Well, this season is suddenly looking bright again, isn’t it? After going nearly a month without a Hockey East win, the Northeastern Huskies put together their second consecutive weekend sweep and extended their winning streak to five games with a pair of wins over New Hampshire, by scores of 6-3 and 6-0. Liam Pecararo and Jeremy Davies were the heroes, putting up three goals a piece and 13 points combined, while star sophomore goaltender Cayden Primeau moved into third place on the NU career shutout list with his fourth of the season on Saturday night.
Friday’s game started with the news that one of UNH’s best and hottest forwards, Patrick Grasso, would miss the weekend with a lower body injury. That didn’t phase the Wildcats though, as a first period Eric Williams turnover to Eric MacAdams led to Brendan van Riemsdyk going in alone and sniping one over Primeau for the opening goal. The Huskies got one back on the power play though, as a relatively underwhelming shift led to the puck getting back to Davies at the point, who shot a soft wrister that somehow went through everyone and everything and into the back of the net, tying the score at 1 after 1.
The second period started all UNH, as a couple of bounces quickly staked the home team to a two goal lead. First a Benton Maass point shot was both tipped and screened in front, getting through Primeau on a goal eventually credited to Marcus Vela. Just moments later a MacAdams shot on Primeau was stopped but somehow squeaked through his five hole and laid in the crease all alone, before BvR found it and tapped it in for his second of the game and a 3-1 UNH lead. At that point, whether UNH sat back or NU pressed forward, the game changed. Biagio Lerario almost deposited a one timer from the right circle into the cage, but it went wide. Then Pecararo got the same chance on the power play and it was blocked. Then Pecararo got the exact same shot again 5 seconds later, and this time he scored. A Patrick Schule hooking penalty threatened to stop the NU momentum, but a quick shorthanded 2 on 1 chance for the Huskies eventually led to Matt Filipe in the middle of the slot all alone, where he received the puck and beat Mike Robinson five hole to tie the game. With momentum now on NU’s side Pecararo scored a beauty that would eventually go down as the game winner, skating in with speed and cutting directly across the face of Robinson to deposit the puck in the far side of the goal. UNH held strong for most of the third, including getting an early power play and killing a Husky 5 on 3, but the game spiraled late when Ryan Shea shot a bomb from the point to extend the lead to 2 then Pecararo made a great play with the UNH net empty and was rewarded with a walk-in breakaway goal to complete his first collegiate hat trick.
Saturday was more of the same, minus the UNH goals. The first period was played at a tepid pace, with basically no chances either way until a late period power play gave UNH a decisive advantage on the shot board in the first intermission. The second was going much the same way, with the teams trading penalties and not much else until a bit of good fortune for NU. Davies took the puck at the point shortly after a power play and walked down behind the goal line, where he threw the puck through the crease and it just happened to bounce off Anthony Wyse and in. Now in the lead, the Huskies finished the second how they finished the first, taking a late penalty then barely hanging on as UNH rained down chances from then until the buzzer sounded.
Then came the third period. This one got ugly folks. UNH took an early penalty and killed it, then some good fortune found NU. The Huskies were accidentally playing with 4 skaters. Lincoln Griffin realized and jumped off the bench, just in time for Shea to get the puck in the NU defensive zone and send a 100 foot pass up to him across center ice. In all alone, Griffin put his signature backhand to work and doubled the NU lead. A now frustrated UNH took a hook and Davies bombed one from the point for this third of the weekend. The Huskies took a couple of penalties, so Griffin went down on a shorthanded breakaway and beat Ty Taylor backhand yet again. UNH put in third string goalie Joe Lazzaro at this point, but it didn’t stop the bleeding, as BvR took a slash and a misconduct and Zach Solow scored a pretty power play goal to extend the lead to 5, then Ryan Verrier elbowed John Picking in the head for a major and game misconduct of his own, wherein Tyler Madden added one more power play goal to get us to the final tally of 6-0. Primeau completed his 23 save shutout with a couple of late stops. In addition, Brandon Hawkins picked up his 100th collegiate point in the third period.
This series was significantly more even than the 12-3 scoreline and the 11 unanswered goals indicate. UNH got a couple of less-than-ideal goals to stake them to the lead Friday, then sat back and allowed a couple of less-than-ideal goals of their own to put NU back in it, at which point they had already turned it off and the floodgates were open. Saturday was more of the same, with the Huskies taking the lead on a couple of downright fluky plays (no offense to the best backhand in the game) then UNH imploding from there to get us to the miserable final score. This was a series where UNH could conceivably have taken points or games, just as UConn did against NU a few weeks ago, but it didn’t turn out that way. It should also be noted that in addition to losing Grasso, UNH lost star freshman Angus Crookshank early on Friday and although he dressed for the game Saturday I don’t remember hearing his name at all. So the argument could be made that this UNH team went toe to toe with NU for 30ish minutes each night while playing shorthanded before both games unraveled.
On the Husky side of things, Pecararo had a breakout weekend with 7 points and his first collegiate hat trick after entering the weekend with 18 points on the season. He now leads NU forwards in scoring and is one goal away from being second to Solow in that category. Pecararo also should have had 1 or 2 more points than the 7 he ended up with, he was denied an assist by the scorekeeper on the first Davies goal Saturday and had a likely-goal on Friday that was stopped on a play where referee and puck made contact with one another.
Not to be outdone, Davies had 3 goals and 6 points of his own and finds himself neck and neck with Cale Makar in the Hockey East defenseman scoring race, with Makar holding a one point lead but Davies a one goal lead with just three conference games to play.
Griffin and Filipe continue to pace breakout Februarys, with Griffin how owning 5 goals in his last 5 games and Filipe finding the back of the net yet again on Friday. The emergence of those two as well as Schule has suddenly given NU an offense where anybody in the top 9 could conceivably score on any shift, a far cry from the Big Three of last season.
Last but not least, Primeau. After allowing some goals early on Friday he bounced back, keeping UNH off the scoreboard for the last 95 minutes of the weekend and holding down the fort over a few key runs on Saturday, as the Wildcats pressed for the opening goal in the last three minutes of the first and for the tying goal in the last three minutes of the second. His fourth shutout of the season was also his third* career shutout of UNH, in just five starts against them.
Now, we’re on to Boston**. After taking four points in Orono and four points in Durham so far in 2019, the Huskies will look to continue their run against the old Big Four in a home-and-home series where they’ll be heavily favored over 41st-ranked 10-18-3 Boston College. That sentence has definitely never been said before, ever.
*Primeau is only credited with 2 individual shutouts of UNH, as he was pulled from the game on Senior Night last year to allow senior Jake Theut to play. Theut completed the team shutout.