Northeastern certainly didn’t start the season on a dull note, as their weekend series with Quinnipiac was a whirlwind of emotion from start to finish.
On Friday night, the Huskies came out a bit slow to start new year. They were heavily outshot by Quinnipiac in the first period and the Bobcats struck first on a “goal” in which Ryan Ruck was buried under the body of Landon Smith and completely unable to get back to his net. Impromptu goaltender Garret Cockerill gave his best effort while camped out in the crease, but was ultimately unable to block the puck from sailing top shelf. The goal was allowed to stand on review, likely because of a shove from John Stevens to Smith before contact was made with Ruck, but Smith certainly wasn’t in a rush to allow the goaltender get back to his net on the play. Another split second and Ruck may have been there.
The Huskies would get the goal back on a power play in the second, as a fantastic individual play by Dylan Sikura led to a tic-tac-toe play between Sikura, Grant Jozefek, and Lincoln Griffin that ended with Griffin getting an easy tap in on the far post of Quinnipiac goaltender Chris Truehl. The Bobcats and Huskies traded two more goals in the third, with Bo Pieper putting a rebound past Ryan Ruck before Dylan Sikura once again came through for the Huskies. Sikura, playing as the sixth attacker with Ryan Ruck pulled, stopped a clearing pass by the Bobcats and fired a shot at the net which was deflected by Nolan Stevens for the game-tying goal. The overtime period was relatively uneventful, with Quinnipiac playing just to tie and Northeastern only managing one dangerous chance, which Adam Gaudette couldn’t put home. Northeastern dominated the shot board from the second period onwards and would outshoot Quinnipiac on the game despite the first period deficit.
Overall, the Huskies played to win Friday and were the better team. Gaudette stood out as a player who was absolutely everywhere both offensively and defensively, and he had 6 shots on goal in the game despite not scoring. Other standouts included Jeremy Davies, who played first line minutes on the Huskies’ even strength, power play, and PK lines, and did so extremely effectively in all three facets, and Grant Jozefek. Davies is not only a playmaker and power play quarterback from the point, but is dominant defensively as well. The line of Davies and Eric Williams at times seems to never leave the ice no matter the situation. Jozefek’s passing skills have been talked about often in the years leading up to his debut for the Huskies, and he delivered, putting pucks through holes other players wouldn’t even have seen and delivering a perfect pass to Griffin on the power play goal where the latter didn’t even have to move his stick. Ryan Ruck wasn’t beaten cleanly in the game, but did give up a bad rebound to set up the Bobcats’ second goal on a puck he should have handled cleanly.
On Saturday, the Huskies played well to start the game and built up a big shot differential early, but couldn’t put the puck in the net. Northeastern did end up outshooting Quinnipiac for the second game in a row, but that was about the only redeeming part of an extremely sloppy game for the defending Hockey East Champions. The Bobcats put up two goals on their first five shots, both on NU miscues. The first was on a 3-on-1 rush for Quinnipiac just as a Huskies’ power play expired, and the second came on a defensive lapse where the Huskies couldn’t control the puck and ended up leaving it right in front of the net for Carlis Cukste to easily put past Ryan Ruck.
After the first period, it became a game of special teams, as 20 minor penalties were called in the second and third periods, including multiple 5 on 3 chances for the Huskies and a period of 4 minutes where the Bobcats never left the power play and had multiple 5 on 3 opportunities as NU continually committed more infractions. That entire sequence started with the absolute worst too many men penalty this writer has ever seen, as the Huskies had six men all on the ice and participating in the play as they entered the offensive zone, completely oblivious to the fact that there were four forwards playing. Despite the best efforts of the non-penalized Huskies, that long power play eventually culminated in a goal that barely rolled into the net after somehow squeezing through Ruck.
The Huskies’ power play was awful as well, with continuous stretches of perimeter passing as the Bobcats’ defense simply stood in the middle and watched the Huskies pass up shooting lanes in favor running the same two alternating passing plays. With the obvious exception of Eric Williams, the rest of the team was scared to shoot or do anything creative at all. Even when Quinnipiac went down 5 on 3, they killed the Huskies’ play relatively easily by simply standing between the puck and the net and watching the Huskies’ inability to make anything happen or get the puck inside.
The third period capped off the disappointing effort, as the Huskies’ defense allowed two more goals, both on breakaways, including a shorthanded breakaway caused by a lazy Cockerill pass and the dagger, a breakaway at the Huskies’ empty net after Ruck was pulled.
The one player who stood out despite the poor effort was once again Adam Gaudette, who scored a goal on the rebound of a Ryan Shea shot. Gaudette put up TEN shots on goal on the night, for a total of 16 on the weekend, and looks like he could be on pace for a fantastic season for the Huskies. The first line has been good at moving the puck around the boards, as they always are, but they haven’t generated much in the high-scoring areas and have been on the ice for a number of goals scored against the Huskies. The bottom six for Northeastern did play less than they usually would due to the abundance of special teams play, but even when they did play, they were invisible. Four of the six forwards failed to record a shot on net, and the two who did manage to shoot the puck at the net were both held without a shot for two of the three periods. The Huskies’ success last year came because they received contributions from all four lines and had a lethal power play, both of which were obviously absent on Saturday. (The power play ended the game with 1 goal scored on 12 chances, an individual effort from Zach Aston-Reese, who knocked in the rebound of his own shot long after the game was out of hand.)
While the Huskies did have a sloppy effort, they were facing the second ranked team in the NCAA, picked up a tie, and have time to get their legs under them and get the kinks worked out before conference play begins. But after the Huskies fought for 65 minutes on Friday, came from behind twice to force a tie, and never gave up, the effort they gave on Saturday leaves a lot to be desired. The 0-1-1 Huskies return to the ice this Friday, when they take on Bentley at the Jon A. Ryan Skating “Arena” in Watertown.