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Since Oct. 20, the men’s hockey team has gone 1-8-2 in Hockey East contests. They currently sit second to last in the Hockey East standings and with half as many points as fourth place Providence, home ice in the playoffs simply isn’t going to happen.
Of the next five games, the Huskies are slated to play Boston University (BU), Boston College (BC), a home-and-home weekend with the revitalized University of Massachusetts-Lowell Riverhawks and University of New Hampshire (UNH). In the pairwise rankings, which determine seeding for the NCAA tournament, Lowell is ranked thirteenth, BU sits fifth, and UNH and BC claim the first and second spots, respectively. This could get messy, to say the least.
The only silver lining that could arise is the number of Hockey East games remaining: 14. This is one more than the troubled yet talented team has faced so far. And in Hockey East, the in-conference games are a considerably more valuable currency. These 14 games make up a remaining 16 games overall for NU, with the two non-conference games making up one of hockey’s holy grails – the Beanpot. So this means for the rest of the year, there should be no off games, no non-conference games to make excuses for.
Each game really does matter immensely for a team currently on the outside looking in. And after the hellish stretch ahead and the Beanpot, things get slightly more reasonable with weekend series against the University of Vermont, Providence College, the University of Maine and BU to end the season. This doesn’t mean an easier road, however. The two games against Maine are in Orono, and the Vermont contests are just four days removed from the Beanpot. The Catamounts get a full week to prepare, while the Huskies will have played that Monday.
When speaking about salvaging some success with this schedule, the Huskies most likely measure that success in their Beanpot performance and trying to get to the TD Garden for the Hockey East playoffs. While improbable, these goals aren’t impossible.
The Garden playoff scenario isn’t too farfetched. At the beginning of the year, Husky Hockey News projected the Huskies to finish sixth in Hockey East, a standing that more reflected the volatility that could come with a skilled, deep forward group with possible identity problems. And it turns out, that slot just may be what is necessary for the Huskies to have some postseason success this year. The top two positions look to be occupied by BC and UNH, or possibly BU. Yet if the season was to end today, the opponent in the third slot would be BU, the same team Northeastern upset two years ago as the sixth seed under then-head coach Greg Cronin.
Lucky for Jim Madigan and company, that lucrative sixth seed is only three points away, and is currently occupied by UMass-Lowell. The only problem is the Huskies will indeed have to contend with Lowell, Providence, and Merrimack College for that spot. Merrimack and Providence have higher points separation in the standings at fifth and fourth place, and Lowell is poised to have a big 2013.
Long story short, Northeastern will have to be near perfect for the rest of the year to accomplish this goal, and maybe just making the playoffs is a more realistic one, being one point out of eighth place and two points out of seventh with two games in hand on Vermont. And while the Huskies did a lot of the little things right against Maine last weekend, including work on faceoffs and the forecheck, it still wasn’t enough to break a tie. And that performance definitely won’t be enough to climb the standings at this point.
What it’s going to take is overwhelming effort night in and night out, and an even deeper recognition of roles on the roster. The little things have to go right for Northeastern. Put those small pieces together, and the Huskies just could pull it off if they take advantage of the opportunities presented to them. It’s a lot to expect from a team still in transition, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. The first of these difficult opportunities begins when Northeastern will take on BU at Agganis Arena tomorrow, and the Eagles squad at Matthews this weekend. See you there.
- Cory Bigda can be reached at info@HuskyHockeyNews.com