The 2022-23 Northeastern Huskies, perhaps the most preseason hyped edition of the Huskies there has ever been, made their debut on Saturday as they played LIU to a 3-2 overtime win, picking up two-thirds of a win for Pairwise purposes in a game with no conference points on the line. The game served as the only non-conference warmup for the Huskies, who dive directly into Hockey East play with a home set against Vermont next weekend. It’s only the first game of the year, but there were still a good number of takeaways for the Huskies as they go into week 2.
Red lights: Northeastern teased a new lightning system during the summer and it made its debut over the weekend. The change that was most highly pushed on social media was the addition of red lighting, which was used during the intros to the first and third periods as well as after NU goals. The red lights were fun and added a nice effect to the home ice advantage, as did the fact that the new lighting system seems to have a spotlight effect on the ice and dim the stands out. There’s room for improvement here, which we’ll mention later, but it was a welcome sight.
The newcomers: Northeastern scored three goals in this one and they were all by players making their debut on Huntington Ave. Scoring opened in the first period with Braden Doyle netting a shot from the point for his first collegiate goal, with an assist from Jack Williams for his first collegiate point. Doyle has been touted as a puck mover since before he was drafted in 2019, so it was good to see him convert early on.
Cam Lund was buzzing from the onset and showed flashes of why he’s the highest drafted Husky since Jamie Oleksiak in 2011. In his first period he showed off his speed, ability on the boards, and ability to do the “little things” that make a player successful. In the second period of a tie game Lund broke onto the scoresheet on a shot from high in the zone, with his puck striking the post and finding the back of the net on a picture perfect strike. Hopefully the first of many. If this is any indication of where Lund is already, the rest of the league will need to watch out in the second half of the year.
Vinny Borgesi had an open chance for his first goal late in the third period that hit the outside of the net, but came back for round two in overtime. Borgesi made a tremendous backcheck to chase down an LIU rush in the 3 on 3 period, breaking it up by playing the body, and taking the puck back the other way himself, winning the game on a clean shot as Justin Hryckowian drew attention on the back door. The backcheck barely made it into the clip but was the real highlight of the play, as Borgesi made up multiple strides on his way down the ice into the defensive zone. The celebration wasn’t bad either.
Puck Control: It’s no secret that we’ve been frustrated with NU’s quantity of puck possession and shot quantity in recent years as no matter the opponent every game seemed to play out the same. NU dominated puck possession in this one for the first time in quite a while, racking up a 15-4 shot advantage in the first period despite killing two penalties and cruising to a 46-33 advantage by the end of the game. It seemed like an even bigger gap than that while watching the game as NU controlled possession for long stretches. If you have the puck for long stretches of time, chances are lower that it goes in your own net. Saturday night was a welcome sight.
Debut with a win: There are 11 newcomers on the roster for the Huskies this year, in addition to assistant coach Jason Guerriero making his coaching debut for NU. They started out with a game they should feel pretty good about and a result they can be proud of. It was clear from the post-game interviews that they aren’t content with their performance or with dropping a “point” in the pairwise, but a win is a win in the first of 34.
Health: For the first time in what feels like forever, even on opening day, the 19 skaters and goaltender in the lineup for NU represent their best 20 best players and those who should comprise the lineup every night. From the outside looking in it appears they entered game 1 intact and left it intact, a small victory, but an important one nonetheless.
Work to be Done
Game lighting: We talked above about some highlights of the new lighting system, but it wasn’t without some negatives. The regular game lighting is more than a little weird. It seems like some of the lights are directly in the sight lines of fans, particularly in the DogHouse where there was a weird reflection off the black seating and some students seemed uncomfortable staring into a light all game. The system also creates some shadows on the ice that are more akin to the ones seen in outdoor hockey games, with the end boards and netting casting shadows on the ice behind both nets, the goalposts casting shadows, and the players casting shadows in every direction in some spots. They could use some refining, and at the very least will take some getting used to.
Banners: This may be something that annoys me specifically, but I think the last time NU was ready for the start of the season with a complete set of updated banners in the rafters was 2016. Nobody else seems to have this problem. At the very least, a banner commemorating the program’s first-ever conference regular season title and a banner commemorating the Women’s Hockey team returning to the Frozen Four were missing from the rafters. I’m sure they’ll appear unannounced at some point in 2023, but this should not be all that hard to get right. Especially when it happens every single year.
Returnee contributions: NU has one of the top rated returning lineups in the entire country up front and when the newcomers scored all 3 goals, that leaves a long list of returnees who didn’t. The top line of McDonough-Hryckowian-Lund gets credit for Lund’s goal and helped with Borgesi’s winner but the two returnees on the line didn’t register a point. The 1B line of Fontaine-Jack Hughes-Colangelo is one that NU will rely on often this season and got shut out, as did the veteran third line of Novak-Walsh-Riley Hughes. The fourth line was on the ice for Doyle’s goal and Matt DeMelis and Matt Choupani registered assists on each of the regulation goals. The contributions from those areas will come sooner rather than later surely, but they were needed in this one.
Special teams: NU allowed a power play goal to LIU (following a pretty weak call during a post-period scuffle) which ultimately allowed LIU to bring this one into OT. The Huskies are coming off a season where they had a prolific penalty kill so it would have been nice to start out with a clean game on that front. On the power play the Huskies technically went 0-3 for a -1 net special teams day, although their setup improved every power play (0 shots on number 1, 3 shots on number 2, and 5 shots on number 3 with Lund scoring shortly after it expired.) There are some mitigating circumstances here; it’s a bit unfathomable that NU was called for more penalties than LIU considering the how often NU had the puck and had LIU penned into the zone plus the fact that one of the few calls against LIU was for a football tackle to break up an odd-man rush, but that’s adversity that needs to be dealt with over the course of a season. Head Coach Jerry Keefe also mentioned in his postgame press conference that the team started powerplay work this past Wednesday, just three days prior to gametime. Expect the powerplay to sharpen as the team gets more practice under their belts.
Dropping a “point”: You knew this was coming. This is a game that Northeastern should have won outright considering the teams’ relative talent levels, standing, and preseason expectations. Getting the win in the extra period and salvaging the extra 33% of a win goes a long way, but there may come a point in March where we look back and wonder “What if NU had gotten that first one in regulation?” Sure, it was only game 1 and the reaction from the players and staff has been a resoundingly positive “Glad we won, but we can do better.” But unfortunately the games in October and the games in March all count the same and the margins are always incredibly slim, hopefully this one doesn’t end up as a what-if.
The Huskies will now move into conference play, where they should once again be heavy favorites in a pair of home games against Vermont after the Catamounts were thoroughly run out of their own building at home by UConn during opening weekend. The games aren’t played on paper though and the Huskies have struggled with Vermont as much as they’ve struggled against anyone in the last three or so years. Hopefully some tape and a week of practice will help guide them through their home-game-laden October slate.