New “Big Three” Powers Huskies to Sweep at Sacred Heart

After an offseason of debate about who would possibly score for Northeastern after last year’s dynamic trio of Adam Gaudette, Dylan Sikura, and Nolan Stevens moved on to the pro ranks, that question was answered this weekend against Sacred Heart. The Huskies got 10 goals from 9 different scorers, employing the scoring by committee approach many expected. But what we didn’t expect was the utter dominance of the starting 5 of Liam Pecararo, Tyler Madden, Brandon Hawkins, Jeremy Davies, and Jordan Harris. All five found the back of the net this weekend, including Madden notching a pair of goals, while the rest of the scoring came via the second line, with Zach Solow, Grant Jozefek, and Brandon Schultz each knocking in a goal of their own. Assistant captain John Picking added the final tally. Cayden Primeau allowed two early goals before shutting out the Pioneers for the last four periods of play en route to a Hockey East Defensive Player of the Week performance.

On Friday the Huskies came out a bit slow as they shook off their rink rust and got their first taste of action for the new year, after not playing an exhibition game in Week 1 for the first time in recent memory. The Pioneers took a 1-0 lead into the first intermission and a 2-1 lead into the second intermission, with the lone Husky goal scored by Brandon Schultz after a puck from John Picking bounced to him in the slot. The Huskies would turn it on from there, scoring just 7 seconds into the third when Brandon Hawkins took advantage of a SHU defender falling down after the opening faceoff. Zach Solow and Grant Jozefek scored two goals in five minutes in the middle of the period to help the Huskies pull away, and with a 4-2 lead and under 2 minutes to play, Tyler Madden forced a turnover and scored into the empty net, sealing an NU win with his first collegiate goal.

On Saturday the Huskies came out with much the same team, only swapping in Matt Thomson and AJ Villella, who made their Husky debuts as the 13th F and 6th D, respectively. Unlike the previous night, NU came out scoring early and often, with Jordan Harris recording his first collegiate goal just 2:36 in by shooting the puck wide of the net and having it careen in. Liam Pecararo added his first goal as a Husky in the 2nd and Tyler Madden followed with the first NU Powerplay goal of the year to give the Huskies a 3-0 lead after 2. Jeremy Davies added a goal in the third and John Picking added a dagger in the final minute to stake the Huskies to a 5-0 victory. NU scored 9 unanswered goals to end the weekend. Cayden Primeau saved every one of the final 35 shots he faced on the weekend, including a 25 save shutout on Saturday with a few Grade A saves to preserve it late.

The revelation of the weekend was the dominance of the Huskies’ top players, with Primeau picking up where he left off last year and the new look first line looking almost like the first line of last season. While we expected that Tyler Madden and Liam Pecararo would contribute in the top six this season, the first line pairing both of them with Hawkins was a surprise and it’s safe to say it was a welcome one. They were dominant from the first minute of the game, launching shot after shot at SHU goaltender Brett Magnus (22 combined shots on goal) both at even strength and as the Huskies’ first power play line, picking up 8 points for their efforts. It remains to be seen how they perform once the competition picks up, but there’s nothing but positives to report so far. Madden looks to be the real deal, playing on the Huskies’ first even strength, power play, and penalty kill units and having no hesitation to play up front where Huskies fans are accustomed to seeing the much larger Nolan Stevens and Zach Aston-Reese hang out, while Pecararo was absolutely everywhere on both ends of the ice and just may be worth the 2.5 years we waited to see him suit up in the red and black.

Not to be overshadowed by the new Big Three, the second line of Brandon Schultz, Zach Solow, and Grant Jozefek didn’t do too badly for themselves either. Each picked up a goal on the weekend and Solow looks almost like a different player than last season, going from a pass-first apprehensive shooter to a player with no hesitation to fire the puck from his point spot on the first power play. Brandon Schultz switched his number to 21 and seemingly took Nolan’s mindset with it, showing aggressiveness, strength, and confidence that weren’t there last year. Of course, the Huskies’ middle six feasted on SHU last season before a relatively underwhelming campaign in conference play, so they’ll have to work to keep the momentum going and give the Huskies the depth scoring that has been missing over the last few years.

Notably, Matt Filipe (as well as Ryan Ruck and Austin Goldstein) missed the first series, reportedly due to injury. It will be interesting to see where (or if) Filipe fits into the top six when he comes back, hopefully showing the same improvement Solow and Schultz have displayed. Ruck should be solidly below Primeau on the depth chart, but regardless will be a key member of the Huskies and it would have been nice to see him this weekend. Hopefully whatever kept him out is both new and minor, not an extension of the concussion symptoms that cost him nearly all of last season after Patrick Harper rocked him in a game at BU in November.

On defense, Jordan Harris joined Jeremy Davies to form the new Huskies top pairing, with both left shot defensemen seemingly switching spots whenever they found convenient. Harris picked up a primary assist and a goal in his first weekend straight from prep, although to be honest both were more than helped by lucky bounces. Harris was almost invisible defensively, which is easily the biggest compliment and praise you can give an 18 year old defenseman shot straight up to the first pairing. Davies on the other hand was quite visible Friday, caught on a few bad pinches and forward on a few odd-man rushes, forcing play somewhat instead of playing defensively sound hockey. He came back and showed why he’s the Huskies’ best defenseman on Saturday though, with a strong game in back and effectiveness when he did go forward, scoring a goal on a play where he walked down to the goal line and cut to the net before beating Magnus by roofing a backhand that was as pretty as any I’ve ever seen.

Ryan Shea and Eric Williams were as solid as ever, with the captain getting a bit of a run on the PP1 in game 1 before ultimately being replaced by Solow. Colin Murphy was one of the surprises of the weekend and has clearly benefited from a full offseason with the program after being a stopgap addition to the roster last December, playing significantly more minutes than he did in games last year and like Harris doing so with an almost effortless effectiveness . Murphy was paired with Billy Carrabino and AJ Villella on the third line, while Julian Kislin is the only NU newcomer yet to make his debut.

The Huskies’ penalty kill got off to a good start, killing all 5 of the Pioneers’ chances on the weekend and managing 3 shorthanded shots across those chances. As noted before, Madden and Pecararo led the first forward PK unit. The power play was effective inside the zone, despite scoring just a single goal on the weekend they racked up a number of solid chances and employed the same kind of setup Jerry Keefe’s Huskies have used for a number of years, with Madden in the middle, Hawkins and Pecararo on the wings, and Davies and Solow on the points. The second unit could use a little work with Jozefek, Schultz, Patrick Schule, Shea, and Harris. Solow playing on the first power play instead of centering the second line seems to weaken the unit considerably, at least until Matt Filipe comes back and presumably joins them. Maybe swapping Solow for Williams or Harris on the right point of the first unit would help spread the talent around a bit. The Huskies’ good performance in the zone was marred by some considerable struggle entering the zone against the aggressive SHU PK, including a shorthanded goal allowed when they were stood up on a zone entry and allowed a 2 on 1 rush that Davies and Primeau were unable to stifle. As always, it’s week 1, and now that unit has something to focus on in practice this week.

The competition this weekend wasn’t exactly fierce, but it was just what the Huskies needed to face in the first week of the season, considering they were breaking in two brand new faces on the first line and another on the first D pairing. Next week’s Matthews Arena debut against #20 Union will be a nice step up as NU ramps towards a trio of games against St. Cloud State and BU as the calendar turns to November.

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