad transfer battle against Pantano.
It’s always a big game when the Huskies and the Terriers meet up, especially when one of the two teams is standing in first with a target squarely on their back, so make sure you find a way to Agganis on Saturday Night to watch the defending Hockey East and two-time defending Beanpot champions face off with the other Division 1 hockey team that’s located in Boston.