Entering Friday Night with just one win in their past five games and two wins in their last seven, the Northeastern Huskies went into Schneider Arena to face Providence and lost in one of the more lopsided one-goal games you’re ever likely to see. A scoreless first saw the Friars go on the only power play (though they would have had a second if not for an embellishment penalty) and outshoot the Huskies by a score of 17-7, with Craig Pantano making every save. After the second period started with the teams trading power plays (and the Friars negating another one via embellishment) it was freshman Jamie Engelbert who finally cracked open the scoring for Providence, with his second collegiate goal putting the Friars up 1-0 after the frame while holding onto a commanding 31-9 shot advantage.
The Huskies came out strong in the third, tying the game early on when Aidan McDonough took the puck behind the net and passed it out to Tyler Madden in the slot for a wide-open finish. But the offense basically dried up after that, and the massive possession advantage of the Friars finally broke the Huskies down, as Providence struck first on a Spenser Young shot that changed directions multiple times on the way past Pantano, eventually being credited to Tyce Thompson, then on a stuff play in front of the net that became a puck in the net thanks to Jason O’Neill. The Huskies battled back despite trailing 3-1, pulling the goaltender, drawing a power play, and eventually connection on a Jordan Harris shot from the point to get back within one. But it was too little too late, as the Frairs were able to weather the next 40 seconds and come out victorious.
The final shot count was 38-23 in favor of the home team, and while now seems like a good time to point out that Providence has a well-earned reputation around Hockey East for both undercounting opponent shots and over counting their own, no amount of manipulation changes the fact the Friars dominated the puck for nearly the entire night, with NU only putting up serious competition in the third period to make the total even somewhat respectable, and that that scenario has been a common one all season. The Huskies are a young team (and will be far younger again next year, especially at forward) and youth often brings inconsistency right along with it, but there have been times where somebody besides Pantano needs to step up and take control. It’s also worth noting that Madden’s third period goal was the first 5 on 5 goal for NU in nearly 160 minutes of game action, since Matt DeMelis scored on a scrum at Merrimack.
On Saturday, the Huskies came out and, well, responded. Responded is really the only way to put it. They were killing Providence on the possession board, holding them to basically zeroes on the shot board, and playing like a completely different team. The Friars put just two shots on Pantano in the first, the latter of which became a goal for Jason O’Neill on what was both a somewhat broken play and a shot that Pantano surely wants another chance at. The Huskies responded almost immediately though, as freshman Mike Kesselring came down from the point to the slot and fired off his first collegiate goal past Lackey, starting what would become a common theme on the evening.
In the second period the Huskies learned from Kesselring’s goal, from Harris the night before, and from PC allowing 5 goals to BU’s David Farrance last weekend, and they let it rain from the point. First Grant Jozefek deflected a Harris shot past Lackey. Then Zach Solow played the imitation game and did the exact same a minute later, sending another Harris shot off the post and in. Matt Filipe was up next, taking a breakaway, keeping the puck against pressure, and putting it past a downed Lackey on his forehand, chasing the goaltender with 4 goals allowed in 10 shots. Not to worry though, the goalie change didn’t stop NU, as Jeremie Bucheler joined Kesselring in the freshman scoring books, slapping a puck past backup Gabe Mollot-Hill for the Huskies’ fourth goal in one period after more than 2 in an entire game has been a rare sight this season. Meanwhile, the Friars managed just 6 shots in the second to increase their total to 8 on the game. (Though one did go in thanks to freshman Patrick Moynihan.)
Much like NU the night before, Providence turned it on in the third, and while Vimal Sukumaran did score early, it was too little too late, and Nate Leaman displayed an aggressive goalie pull strategy resulting in Madden and Filipe netting empty net tallies for a final score of 7-3 in favor of the Huskies, a downright offensive explosion.
It’s hard to play two games as different as the Huskies and the Friars played this weekend, a sign of two young teams (the Friars are, for all intents and purposes) and the inconsistency of both. The Friars showed up Friday and probably thought they could walk to a sweep, the Huskies came back from adversity and made a key strategy adjustment as well. The most important thing: Coming out of the Union series, while facing a gauntlet of UMass 3 times, SCSU and Providence over the next month, we had a discussion and decided that if NU goes .500 over the next month, they’re in decent shape. NU’s record since that first UMass game is indeed, exactly 4-4-2, so by the narrowest of margins, they met that goal. For that effort, they find themselves in the top half of the Hockey East standings, with five of their hardest games of the year already behind them, a good sign for their home ice outlook come March.
Looking forward, NU has two games in Belfast looming, but first they have two home games hosting the surprising Maine Black Bears, who are 4-2-2 so far in Hockey East and 7-3-2 total. They’ve both scored and allowed the same number of goals as the Huskies, though they do have a negative goal difference in Hockey East. In conference play, they’ve lost 7-0 to Providence, took 4 of a possible 8 points against BU and UMass-Lowell, and are 3-0 against UNH and UVM. Their possession metrics are well below 50-50 this season (so are NU’s, of course) with a 47.6 CF% falling down to 47% at even strength. They’re being boosted by their goaltender though, as Jeremy Swayman is saving an astronomical .946/.948 behind a young defense. At forward, 4 players are leading the way, seniors Tim Doherty (7-7-14) and Mitchell Fossier (2-12-14), junior Eduards Tralmaks (7-3-10), and sophomore Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup (7-1-8) in front of a young defense. We all saw Maine outplay NU at Matthews last March on the way to the latter’s Hockey East Championship, but the Huskies put on a pretty good performance to sweep in Orono a couple of months prior, so it should be a good one to watch.