In what was possibly their best weekend of the season, the Northeastern Huskies swept the visiting Maine Black Bears at Matthews Arena. Friday night’s victory was 5-2 behind Tyler Madden‘s first collegiate hat trick, while Saturday’s affair was a gutsy come-from-behind 3-2 win after the Huskies trailed 2-1 heading into the third. Zach Solow scored the game-winning goal on Saturday, and Craig Pantano saved 48 of the 52 shots he faced over the weekend.
The weekend saw the Huskies dominate play for about 80% of the game time, with the Black Bears taking control and momentum of the pace during the second half of the second period each night. Even though Maine scored in the middle of the first period on Friday, I thought they played their best in the second period. Beyond that, the Huskies always seemed cool, calm, and collected, well in control of the puck and keeping Maine on the perimeter for the majority of each game. The shot totals reflect this, as Northeastern outshot Maine both nights, including 41-28 on Saturday.
Northeastern’s offensive struggles in October have been well-documented, but they have turned up the offensive heat as the temperature has dropped in November. Tyler Madden, after scoring five goals with no assists in October, has 6 goals and 6 assists in November, and is now tied for the national lead in goals scored. His hat trick Friday night was the first by a Husky since Liam Pecararo had on in February last year against New Hampshire.
Friday’s game featured excellent play from John Picking, Jeremie Bucheler, Jordan Harris, and Matt Filipe, who all excelled defensively and limiting Black Bear offensive chances. Solow and Aidan McDonough also contributed powerplay goals, Solow’s ending up as #8 on ESPN’s Sportscenter Top Ten the following morning.
Saturday’s game was a more physical bout, closer to the type of game that Maine wants to play than Northeastern’s ideal style. However the Huskies got on the board first when a play driven by Grant Jozefek and Tyler Madden led to a loose puck sliding to the point, and prized freshman Jayden Struble clapped the puck past Jeremy Swayman for his first collegiate goal.
The Huskies’ gave up two goals before they scored again, including a rare powerplay goal against the otherwise perfect penalty kill, but then Neil Shea snuck a puck between Swayman and the post for his first collegiate goal to tie the game early in the third period. The teams would stay deadlocked with overtime in sight until Ryan Shea invoked his inner Jeremy Davies and danced along the blue line and around a Maine defender before feeding Solow perfectly on his stick blade for the deflection goal.
In nearly every facet of the game- shots, goals, powerplay, penalty kill- the Huskies were clearly the better team all weekend. Outside of faceoffs and discipline, there are not many areas I would think the Huskies are beating themselves up over. Maine proved that once again they are a one-line team with a good goaltender, and the Huskies proved they are a deeper, more complete team that can match up with any other team in the conference.
For the first time in four years, the Huskies will celebrate Thanksgiving across the Atlantic Ocean in Ireland, where they are set to play in the Friendship Four tournament. They open against New Hampshire in Hockey East play on Friday, before playing an ECAC opponent on Saturday pending the results of Colgate versus Princeton. We won’t preview those teams, because the Huskies *should* beat either one. New Hampshire, however, will be a more intense test.
Like Maine last week, New Hampshire is largely buoyed by their excellent goaltender, Mike Robinson. Robinson this season has saved 91.6% of the shots he has faced, and allows only 2.18 goals per game. Last season in his first full season as a starter he saved .913, so this is roughly what we can expect from the junior netminder.
Their offense is led by a handful of talented forwards: Jackson Pierson (2-11-13) and Charlie Kelleher (4-9-13) lead them in scoring, while sophomore sensation Angus Crookshank paces them with 7 goals. Defenseman Max Gildon also has 13 points, with five powerplay goals, and is as dangerous a threat from the blue line as ever. Former 20 goal-scorer Patrick Grasso has 7 points in 12 games, and Kohei Sato, lauded for his skating ability, has five goals this year in a breakout season so far for the Japanese junior.
Unlike in years past, New Hampshire actually has some scoring depth this season among its forwards. Couple that depth with a powerplay converting at roughly 25%, as well as outshooting their opponents by 2 shots a game on average and the offense has the potential to be lethal. Their penalty kill comes in at a paltry 78% success rate, which could provide the Huskies with one key weakness to exploit when opportunities arise.
Feature image courtesy of NUHuskies.com and Northeastern Athletics photographer Jim Pierce