Well, it certainly wasn’t the easiest series, but in the end, every W counts the same in the recordbooks. Despite allowing the first goal on both nights, the Northeastern Huskies moved to 2-0-0 on the season with a pair of 2-1 victories on the road against Union this weekend. The Huskies now turn their attention to Tuesday, where they will raise their Hockey East Championship banner before they play their home opener against the UMass Minutemen (who raised a suspect banner of their own).
One of the storylines going into Friday was that the Dutchmen had already been on the ice for two games the prior weekend, and that certainly showed, as the first period was a near-disaster for NU. They struggled to get the puck or to get shots, often failed to corral or pass the puck when they did have it, allowed multiple power play chances for Union, and went down 1-0 when Ryan Shea turned the puck over to an open Liam Robertson directly in front of Craig Pantano, who had no chance to make a save.
Things settled down for NU shortly after the goal though and the second period showed many of the signs of dominating play we expected going into the series. After extended zone time, Northeastern finally struck when Zach Solow was able to get the puck low in the zone, move it to the center of the ice, and find charging defenseman Jordan Harris, who had a mostly-open net and found the back of it.
The third period was much of the same, NU controlling possession but not necessarily generating chances, until Craig Pantano corralled the puck as a power play expired. Pantano left it behind the net for freshman Jeremie Bucheler, who picked it up and passed it straight down the center of the ice to a streaking Grant Jozefek at the Union blue line, and Jozefek sniped the puck home on the breakaway for the eventual game winner. NU controlled things from there, having nearly all of the puck despite holding the lead and not allowing Union much chance to level the score. The third period shot board favored NU 16-4, hitting on one of our notes from the preview last week, Union being a poor third period team.
Saturday’s game started with no flow at all and stayed that way for entirely too long, as the first 30 minutes passed with no goals, no real chances, and shots numbering in the single-digits for each side. Much like Friday though, NU turned it on around the halfway point, eventually doubling Union in shots (10-5) for the second period and looking good heading into the third despite the tie game.
Unfortunately disaster struck within the first five minutes, as a puck from the corner got jammed in front of Pantano, and the grad transfer goalie tried and failed to seal it under his glove and force a whistle. Eventually it squeezed past him for Sam Morton to chop into the NU net and give Union the lead. Undeterred though, the Huskies kept going, and scored to tie on a remarkably similar play to the winning goal from Friday. Union killed a power play but followed it by losing the puck to freshman Riley Hughes in the neutral zone, and the New York Rangers draft pick skated into the zone, opened up the goaltender, and slid the puck through the five hole to tie the game up.
This led to a pivotal sequence 30 seconds later, where Biagio Lerario skated towards the net without the puck on a rush and ended up in a pile of bodies sliding towards the net and knocking the goal off. A frustrated Union player, Brandon Estes, picked up Lerario’s stick and threw it away, which resulted in Lerario hitting him for his efforts, and two minutes for each player. Two minutes later, Lerario came out of the box, entered the zone as Solow threw a soft dump in at the goalie, and got the last laugh as the puck bounced out into the slot, directly to his stick, and he put it back past a stunned goaltender and crowd to take the lead. Union made a push late this time, much better than their finish on Friday, but the result was the same as Pantano closed the door.
Two wins are two wins, but there is a lot for a young NU team to build on following the weekend. They have yet to score a power play goal despite having 8 chances on the weekend, and never really looked threatening or like they were robbed. On the other side though, they didn’t allow a single goal on the kill either, and they did execute for a couple of breakaway goals shortly following power plays expiring. The offense in general is also a work in progress just one weekend into the season, with only four goals on the weekend and a surprising performance for star forward Tyler Madden, who was kept off the scoresheet.
Defensively, however, the young Huskies looked more like veterans after surving the early jitters on Friday. Ryan Shea is the only player on the blue line who has played even 40 career games, with three freshmen playing in the top six, but you wouldn’t have known it watching them this weekend. Jeremie Bucheler and Mike Kesselring controlled play often, with Bucheler looking like his predecessory Jeremy Davies on his assist Friday while Kesselring led the team in shots. Defensively the unit did a lot for Pantano, something they’ll need to keep up all year, often deflecting or blocking pucks away from the goal, clearing rebounds, and on a few occasions saving second chances from finding an empty portion of the net.
Going forward, star freshman defenseman Jayden Struble and arguably the Huskies’ best forward recruit, Canucks pick Aidan McDonough, both missed the weekend with minor injuries. While this shouldn’t have much of an effect on the season as a whole, particularly as NU went 2-0 this weekend without them, it would be beneficial to get them into the fold sooner rather than later. There was no official word following the weekend on the status of either player, but there is a chance at least one could be in the lineup on Tuesday.
Speaking of Tuesday, UMass won their only game of the weekend 5-3 against RPI. Much like the Huskies, they seemed to go down early as they got their legs under them before turning it on and showing a performance closer to what you would expect in the second half of their victory. The names are mostly the same as last year, minus Makar, Ferraro, and Pritchard, so you need no introduction to John Leonard or Bobby Trivigno or Filip Lindberg. On the defensive end of things, Marc Del Gaizo missed Friday’s game with an injury and is also questionable for Tuesday. As far as freshmen go, Zac Jones is the new name to watch on defense, as the 68th overall pick in the NHL draft picked up a goal and an assist on Friday. At forward Cal Kiefiuk had a goal, two points, and four shots on Friday, while Reed Lebster also scored. Overall, both the Huskies’ and Minutemen have lost a lot from last year, but the returning goaltending situation for UMass probably gives them the edge in this one. Especially if Del Gaizo plays. They don’t play the games on paper though, and a full house on banner night may be what the Huskies need to send the fans home happy.