Pantano Powers Huskies to the Beanpot Finals

Behind 27 saves from Craig Pantano, including multiple saves on a crucial 5-on-3 penalty kill early in the third period while nursing a one goal lead, the Northeastern Huskies defeated the Harvard Crimson 3-1 in the first game of the 2020 Beanpot. The Huskies advance to their third straight finals, and will make a bid for the first threepeat in program history in the historic tournament. They will play Boston University next Monday night.

Harvard struck early in the game on the powerplay, a unit that scores at a 30% success rate, the best in the country. However Northeastern would answer later in the first period with a powerplay goal of their own when Zach Solow tipped in a Ryan Shea point shot. It was Solow’s sixth powerplay goal of the season, two behind Aidan McDonough for the team lead. 

If the first period could be categorized as favoring Northeastern, the second period was the opposite, as Harvard dominated the Huskies for nearly the entire second frame, outshooting and out-possessing the Huskies essentially wire to wire. However, the Huntington Hounds would get the sole tally of the period, again from the benefit of a strong powerplay. As a Harvard penalty expired, the second powerplay unit led by Grant Jozefek got the puck below the goal line, and the senior winger threaded a pinpoint pass to the stick of Brendan van Riemsdyk, who tipped the puck past goaltender Mitchell Gibson to give the Huskies a lead they would not relinquish.

It was a huge moment for van Riemsdyk, who spoke in the postgame comments about this year not being incredibly productive for him on the scoresheet, but his continued hard work and the coaches’ faith in him as a regular on the third line and second powerplay was rewarded with arguably the biggest goal of his career. 

The third period presented near-peril early on, after a Mike Kesselring cross-checking penalty gave Harvard a nearly-full two minute five-on-three powerplay within the first minute of the period. In one of their best performances to date, the Huskies’ penalty kill, combined with Pantano shutting the door and locking it shut, kept the Crimson off the board. The onslaught continued all period as the Huskies were hanging on for dear life the entire period, with whistles and stoppages few and far between, seeming to favor the speed and fresh legs from Harvard. 

With the Harvard goaltender pulled for the final two minutes, it was the captain who stepped up to propel the Huskies to the championship round, as Shea collected a loose puck in the defensive zone near the goal crease, and lofted it up through the neutral zone and deposited it softly into the vacant net, sending The Doghouse and Northeastern faithful into a frenzy for the final 51 seconds until the buzzer sounded. 

No one would argue that it was the Huskies’ best game of the season; some could even say it was an ugly performance, and inconsistent at best. What I would say, though, is that it was a winning performance. Hockey minds like to say that anything is possible with strong goaltending, and Craig Pantano was the difference in this game. In his first Beanpot performance, and probably the biggest stage of his career, he was calm, poised, and provided the veteran presence in net that we have come to expect all season. 

The penalty kill rebounded after giving up the early powerplay goal, and between killing off the five-minute major against Providence and now a near two-minute 5-on-3, they are peaking at the right time as well, and offer an incredible asset to the coaching staff. In addition, as we noted on Twitter on Tuesday, this team clearly takes pride in its ability to block and alter shots. Multiple players had blocks that were just as influential in the game as the goals scored, including Biagio Lerario, Julian Kislin, and Mike Kesselring. As we said, we truly believe some of these players would rather block a big shot than score a goal, and that attitude and identity permeates the roster from seniors to freshmen. 

The Crimson made an effort to shut down Tyler Madden, and largely did so outside his assist on the Solow goal, but as we’ve seen from the last few championship Northeastern teams, players step up to score goals in the big moments. Monday night, it was Brendan van Riemsdyk’s turn. 

Now the Huskies will venture up to Orono to play Maine on Friday night (thanks, Joe Bertagna) for one game before coming back and playing the Terriers on Monday. Maine is undefeated at home, has an incredibly passionate fan base, and has a great goaltender paired with some solid scoring ability. It’s hardly an easy task, but these Huskies are up for it. With two games in hand on Maine in the Hockey East standings while being only a point behind them, this is a huge chance for the Huskies to make up some ground towards a home playoff game, as well as get another quality road conference win locked in for the PairWise calculator. Monday’s game will be huge, but Friday’s game is arguably even bigger in the season’s grand scheme. 

We will not be in Orono but we will be watching from Boston, follow us @NUHockeyBlog for live game updates and all Huskies hockey news. We will see you Monday night at TD Garden. As always, go Huskies!

Feature image from Northeastern University’s official Twitter account @Northeastern