Huskies Sweep UMass-Lowell, But At What Cost?

Behind 54 saves from Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week Craig Pantano, the Northeastern Huskies swept the UMass-Lowell Riverhawks to gain a crucial 4 points in the Hockey East standings, and further cement themselves in good PairWise status as we head into the season’s final weeks.

The Friday tilt was in Lowell, traditionally a place Northeastern has had success, and they replicated that historical trend to the tune of three goals, one per period, including a powerplay goal from Tyler Madden and the eventual game-winning goal from Ryan Shea. Grant Jozefek added an empty net goal with under 1 second to spare in the third.

Saturday’s matchup at Matthews Arena saw the River Hawks jump out to an early 1-0 lead, but that would be their only tally of the night. Late in the first period, Mike Kesselring would tie up the game with a booming slap shot, and in the third period fellow freshman Matt DeMelis would bank an odd-angle shot off a Lowell defender and past goaltender Tyler Wall. On the Kesselring goal, freshman Alex Mella collected his first collegiate point with a secondary assist.

Seriously, what a bomb from Kesselring. I’ve wanted to see more of those all season, and with the injuries hitting Northeastern forwards and defensemen alike, I hope he and Bucheler start unloading their slap shots to generate some chaos in front, both from tips and from rebounds/loose pucks.

There is not much commentary to give on the games from a hockey perspective. The Huskies were a perfect 4 for 4 on the penalty kill, though only clicked 1 of 6 on the powerplay. They had dangerous looks both games with the man advantage. Lowell outshot NU on the weekend thanks to a +11 advantage on Friday, and held a double-digit advnatage at one point Saturday, but a late flurry and surge by Northeastern put the Huskies +2 on the night.

The biggest piece of news comes on the injury front: star sophomore Tyler Madden was injured in the final minute of Friday’s game, blocking a shot and immediately grabbing his left hand/wrist. Reports came out Saturday that Madden has a broken finger, and will be out 4-6 weeks. Observational reports of Madden Saturday said that his pointer and middle fingers were splinted together. The fact that it was not his thumb is the best news, as that recovery takes even longer.

4-6 weeks puts the earliest return timetable at the opening round of Hockey East Playoffs (March 13-15). If he takes the full time, he would be back during the weekend of the NCAA Tournament Regionals. In either case, it is all but certain that the Huskies will play their final six regular season games without their top scorer, most dangerous forward, and offensive catalyst.

So where do the Huskies go from here? We saw on Saturday that the Huskies do not have twelve healthy forwards as of that game- in addition to Madden, Matt Filipe (concussion) and TJ Walsh (upper body injury) have been out, although Filipe is considered day-to-day and his return would be MASSIVE for Northeastern as it stands. If Filipe is back, the Huskies would return to a normal 12 F/7 D linechart, with Billy Carrabino relegated to the stands again.

Northeastern will need all hands on deck to generate offense, and even moreso to suppress opposition offense. This means more shots coming from the bottom six, more shots from the point, and likely more goals scored out of scrums and plays near the net rather than plays meant for the highlight reel. Madden’s talent may be irreplaceable at this point in the season, but his passion, his motor, his offensive output all can be if the team buys into the game plan and each player does their job well.

The road gets even harder, as the Huskies will play two with Boston College this weekend, who is currently atop the conference. With first place and ninth place separated only by five points, every game’s magnitude is intensified. The Eagles have been a juggernaut at times, but are susceptible to lulls and being beaten. If the Huskies can steal points from the Eagles this week, they’ll be sitting in a good spot for conference and NCAA Tournament play.

Feature image via Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics,