It was only one game – one against a team below .500 at that – but if Friday Night is to be believed, the Huskies are here to stay. On the back of a Nolan Stevens hat trick, Northeastern defeated BU at Agganis Arena by a score of 4-1 and improved to 3-0-0 in Hockey East play for the first time since 2008. It was the first Huskies victory over BU since March 2015 (0-7-1). For his performance, Stevens was named Hockey East Player of the Week, the second consecutive Husky to take the honor after Adam Gaudette did so with his own hat trick performance a week ago. The Huskies looked downright dominant too, with a big advantage in time and in shots before shifting to playing defense and making BU work later in the game.
The first period started out at a tepid pace, with the teams feeling each other out and the Huskies trying to figure out new defensive pairings as freshman Billy Carrabino, brother of former Terrier JD, made his collegiate debut in place of Garret Cockerill (coaches decision). But the Huskies turned it on after the first few minutes and had the majority of the chances, breaking onto the scoresheet at 11:48 when Bobby Hampton received a cross-crease pass from Grant Jozefek and tucked the puck into the net before Jake Oettinger could get over. It appeared the teams would head to the locker room with a score of 1-0, but just as the period ended, Matt Filipe chipped a puck forward to Stevens, who raced in on the breakaway beat Oettinger five-hole as the buzzer sounded. After an extensive review, the replay showed the puck cross the goal line just a few frames before the clock changed to 0.0, and the Huskies entered the intermission with a 2-0 lead. Ryan Ruck saved all 7 shots he faced in the period while NU lead the shot board 14-7.
The second period started with NU on a 4-on-3 (Brandon Hickey had been called for slashing on the Stevens goal) but a Davies penalty offset the advantage. On the ensuing Terriers power play they struck back, as Patrick Harper perfectly played a puck from the corner right to Jordan Greenway in the crease, who easily deflected it home before Ruck could even consider saving it. BU would countinue to put chances on Ruck, who made 8 saves in the first half of the period, before the junior goaltender went down after receiving a WWE-esque Harper forearm to the helmet. While he stayed in the game for a few more moments, Ruck (concussion) exited the game after another scrum moments later (during which a potential BU goal, which would have been Brady Tkachuk’s first, was disallowed) and Cayden Primeau entered the net. Stevens would tally twice more in the frame though, taking a puck in the slot and beating Oettinger for his second of the night before deflecting a Ryan Shea shot home to complete the hat trick. Shea had three assists on the four Huskies goals, while Zach Solow broke a four game scoreless streak with assists on both second period goals.
Up 4-1 entering the third, the Huskies put themselves in a defensive shell, and for the most part there were no good scoring chaces for either side the remainder of the game. That’s not to say it was an uneventful period though, as 4 minutes in, Nikolas Olsson received a game miscoduct for an elbow to the head of Biagio Lerario, who remained on the bench but did not take another shift. BU Captain Brandon Hickey also received a misconduct on the play, which resulted in Olsson being suspended for the return game Friday. Things got more chippy after that, as the Terriers (down 3 goals) and the Huskies (having taken two head injuries on illegal plays in 20 minutes) were called for six more penalties in post-play scrums. Primeau saved all 14 shots he faced in the third for a 19 save “shutout” in relief of Ruck, including holding the Terriers scoreless on a two minute 6-on-4 advantage.
First thing’s first, it was great to see the “second” line step in and put up big numbers after a quiet couple of games the last few weeks. In last week’s recap we alluded to Nolan’s late goal against Lowell getting that line going, and they most certainly delivered, with Stevens’ three goals and Solow and Filipe combining for three assists. That line is going to be important in the future, as Dylan Sikura now exits the Northeastern gameplan at least for the immediate future after sustaining an upper body injury during the game. One more note is that with Cockerill sitting (we’ll get to that later), Solow took his spot on the point of the first power play unit, while Bobby Hampton was added to the second unit. One would assume that means Solow will keep getting extended looks with Sikura out of the lineup.
The offense in general looks to be as deep as ever, with Hampton scoring a goal on the third line and Lincoln Griffin providing some good chances, which again is good news pending whatever Sikura-based reshuffling is about to take place. John Picking was a player that we saw before the year and said could take a big step forward to help the Huskies’ bottom six, and he’s delivered so far, with another solid game and a notable play where he won a defensive zone faceoff by sending the puck forward, up and over the entire BU team, and back into the BU end.
Depending on the severity of Ruck’s injury, and you never really know with concussions until they play themselves out, the Huskies may either have a new goaltender or a newly renewed goaltending battle. Primeau stopped all 19 shots he faced in relief Saturday and looked very good doing it. One would assume that Ruck is out for at least the coming weekend, and as unfortunate as it is for Ryan or anybody else to lose their job due to injury, this is probably the freshman’s chance to play himself into the starting role if he builds on this good game and puts Quinnipiac behind him. He has the look of a dominant goalie, but it remains to be seen whether he can string games together and have the consistency you need, as he’s still an ever-developing 18 year old freshman.
Defensively, well, this game complicated things. With Cockerill’s benching and Carrabino’s addition, the pairings were all over the place. I would venture a guess that everybody played a shift with everybody else (possibly except Owens) and Davies/Shea jumped to the right side to pick up extra shifts seemingly at will. Yet, for all the chaos that should have caused, the Huskies were positively good defensively. A very fast BU team didn’t have any breakaways or even more than a couple of odd-man rushes. The only goal was a very talented power forward getting seperation in the crease on the power play. I hate to say it, but the Huskies, without Cockerill and against the best team they’ve faced, probably had the best defensive game they’ve had all year. Obviously you want him back, he’s a weapon to say the least, but maybe, just maybe, you bring him back in a more limited defensive capacity and see how this new strategy works out wth him in Carrabino’s place. The worry is, of course, burning everybody out. Davies in partcular seems like he plays about 40 minutes a game. But that’s why they don’t pay me to decide these things.
The Huskies come back this weekend, without a top forward and probably their goaltender, to finish their season series with BU on Friday at home and with Lowell on Saturday on the road. It will almost certainly be a high-emotion game with at least two Huskies missing the game due to injuries at the hands of BU. It feels like every weekend is the biggest weekend of the year at this point, but if somehow the Huskies pick up four more points, I think it’s safe to say the hype train is going to go off the rails and hit a high that hasn’t been seen since 2008. And yes, I do remember the Hockey East Championship. Go get em boys.