By Gordon Weigers, news staff
The Northeastern men’s hockey team (9-12-4, 4-8-3 Hockey East) added to its unbeaten streak last weekend with a two-game sweep of the Merrimack Warriors. The Huskies have now won six straight games and have not lost since Dec. 6.
The team’s 5-2 and 4-1 victories over the Warriors earned it some respect in the USCHO.com national poll, receiving two top 25 votes. After sitting at the bottom of the Hockey East standings for the majority of the season, Northeastern now ranks in eighth place and has one of the easier remaining schedules in the conference, with one remaining conference game against a top-six team (Feb. 5 at University of Massachusetts-Lowell).
Northeastern’s offense is at its most potent of the season. Leading the way in points once again this weekend was the line of senior Mike McMurtry, freshman Adam Gaudette and sophomore Dylan Sikura.
The trio racked up a combined 10 points for the second weekend in a row.
The new year has treated Gaudette well after going through nine games without a point before the Jan. 2 game against Quinnipiac. Since the calendar turned, Gaudette is tied for first in the nation in points among freshmen (three goals, nine assists) and was tabbed as the Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week for his three-point weekend against Merrimack.
NU and Merrimack opened the weekend at Lawler Arena in North Andover on Friday night. After conceding the first goal, Sikura buried his first tally of the weekend, banging home a loose puck in front of the net. Merrimack reclaimed the lead early in the second, but McMurtry struck back when he notched the game-tying goal from the side of the cage later in the frame.
Late in the second period, freshman Lincoln Griffin took a feed from junior Sam Kurker and snuck it underneath goalie Collin Delia to give the Huskies a lead that they would not relinquish. Junior John Stevens scored 29 seconds into the third period, followed by another strike from Sikura to clinch the 5-2 triumph, the Huskies’ fourth straight win on the road.
“Those two big goals [in the third period] created some separation for ourselves,” head coach Jim Madigan said after the game.
Friday marked the return of Northeastern captain Kevin Roy, who played in his first game since going down with an upper-body injury in November. Roy picked up two assists over the course of the weekend and seemed to be back to his former self, according to Madigan.
“I thought he had a lot of energy,” Madigan said. “This was probably one of his best games all year long.”
Northeastern rolled their offensive momentum into Saturday night’s tilt at Matthews Arena. Gaudette got Northeastern on the board first by slipping a loose puck in behind Delia on a power play for the 1-0 advantage. Gaudette’s goal celebration got the Doghouse crowd amped as he slid on one-knee while rubbing the ice with his glove before leaping into the glass.
After Merrimack leveled the score at 1-1, sophomore Nolan Stevens drove hard to the net and beat Delia for the 2-1 lead. In the third period, Sikura blasted a slapshot into the top-right corner on the power play for the 3-1 edge. Junior Zach Aston-Reese ended all hopes of a late Merrimack comeback with a goal in the final two minutes, making it a 4-1 win.
The Huskies showed a lot of grit in the last two minutes of the game on Saturday night, proving that their old tendency of coughing up a lead when it counts the most is a thing of the past. Merrimack called a timeout with 1:49 left in the game to plan a comeback bid, trailing 3-1. After the timeout, the line of Nolan Stevens, John Stevens and Aston-Reese completely shut down any chance of the Warriors getting back into the game. They kept the puck in the Merrimack zone for the remainder of the game, culminating in the Aston-Reese goal.
“We had the line of the two Stevens boys and Aston-Reese who are real heavy, strong players,” Madigan said. “It was the perfect line for our sake to get pucks in deep and just try and pin them in.”
Next on the docket for the Huskies is the 64th annual Beanpot tournament at TD Garden. Northeastern will take on Boston University at 8 p.m., Monday, Feb. 1.
Gordo’s goal of the week:
Nolan Stevens earns the goal of the week honors this time around for his gorgeous game-winning goal on Saturday night.
Merrimack defenseman Marc Biega skated the puck out from behind his own net, looking to break out of the zone with a full head of steam. Aston-Reese tracked Biega and deftly poked the puck off of Biega’s stick into open ice. Aston-Reese left a soft pass for Stevens who was breaking hard to the cooker. Stevens lowered his left shoulder to fend off the pursuing defender and dangled the puck under the defender stick. With Delia trying to slide from post to post to stay with the puck, Stevens used his power to get a shot at the open side of the cage. While falling, Stevens slammed the puck into the net for the goal.
Stevens celebrated with a two-handed fist pump before a group hug with his brother John Stevens, Aston-Reese and defenseman Colton Saucerman.
Photo courtesy of Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.