November 8, 2013

Hockey East Journal: Harsh reality setting in for Huskies?

By Andrew Merritt

Groton, Mass., native Torin Snydeman's (right) first-period goal gave NU an early lead against BC last Saturday, but the Huskies couldn't pull out the win. (Photo: Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

Part of the plot of any program trying to pull itself up by its bootstraps after years of disappointment are those first tentative steps of success, the ones that bring the promise of a new leaf turned. We start to highlight things like “the best start since …” and “the longest winning streak in X years …”

Sometimes, those early successes are harbingers of a huge and immediate rise – see UMass-Lowell over the last two years.

Sometimes, those early successes are merely a teaser, and a harsher reality sets in.

Northeastern started the season with five straight wins. The Huskies won those games by a combined 26-9 score. Although they were all non-conference games, the five wins represented the program’s best five-game start since 1988-89, and just the fourth time a Northeastern team has ever won its first five games.

With their 6-3 win over St. Lawrence on Oct. 25, the Huskies had 26 goals in their first five games for the first time since 1994-95, and their 5.00 goals per game average was tied for the best number in Hockey East.

But then, that harsher reality set in. Northeastern is 0-3 since that St. Lawrence victory, losing to the Saints the next night before being swept by Boston College last weekend in a home-and-home. That included a 4-2 loss Friday night at Conte Forum, in which the mixed bag that Northeastern seems to be was in full view.

The Huskies scored first, on a Ryan Belonger goal 12:43 into the game Goaltender Clay Witt made 16 saves on 17 BC shots in the first 20 minutes. They also picked up a goal on the power play in the third period.

But they also gave up a power play goal late in the first period when Kevin Hayes tied it for BC, and the power play unit allowed a shorthanded goal to Johnny Gaudreau in the second period. Witt only made 13 saves the rest of the way, and while the Northeastern defense held BC to just seven shots in the third period, the Eagles scored on two of them.

In the Huskies’ defense, there isn’t any shame in losing to BC, which has already proven to be one of the best teams in the country despite plenty of turnover from last year.

“I think the opponent pushes you beyond your limits at times,” Northeastern coach Jim Madigan (Milton, Mass.) said. “They’re a good team, they’re well coached, they play fast, and when they apply pressure, it pushes you out of your comfort zone. At times I thought we showed a little bit more poise and composure, but that’s the opponent – you can see it in particular on the (penalty kill), they’ve been killing penalties that way for a long time, so it’s not a surprise, but they put you in uncomfortable areas, and that’s how they scored the goal.”

It also didn’t help that the Huskies were without the services of Cody Ferriero (Essex, Mass.). The senior, a San Jose prospect, is expected to provide an offensive complement to the incendiary talents of Kevin Roy, the sophomore who’s tied with Providence’s Ross Mauermann and teammate Mike Szmatula for the league scoring lead with 13 points. But Ferriero had to sit out the BC series after a slashing incident in the waning seconds of the Oct. 26 game against St. Lawrence drew a two-game suspension.

“He’s a veteran on our team, and he brings some offense, but he brings some two-way play,” Madigan said after Friday’s game. “He’s a guy who plays 20 minutes a game for us, and we’re just going to have to manage without him.”

Northeastern very nearly did manage the next night. Szmatula, a freshman, scored his third goal of the year in the third period, and Colton Saucerman gave the Huskies a two-goal lead a few minutes later. But Patrick Brown scored another shorthanded goal for the Eagles, and Johnny Gaudreau tied it with 7:09 to go in regulation. Adam Gilmour scored the winner 1:36 into overtime to snatch what would have been an encouraging victory away from the Huskies.

The reality of the Huskies likely falls somewhere between the team that won five straight to start the year, and the one that has lost the last three. There are a lot of steps involved in the kind of climb out of mediocrity that Madigan is trying to lead at his alma mater. Saturday’s game at UMass-Lowell – the third straight game against a ranked opponent for the Huskies – will show what the next step is.

Player of the Week

Zack Kamrass, jr. D, UMass-Lowell

It’s rare that we get to highlight a defenseman here, but Kamrass more than earned the spot. In a crucial sweep of UNH, Kamrass had four assists and seven blocked shots, finishing the two-game set with a plus-3 rating as the River Hawks picked up their third and fourth consecutive wins.

Game of the Week

Boston College at Boston University, Friday, Nov. 8

It’s David Quinn’s first game against as the head coach of his alma mater, but that’s not the only reason this is a big game. With only two meetings scheduled between the two giants, and both teams tied with UMass-Lowell for first place in the league, this clash is huge on multiple levels.

Hockey East power rankings

1. Notre Dame (6-2-0, 1-1-0 HEA) – The first Hockey East game in Notre Dame history didn’t go quite as planned, with Vermont upsetting the then-No. 2 Irish (now No.3), 2-1 in Burlington, but the league’s newcomers rebounded the next night, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Catamounts 3-2.

2. Providence (5-1-1, 1-1-0 HEA) – The No. 5 Friars managed only a split against Boston University in a home-and-home weekend series, beginning with their first loss of the season, but Ross Mauermann stood out with five points, including two goals and an assist in Saturday’s win.

3. Boston College (4-2-1, 2-0-0 HEA) – Adam Gilmour (Hanover, Mass.) found a perfect time to score his first career goal for the No. 8 Eagles – in overtime Saturday night to hand BC a 4-3 win at Northeastern.

4. Boston University (4-4-0, 2-1-0 HEA) – Needham, Mass., native Danny O’Regan put the finishing touches on an astonishing four-goal comeback effort by the Terriers Friday night, scoring the tying and winning goals in the 4-3 win.

5. UMass-Lowell (5-3-0, 2-0-0 HEA) – After a stumbling start to the year, the No. 11 River Hawks are suddenly unbeaten in their last four games (all wins), with Foxborough, Mass., native Derek Arnold’s overtime game-winner sealing a home-and-home sweep of UNH.

6. Northeastern (5-3-0, 0-2-0 HEA) – Northeastern’s promising start ran into a roadblock in the form of Boston College, but freshman Mike Szmatula managed to run his point-scoring streak to eight games despite the Eagles’ home-and-home sweep.

7. Maine (3-3-1, 0-1-1 HEA) – Before Saturday night’s loss at UMass, the Black Bears were unbeaten over their previous four games (3-0-1), a longer streak than they ever attained during the disastrous 2012-13 season.

8. Vermont (2-2-1, 1-1-0 HEA) – The Catamounts didn’t exactly roll out a red carpet to welcome then-No. 2 Notre Dame to Hockey East, picking up their first win over a top-5 opponent since Oct. 10, 2009, in a 2-1 victory.

9. Merrimack (3-3-0, 0-0-0 HEA) – It’s clear that the Warriors are going to rely on Mike Collins (Boston, Mass.) to generate offense this year. So far, he seems fine with that, picking up two goals and six assists over the last three games.

10. UMass (3-4-1, 1-1-1 HEA) – After allowing seven goals in the first two games of the year, junior Steve Mastalerz (North Andover, Mass.) has really turned his season around, earning a 1.65 GAA and .949 save percentage in his five appearances since. He’s gone 3-1-1 in that stretch.

11. New Hampshire (1-5-1, 0-2-0 HEA) – The Wildcats continued their gauntlet of games against ranked opponents, and couldn’t grab any points from UMass-Lowell over the weekend despite Kevin Goumas’ 100th career point, coming on an assist early in Saturday’s loss.

Twitter: @A_Merritt