Two weeks removed from their Belpot championship – and a week removed from their jetlag and Irish Whiskey induced hangover against BU – the Northeastern Huskies were back at it Saturday afternoon for the last game of the fall semester, hosting a battle with Dartmouth that also serves as a preview of half of next year’s Ledyard Classic field. The Huskies sandwiched a Dartmouth run between a pair of three-goal outbursts for the Huntington Hounds, cruising their way to a 6-4 victory at Matthews Arena.
The Huskies entered the game without three of their top six defensemen, as Julian Kislin and Jeremie Bucheler remained out while Jayden Struble joined them. With Jordan Harris going to World Juniors alongside Jerry Keefe and potentially missing a game or two, that’s definitely something to watch going forward. Struble’s newfound injury also explains his confusing lack of invitation to join the USA camp alongside Harris. The injury woes didn’t deter NU from getting off to a hot start though, as they outshot Dartmouth 11-6 in the first frame and struck three times, first when Jordan Harris made an out-of-this-world pass to find John Picking just as he appeared at the back door, the next coming from a Harris shot that Neil Shea tipped over to Matt Filipe for a wide open finish, and finally on a Canucks patented and Keefe developed Madden-to-McDonugh one time goal.
Dartmouth got all three goals back at the start of the second period in a run of play Craig Pantano wants back, including two goals in eight seconds to tie the game, but Jim Madigan called timeout after the third goal and Dartmouth committed a faceoff violation on the ensuing draw. The Huskies got back to work from there, first scoring on yet another Aidan McDonough power play one-time finish, then again on the power play as Ryan Shea put his newfound scoring touch back to work, going off the iron and in once again, and a third time on a Tyler Madden tally. All that to end the second period exactly as the first ended, with NU holding a three goal lead. Dartmouth did get one of their goals back early in the third, but it was too little too late, as the Huskies carried the lead through the third fairly uneventfully until the end.
There was a late incident where Dartmouth had Adrian Clark pulled and NU sent the puck towards the empty net, with a Dartmouth player making an all-out play to prevent the goal then going headfirst into the boards a moment later. From my vantage point it looked like a hockey play gone wrong, but Dartmouth (understandably) disagreed, immediately getting into a scrum behind the net that resulted in a game disqualification alongside an additional penalty for Abuse of Officials. The Huskies sat back on the ensuing 5 on 3 and watched the clock run out, ending the first half with the health of all involved hopefully intact.
A week before the non-conference win, the Huskies fell from first to fifth in the Hockey East standings by way of their loss to BU, and realistically they are in sixth to end the semester considering BC is one game back with four games in hand. While that positioning to end the first half would have hardly been surprising at the start of the year, it is a bit surprising now considering the team played well for most of the first half outside of a brief struggle in early November. The real culprit here is the closeness of the standings though, flipping a single conference loss to a win would vault them all the way into first place outright going into the break. BC is probably the best team in Hockey East this year, and if they convert on their games in hand the standings will show that, but it’s all out race for the rest of the playoff spots right now, with second and sixth separated by essentially nothing. NU will need good play all the way from the net to the opposing crease in the second half, especially as their Hockey East Bonus Games are essentially the toughest in the conference and every point gained and lost there could be the difference.
It’s also probably about the correct time of year to take a look at the Pairwise, as the Huskies clock in squarely on the bubble at 15, probably a bit lower than would be expected considering their 11-5-2 record as a Hockey East institution. However, the conference as a whole has been mediocre in games against Atlantic Hockey this season, a trend the Huskies didn’t exactly help with when they tied Holy Cross, and their other non-conference opponents have been relatively underwhelming, starting with perennial #1 St Cloud State hanging around in the 40’s in the pairwise and only escalating from there. Once again, if you offered up 15th place at the break at the start of October, I think the answer would have been a unanimous “Yes!”. But considering how we got here and some of the wins NU has under their belt, the final result feels just a tad underwhelming and perhaps a tad below this team’s actual skill level too.
Individually, Tyler Madden is tied for the national goal scoring lead with 13 and is third nationally with 24 points, while Zach Solow posted a 20 point semester that puts him just outside of the national top 10 in both assists and points. The defense lead quietly has gone to Ryan Shea, whose 3-15-18 semester puts him second in Hockey East defense scoring and has him as one of the assist-leaders among any player in Hockey East, as well as tops among defensemen. Aidan McDonough’s 7 goals (all on the power play) lead Hockey East freshmen, and with his 8 assists added, he’s just barely second in freshman points per game, 0.06 behind BU’s Trevor Zegras. Oddly enough, winger Matt Filipe leads the conference in faceoff percentage. Craig Pantano has cooled off some after his otherworldly start and enters the break as essentially an average Hockey Eaat goalie, saving .916, but that number is tops among the three Hockey East grad transfer goalies this season.
As team statistics go, NU is somewhere between middling and average in essentially everything, with two notable exceptions. The first is their penalty kill, which places second in the nation at an astounding 93.2 success rate; a mark that if they sustain it would be one of the best in recent memory for any team in the country. The other is their shooting percentage, which sits at 11.9%, sixth in the country and nearly three full percentage points above the national average. While there’s some obvious reasons for this (Madden being among the best players in the country, McDonough’s power play one timers), it’s also likely not sustainable, and NU is due for some more average games instead of continuing to jump out to 3-0 leads within their first ten shots of every game, as has become commonplace lately.
That’s about it until the Huskies roll in to Hartford to match up with Hockey East’s other Huskies in 2020. Until then look out for a recap of future Huskies’ performances around junior hockey, including a breakout season for one of the best names around, Gunnarwolfe Fontaine.