#8 Northeastern Splits Weekend With #1 UMass

In a weekend battle between the two top teams in Hockey East, and among the two best in the NCAA, Northeastern and the University of Massachusetts split their home-and-home series, with the teams defending their home ice each night. UMass throttled Northeastern on Friday night at Mullins Center 6-1, while Northeastern won in dramatic fashion on Saturday, 2-1 in overtime at Matthews Arena.

There have been a lot of words said and tweeted about both games already, so rather than a play-by-play and analysis of each goal/period like we normally do, I’m going to offer my thoughts on the games collectively. If you’d like to see our thoughts in real time during the weekend, please check us out on Twitter @NUHockeyBlog.

Friday Night– this was nothing short of an old-fashioned butt kicking by UMass. Coach Madigan was quoted after the game saying “we got shitkicked,” calling it one of the worst losses in the last five years. Credit to Coach for not sugar-coating it or coach-speaking the game away, and further credit for taking responsibility, as he put it for “not having our team ready.” From the onset of the game, UMass was clearly faster, more precise, and more prepared than the Huskies, and it showed in all three zones and for nearly the whole 60 minutes.

  • We all expected UMass to be good going into the game. What I was not expecting was the speed that they played with, and the innate ability for all 5 skaters to pass the puck precisely to the tape of their teammates’ sticks, and for those teammates to receive the puck in a way that kept the team moving forward and dangerously. It was a clinic of precision that looked like it came off an XBox highlight reel, not real life. We saw these types of passes in multiple ways, including defensive zone breakouts, offensive zone break-ins, and passes throughout the offensive zone to set up chances and goals.
  • The UMass defense is as good as advertised. Cale Makar is the best player I’ve seen all year, and is worth the price of admission. All 6 defensemen generate shots on net, and they can all pass. Makar had a breakout pass from his own faceoff dots to the NU blue line to spring Brett Boeing for a breakaway goal (off Eric Williams’ skates), and Makar and Ty Farmer each had shot-passes to teammates on the back post for easy tip-in goals. They also do an excellent job getting sticks in passing lanes, shooting lanes, and working to get the puck off the offensive players, leaving goaltender Matt Murray to save only the easier shot chances that tend to get through to him.
  • UMass has an extremely aggressive powerplay. They are constantly moving the puck around, and similar to NU and BU’s powerplay, they like the get the puck to the skater on the goal line next to the net. Unlike NU’s powerplay though, this skater doesn’t hold the puck for long when he gets it, instead often cutting to the net to try and stuff it past the goalie and generate a rebound. This is how UMass got their second goal, a rebound powerplay one from Jacob Pritchard.
  • UMass dominated shots on goal (38-16) and won the majority of the faceoffs (33-25) without their top centerman in the lineup. Sophomore John Leonard missed the game with an illness.
  • The crowd at Mullins Center was loud, and it filled in quite nicely for being a Friday night without students. It’s easy to see why the arena was a graveyard when the team was bad, but now that they are good, fans are coming out in droves to support their school, and it’s awesome to see (even if it wasn’t so awesome getting shellacked).
  • Northeastern was very much DOA from the first period on. They struggled to get shots on net, struggled to get anything set up in the offensive zone when they could not retrieve the puck off their dump and chases, and struggled to get the puck off of UMass when the Minutemen set up in the offensive zone. Cayden Primeau had arguably his worst statistical start of the year, but he was not helped by his defense all game. After allowing his fifth goal, he was pulled for senior Ryan Ruck, who allowed one goal but also made some nice saves to keep the score from being a bloodbath.
  • Tyler Madden scored the lone goal for Northeastern on a 4-on-3 powerplay in the third period.

Saturday Night– What a difference 24 hours makes. Playing in front of a sold-out, raucous Matthews Arena, Northeastern played one of their best games of the season to defeat the Minutemen in overtime. Outshot again 46-24, Northeastern was much, much better than they were the previous night. Cayden Primeau rebounded to post his best game of the season, with some highlight-reel saves that we will see for quite some time in his video packages, including a save on a Makar breakaway with under 30 seconds left when the score was tied in regulation.

  • The crowd was honestly 50-50 in terms of representation. The NU students did an excellent job representing the school and themselves, but UMass was just as loud, if not louder at times. All three goals brought the roof off the building, and there were some excellent back-and-forths between the fan bases.
  • Throughout the night, Northeastern was more physical, more precise, and more aware in their own defensive zone. They did an excellent job knocking loose pucks in the slot and goal area to the corners and the side boards to prevent second chances for UMass, and they controlled the puck far more than on Saturday; fewer dump and chases, fewer icings due to long missed passes, and fewer own-zone turnovers due to mismanaging the puck. In particular, I thought Williams, Julian Kislin, and Jeremy Davies had extremely strong games defensively, as did forwards John Picking, Tyler Madden, and Zach Solow.
  • The Huskies struck first by capitalizing on a rare UMass mistake, when Davies worked the puck off a UMass forward at the blue line and scored backhand on a breakaway over Murray.
  • Umass would start the third period down 1-0 and came out with a fire lit under their butts, peppering Primeau with shot after shot, from nearly every angle, until John Leonard made his presence known, tying the game from the slot after a Ty Farmer pass bounced its way to him from below the goal line. A bit of an unlucky break for Primeau, but a goal that was roughly an hour in the making with how much UMass was pressuring him. That goal also brought the UMass crowd back into it, and they gave the NU DogHouse all they could handle verbally.
  • The Huskies’ forecheck made some great plays during the game, none better than forcing a turnover that led to a Hawkins chance to regain the lead, but a slight hesitation led to a shot just over the crossbar.
  • Just as NU had an excellent chance to win it, so did UMass, as Makar picked Picking’s pocket with under 30 seconds to go, and had his breakaway stoned by Primeau’s glove. UMass fans were complaining after the game about Jordan Harris not getting called for a slash and while there may be something there, that’s a 50-50 call that UMass has no real platform to gripe about in the context of this game. There were plenty of non-calls both ways. Take nothing away from Primeau though- that was Grade A positioning.
  • In overtime, each team had one shot on net. UMass’ was saved. Northeastern’s was not. An excellent play by Hawkins got the puck to Tyler Madden, who led a 2-on-1 rush, and backhanded the puck over Murray to seal the win for Northeastern.
  • Madden’s excellent freshman season gets a pretty legit capstone to hang his hat on here, an incredible backhander over one of the best goalies in the conference, and then an all-world celebration kayaking down the ice in front of the UMass bench. I’ve only ever seen that celebration in EA Sports NHL video games. The fact that he brought it out in real life is nothing short of epic.
  • The Huskies were once again outshot, and out-faceoff’d (33-30), but they played so much better Saturday compared to Friday, that the statistics are almost immaterial. Saturday’s performance is evidence that they can hang with the best teams in the conference and the nation, and between this game and the St. Cloud game, they showed they can beat those same teams. Cayden Primeau is elite enough to take this team far on his back.
  • Brandon Hawkins has been on a tear the last 10+ games for the Huskies

And lastly, this split was exactly what we had hoped for from a PairWise perspective. The Huskies are sitting 7th right now, comfortably within the NCAA field at-large, and if they can win 7-8 of their remaining 12 games of the season, they should feel very confident about getting a low 2 or high 3 seed for the tournament.

A home-and-home with #14 Providence is upcoming, another massive weekend for conference and PairWise standing. We will have a preview later this week.

As always, go Huskies!