Weekend Recap: Huskies Sweep Lowell and St. Cloud State

In a wild weekend of hockey, the #18 Northeastern Huskies came out victorious in their two most important matchups to date, securing their first two points of conference play Friday night in a 4-1 victory at UMass-Lowell before registering a signature out-of-conference victory over St. Cloud State on Saturday. Coming into the game, SCSU was ranked #2 in the nation, and was just coming off a 7-0 shellacking of Boston College two nights earlier.

UMass-Lowell– Conference play began with an away tilt as the Huskies met the Riverhawks at Tsongas Arena for the first of three matchups with Lowell this season. Jeremy Davies returned from his injury, and in terms of lineup changes, Lincoln Griffin was elevated to the top line with Tyler Madden and Liam Pecararo, and Brandon Hawkins was shuffled down to the 4th line with John Picking and Patrick Schule.

Schule started the scoring with his first of the season, utilizing a spin-o-rama move straight out of NHL19 to tuck the puck through the goaltender Tyler Wall. Schule’s goal was one of the few offensive opportunities the team generated the first period, as the majority of the time seemed to be spent in the Northeastern zone and the neutral zone. Cayden Primeau stood tall to keep Lowell scoreless in the first.

Once the puck dropped for the second period, the Huskies took over the game, getting more sustained offensive pressure in the Lowell zone, more quality chances on net by multiple Huskies including Pecararo, Filipe, Hawkins, and a Lincoln Griffin breakaway, but could not cash in during the second period. In a period without goals, the Huskies clearly were the dominant team, a testament to the adjustments made by the staff in the intermission.

The third period saw Northeastern’s offense explode, with three goals being scored before the final buzzer sounded. Northeastern doubled their lead when Zach Solow corralled a loose puck between the faceoff dots and ripped a shot above Wall’s shoulder, an impressive display of hands and finishing ability from the sophomore forward. After Lowell cut the lead in half, Grant Jozefek answered immediately by scoring the first breakaway goal for the Huskies this season, breaking a streak that was starting to make fans wonder when they Huskies, who seem to generate 2-3 breakaways a game, would finally break through. Paddy Schule put the icing on the cake with an empty net goal to bring us the final score.

An impressive team win against a UMass-Lowell team that is still struggling to find some form of identity dating back to last season, the Huskies continue to generate goals from multiple scorers, a trademark we expected going into the season and one that would continue the next night. Jeremy Davies helped generate offense with two assists in his return as well. The Huskies were not able to cash in on the powerplay (0 for 3), but were successful in all four penalty kills. Tyler Madden continued his dominance in the faceoff circle, winning 9 of 13 draws, and John Picking also finished above 50% for the game (6 of 11).

St. Cloud State– In the biggest non-conference game to take place at Matthews Arena in years, the visiting Huskies from the dominant NCHC certainly looked the part of top team in the nation. Big, fast, and skilled, with two very good goaltenders, and coming off a beatdown of Boston College, no one would have blamed Northeastern for expecting a loss. Heck, all four of us did in our predictions. But the Huskies from Boston would not go down so easily. Early in the game as the teams were starting to feel each other out, Northeastern had the game’s first golden opportunity when Austin Plevy fed Bobby Hampton to a wide-open look at the net, but goaltender Jeff Smith, formerly of UMass-Lowell, flashed the leather to make the save and keep the game scoreless.

St. Cloud would strike first shortly after Hampton was robbed on a goal that pinged off both posts before it exited the net, a shot that Primeau really did all he could to stop. Northeastern had plenty of shots on net and chances to tie the game in the first, but could not do so in spite of an 11-5 shots advantage. St. Cloud would double their lead in the second period when a long offensive zone cycle led to two point shots, the first of which was blocked onto the stick of Jack Ahcan, who skated in and beat Primeau through a screen.

Northeastern would finally crack through Jeff Smith’s armor when Eric Williams forced a turnover near the Northeastern blue line and broke the play out to Bobby Hampton, who fed Williams for a wrist shot that glanced off Smith’s glove and fell into the back corner of the net for Williams’ first of the season and the Huskies’ first goal of the night.

The Williams goal generated momentum that carried into the final period for Northeastern, as the Huskies would tie the game at two less than two minutes into the third when Biagio Lerario knocked a loose puck past Smith, sending Matthews Arena into an eruption of noise and jubilation. Spurred on by the goal and the home crowd, Northeastern dominated play for the better part of the next ten minutes including scoring an apparent goal to take the lead that was waved off for goalie interference after review; Lerario appeared to have Smith beat with a wrist shot, but Eetu Selanne lost an edge and took Smith’s legs out from under him as the puck crossed the line. Undeterred, Northeastern kept up the pressure before cashing in the eventual game-winning goal with just under eight minutes left. A nifty give-and-go between Solow and Jozefek ended up with Solow streaking towards the net, but losing the handle of the puck. Jozefek came down the right wing, picked up the loose puck and sniped it bar-down above Smith’s left shoulder to send the Huskies faithful into more hysteria.

St. Cloud poured on the offense as they clawed and fought to tie the game again as time wound down, but the Northeastern defense and Cayden Primeau repelled every effort. The defense throughout the whole game did an excellent job controlling gaps and space against the larger, faster opponents, and particularly when guarding the lead they did an excellent job controlling the puck along the boards and getting it into the neutral zone quickly. Primeau stood tall to save all twelve shots that made it to him, including a highlight reel glove save against Jack Poehling from less than ten feet from the net. St. Cloud would pull the goaltender with under two minutes remaining, but could not beat the Northeastern defensive effort before the final buzzer sounded.

The St. Cloud victory was the most impressive performance I’ve seen a Northeastern hockey team give since the Beanpot championship game last February. From top to bottom, each line and pairing performed well. Only one penalty was called on the whole team, a questionable interference call on Jordan Harris. I thought AJ Villella had his best game as a Husky, and played extremely well all weekend. Patrick Schule had an excellent weekend both as an offensive presence and a defensive menace. John Picking and Tyler Madden were winning every important faceoff it appeared, even as SCSU won faceoffs overall (23 vs 22). And over the course of the weekend, Northeastern had seven goals from five different scorers, a scoring-by-committee approach that we expected and has been consistent all year. And as always, Primeau was the backbone of this team, saving 41 of 44 shots over the weekend (93.1%).

The only blemishes on the weekend would be the powerplay going 0 for 6, and the potential loss of senior Liam Pecararo, who was injured on a nasty hit by Jack Ahcan in the first period of the game Saturday. Ahcan was assessed a five-minute major and while people questioned whether a penalty was deserved, the hit looked nasty live and even when looking at the replay, you can see why the major was assessed. We hope that Liam recovers quickly and gets back to full health soon; he has waited a long time to suit up for Northeastern, and we want to see him back on the ice as soon as possible.

The Huskies now look ahead to the annual home and home with Boston University, the first half of which will take place at Matthews Arena on Thursday November 1st. Tickets can still be had for that game at tickets.gonu.com.

Feature photo credit to Northeastern Athletics and photographer Jim Pierce