After a 3-1 win against AIC last Saturday, Northeastern played their final (non-Beanpot) non-conference games of the year over the weekend in a home-and-home series with the Bentley Falcons. Bentley had been a thorn in the side of NU in recent years, defeating the Huskies in 2013, sweeping the season series in 2015, and taking a home tie against the Huskies in 2016. Unfortunately, their streak of results against NU continued Friday when Bentley scored a late game-tying goal for a 3-3 tie in Northeastern’s (thankfully) final game at the JAR, but NU rebounded Saturday night to the tune of a 6-1 win in front of a sparse crowd at Matthews. While a sweep would have obviously been ideal, considering NU’s Pairwise situation, the road tie was good enough for NU to hold their ground and exit the weekend in 13th position entering the second half of conference play.
Friday night started as all NU-Bentley road games do, with the Falcons taking an early lead just 5 minutes in, as Brendan Hamblet took the puck down the right wing and fired it past the left arm of Primeau. NU would kill off a John Picking delay of game minor over the middle of the period before striking back with under a minute to play when Biagio Lerario took a centering pass from Grant Jozefek and rifled the puck past Pelino to tie the game at 1. The goal was a crucial one for NU, as they outshot Bentley 10-8 in the period and went into the locker room with momentum rather than the feeling of seeing the same story in the same setting yet again.
The second was fairly uneventful, with no penalties and low shooting numbers until the top line finally broke through with under 7 minutes to play. Jeremy Davies and Dylan Sikura showed off their Team Canada chemistry to bring the puck up the ice, and Sikura found Adam Gaudette in front, where the junior forward gave NU a 2-1 lead. The Huskies did have to kill off a late Jozefek penalty, but went into the locker room holding on to their lead. Northeastern started the third with two more penalties called against them (three penalty kills in a span of seven minutes overall) and on the final one Bentley finally broke through for the tie off the stick of Kyle Schmidt.
It looked like NU would take the lead for good just over the midway point of the period, as Sikura sniped one past Pelino on the rush, but disaster struck 20 seconds later, as Bentley took the puck in 3-on-1, where Cayden Primeau made an outstanding first save to deny the Falcons but couldn‘t do anything as the follow-up shot from Jonathan Desbiens found a wide open net. NU nearly scored in the waning moments when a puck got behind Pelino and somehow skidded through the crease without going in, but in the end, both teams left a chilly arena with a draw for their efforts. NU led shots 36-25 on the game and possessed the puck for the majority of it, but Bentley’s goals were good, clean plays and it would be wrong to say that they didn’t deserve to be in the game.
Saturday Night belonged to the Huskies though. A slow start for NU was compounded by a too many men call in the opening frame, but Gaudette fixed that in short order, corralling the puck in the neutral zone and breaking in for an unassisted shorthanded goal to give NU the lead. Northeastern went to the power play moments later and the first line struck on a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal that Nolan Stevens tapped in the back door. Bentley killed off back-to-back-to-back penalties to end the first and open the second, but on the fourth power play the Huskies struck again, as a Davies point shot was deflected on the way in by Stevens for his second of the night. Bentley did strike back on a power play of their own as Drew Callin absolutely sniped a puck from the left circle off the far post and past Primeau, but NU ended the second with a commanding 3-1 lead.
Just as Saturday belonged to the Huskies, the third belonged to Brandon Hawkins. The transfer came in with 3 assists in 2 games to start the second half of the season and found his scoring touch in the third, first by cleaning up the mess in front after a Jozefek chance, then with an absolute bomb of a shot from the left point to extend the lead to 5-1 in the opening 5 minutes of the frame. Gaudette would join Hawkins and Stevens in the two goal club before the night was done, putting home a diving follow through of his own shot, as the Huskies cruised to a 6-1 victory. Despite being relatively tight on the scoreboard entering the third, the game was never really in doubt, as NU outshot the Falcons 38-14 on the night and allowed just 2 shots in the first and 5 in the third. The Huskies were able to finish the game on a high note too, as with 4 minutes to play senior goaltender Jake Theut entered the crease and saw game action for the first time since 2016, posting a 1-save shutout to finish the night. Theut has now saved every shot he’s faced in 3 of his 4 career appearances for NU.
There’s not a whole lot to glean from a series with such an overmatched opponent, no offense to the Falcons, but there were positives to be found. NU scored 6 even strength goals on the weekend, their best such performance in back-to-back nights since October. Primeau was strong again despite allowing 3 goals on Friday and isn’t showing any signs of regression or rust since the break. Hawkins looks like the player we’ve spent a year and a half hoping he was. Lerario recorded points in back to back games for the first time in his Northeastern career. While NU does need to start picking up wins every time they get a chance and not just skating by staying right on the Pairwise bubble, there’s nothing to complain about. The real test will come this weekend as the Huskies take on a surprisingly strong (especially on the road) Maine team that has found its way into the top 20 in the Pairwise behind their own freshman phenom, Jeremy Swayman, who is probably the best goaltender the Huskies have seen all season. We’ll have that preview later this week, and until then, as always, Go Huskies!