I’ve spent the last couple of weeks joking around to friends and enemies that Northeastern was going to finish 18-13-3 and not get to play in the Hockey East Tournament. Needless to say, the way it happened, with the Huskies making a heroic push into the field at the last moment without Tyler Madden only to see the entire collegiate sports landscape come to an abrupt halt hours after games were played in front of fans, and in some cases cancelled while games were partly complete, wasn’t how anyone expected.
But the response is justified, it is the very least we as a society can do to combat a growing public health crisis in the midst of a world that would rather yell “fake news” than mount a serious response akin to that of Italy or South Korea. If you think this was an overreaction do speak up, I’ve spent the last few days reading source upon source reporting on this virus, its impacts across the globe, and what we can and cannot do to overcome it and I would be happy to lend you some of the ones I found the most persuasive. As of Wednesday morning I was fully intending to drive to Amherst three times and make a trek back to Boston for the Womens Hockey Quarterfinal inhetween. By the time I went to bed that night, I had come to the conclusion that sports would survive even if this season was lost along the way, and that what had to be done had to be done now, before it was too late. I love watching hockey. Every single person on the ice loves playing hockey. The women’s team is losing their best season in history, their chance at Northeastern’s first NCAA tournament win in a major sport in what feels like forever. But none of that is worth the risk, not even close.
So here we are, the 2019-2020 hockey season is over. I feel sorry for the seniors and for all the other players, not just on these two teams, but across the country. Nobody deserves to have this happen. It’s not fair, not even close, but as time passes, hopefully the scars heal just a little bit, the good parts of the season come clearer into focus, and we can all appreciate the part of the season they did get to enjoy.
In the preseason this was projected to be a transition year for Northeastern Hockey, defined by question marks like the addition of Craig Pantano as a grad transfer goaltender replacing a legend in Cayden Primeau and one of the largest freshman classes in the country. We projected NU to compete for a home ice spot if they overachieved and compete for a playoff spot if they underachieved, and somehow we got both those races unfolding at the same time. Pantano was better than anybody could have reasonably imagined, carrying a team that was routinely outshot and putting up a career year behind them. Jayden Struble took time to warm up after a summer injury but showed everything that he is projected to be as one of the top draft picks in NU history, while Madden put on a campaign that may have finished in a Hobey Baker award had both of their seasons not been cut short in February due to injury. In the end, the Huskies took home their third consecutive Beanpot, a first in the history of the program, thanks to a thrilling overtime win against BU. They beat the Terriers again in their final game. There were some lows this season, but their highs were as high as anyone in the country.
There will be offseason questions. There always are. It remains to be seen whether those questions are answered in the coming days or if they drag out into the late summer depending on how the NHL schedule plays out over the coming months. Madden could join the LA Kings, as could Jordan Harris join the Montreal Canadiens. If they do leave, they’ll be replaced by a stellar class of incoming players that we’ve been hyping up for years, another display of mastery by Jerry Keefe and the coaching staff and perhaps the best class NU has ever brought in. Time will tell.
Thank you to the seniors on this team, who came to Boston on the heels of the first trophy Northeastern won in their lifetime, the 2016 Hockey East Championship, and followed it with another conference title of their own alongside 3 Beanpots and 2 NCAA tournament appearances (with a third within their grasp this spring), they were another transformative class that deserved a better ending than this.
Ryan Shea was one of the best captains NU has seen, winning the Friendship Four MVP, leading the team on the ice playing nearly the entire game every night while making an impact both offensively and defensively. He finishes the shortened season as one of the top scoring defensemen in the entire NCAA, with 31 points, transitioning from a defensive stalwart behind Jeremy Davies into a two-way monster that any other team feared lining up against. Matt Filipe developed from a speedy freshman winger four years ago into one of the best defensive forwards in the game with a scoring touch to match, combining with Shea to lead one of the top penalty killing units in the nation while being robbed of a double-digit goal scoring season. Grant Jozefek had his healthiest season yet, contributing as a top six winger all year and on the power play, including a goal in the Beanpot championship game and multiple 3 point performances while finishing with a team-leading +/-. John Picking continued his patented defensive and faceoff wizardry, adding 5 goals as a middle-six forward as one of the top centermen in Hockey East on the draw. Biagio Lerario, a 4-year fan favorite, kept the team on schedule in the fall, putting up 4 points in an 8 game stretch and contributing to all-important early season wins (they count just as much as the wins in February, if you didn’t know) while the youngsters found their way. Curtis Frye got his first career appearance in goal, made some saves, and even found his way on the stat sheet in his final collegiate game against BU.
The graduate transfers, the newest trend in collegiate athletics, were Brendan van Riemsdyk and Pantano. BvR struggled at times this season, never quite matching the scoring touch that brought him a double-digit goal scoring pedigree at UNH, but he came on strong late, scoring the goal to defeat Harvard in the first round of the Beanpot and becoming a fixture on the power play as the season wound down. Pantano performed better than anyone could have asked, he is the first NU goaltender since Brad Thiessen to start every single game in a season and put up a career high .915 save percentage while winning 18 games, making 888 saves, and notching two shutouts. He is a nominee for the Hockey East Three Stars Award.
Thank you to the seniors, the graduates, and to anyone else who may have played their final game in red and black, for a successful season of NU hockey, yet another of many we’ve been lucky enough to experience and cover in recent years, and to the rest of the players and the coaches who make it all possible. There is a long and strange offseason still to come, as the sports world is affected in ways it hasn’t been in decades, with the real world not far behind. There will be a tomorrow though, there will be a next year, and when there is, the Huskies will be defending yet another Beanpot.