Friday, March 18, 2016
Jim Madigan has his club playing some of the best hockey in the country as they've been winners of 11 straight games and are 18-2-2 in 22 games since starting the season 2-11-2. It's nothing short of incredible what these guys have accomplished over the past two months- they went from being one of the worst teams in the country to being in the hunt for an NCAA tournament berth. As of this morning, they are 14th in the pairwise but would likely need to beat BC in order to secure a bid. Even if they lose, there are still a bunch of scenarios which would have the Huskies competing in the big dance for the first time since 2009. How have they turned things around so quickly? First of all, their schedule has been one of the easiest in the nation but I'll be the first to say that winning any game in this league is challenging so I don't puck stock into this. That being said, the Huskies have won four games against Maine along with two against each of UMass, UConn, UNH, and Merrimack over the course of this streak. The other plus for NU has been the return of senior superstar Kevin Roy, who has 19 points in the 15 games since he returned from injury in late January-that includes a 4 point effort in Saturday's playoff victory at Notre Dame. From October to December, Northeastern had a difficult time finding a goaltender that could give them consistent play but freshman Ryan Ruck has quickly become one of the top netminders in the league.
When I look at Northeastern's roster, I see one of the deeper lineups in all of Hockey East. They have gotten steady production from guys Zach Aston-Reese (leading scorer), the Stevens brothers, and senior Mike McMurtry, who was without a goal for the first 14 games of the campaign before getting hot. In past years, it has been the Kevin Roy show but this time around, they have a supporting cast that can put the puck in the net if BC is not strong in their own end. Coming into the season, I thought defense would be NU's most glaring issue given that they did not have a true shutdown defenseman outside of perhaps Dustin Darou, who missed the entire first half due to injury. Although they may lack size on the backend, the Huskies have an abundance of puck moving defenders who love to join the rush and create offense. Sophomore Garrett Cockerill is their top scoring blue liner with 20 points on the season but freshman Eric Williams (14 points) has been a pleasant surprise for Madigan and his staff. Although BC has last change, I expect Northeastern to try and get Darou and Bruins draft pick Matt Benning out as much as possible against the White line. While the Eagles need to aware of NU's tendency to get defenseman entrenched in the offensive zone, BC will be able to do a lot of damage in their own offensive end if they are efficient. Last weekend, there were far too many turnovers and errant passes that resulted in quality chances for Vermont. Northeastern does not play a neutral zone trap like UVM does (unless they make an adjustment) so expect BC to generate more grade A opportunities. Ruck is a tremendous goaltender but this will be his first Hockey East tournament game at The Garden so the best thing BC can do is get pucks to the net and look for rebounds.
I'll be the first person to state how impressive NU's recent run has been- I've always been a fan of the way they battle every time they take the ice against the maroon and gold. In my opinion, no one in the country gets as fired up and ready to go as Northeastern does when the opponent is one of the Comm Ave residents. Madigan will have his guys ready to run through as wall by game time but it isn't like BC is going to roll over. I see some of these message board posts and emails about whether or not the staff should rest players to gear up for the NCAA tournament. Seriously? Heck, nobody thinks BC is going to win this game. There is no way Coach York will let his club take a night off in order to get an extra day to rest- they're in this to win it. I don't think anyone in that locker room would tell you they played well last weekend, certainly not to their standards, but I think that experience made them a better hockey team because they know they can't just show up and win. When you take bad penalties, commit turnovers, and don't execute in the offensive end, you're not going to win playoff games. There was not a time last weekend where all four lines were playing well and in order to beat NU, a team that has gotten persistent scoring from everybody, each player needs to have a hand in the offense.
This is going to be a tremendous hockey game, no matter who comes out on top. The Huskies are playing for the lives and as Coach York always says there is nothing more difficult than taking sticks away.
Record- 20-13-5 (14th in pairwise)
Top scorers- Zach Aston-Reese (12-28-40), Nolan Stevens (17-20-37), John Stevens (10-22-32)
Team offense- 3.26 goals scored per game (12th)
Team defense- 2.45 goals against per game (19th)
Power play- 22% (9th)
Penalty kill- 79% (47th)
Shots on goal per game- 30.7 shots per game (29th)
Keys for the Eagles-
I can't point to one thing- they must improve in all facets of the game. Outside of the penalty kill, there was not much to like about the way BC played last weekend. Whether it was the turnovers, static power play, or untimely penalties, they won't be able to beat NU by bringing anything but their A game.
Last night, Hockey East held their annual awards banquet. Ryan Fitzgerald was named first team all league, Colin White took home rookie of the year and was second team all league, as was Ian McCoshen. Thatcher Demko took home co-player of the year honors along with Lowell's Kevin Boyle. Like Fitzgerald, Demko was also first team all Hockey East. Not the end of the world but McCoshen should be first team and Santini is arguably best shutdown defender league has had in a few years- how is he not at least second team?
The biggest snub, in my mind, was Coach York not getting coach of the year. That went to Nate Leaman of Providence, who has certainly done a remarkable job. In saying that, I'm not sure how they can avoid giving it to the best coach in the country year after year. Maybe BC will use this as motivation for tonight.