By Gordon Weigers, News Correspondent
For Husky fans, the first half of the 2015 -16 men’s hockey season was one to forget. After a solid opening-night win against a promising Colgate team, a series of unfortunate events befell the Huskies, including untimely injuries and inconsistent play, leaving them with a 1-10-2 record heading into the Friendship Four tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
Since its trip overseas, Northeastern has the look of a much hungrier team. The now 5-12-4 Huskies are riding a four-game unbeaten streak into their upcoming weekend series against the New Hampshire Wildcats with valuable Hockey East points on the table.
On Dec. 19, Freshman goaltender Ryan Ruck picked up his first collegiate win in a 2-1 victory over Michigan State in the finale of the Northeastern Winter Showdown. The win earned Ruck the honors of Pro Ambitions Rookie of the Week. He followed that performance by backstopping the Huskies to a 3-3 tie against No. 3 Quinnipiac and back-to-back wins at No. 13 St. Lawrence. Ruck allowed only two goals in the weekend set against the Saints, including his first collegiate shutout in a 3-0 triumph on Friday night.
“It’s nice getting a shutout, but it’s nice just getting a win,” Ruck said.
The Coto de Caza, Calif. native is unbeaten in his last four starts and has made 20 or more saves in each of his last six games.
The line of Junior John Stevens, Sophomore Nolan Stevens and Junior Zach Aston-Reese has caught fire asof late, combining for 24 points since Nov. 28. In that seven-game stretch, Aston-Reese and Nolan Stevens each posted nine points, and John Stevens has tallied six.
Aston-Reese currently leads the team in points with six goals and 13 assists (19 points) through 21 games, while Nolan Stevens leads the goal-scoring race with nine markers.
On Friday, NU opened a two-game series in Canton, N.Y. with the St. Lawrence Saints. With Ruck between the pipes, the Huskies played a complete 60-minute game to earn a 3-0 shutout victory over the No. 13 team in the nation. Freshman forward Lincoln Griffin and Junior forwards Brendan Collier and Sam Kurker each tallied two points.
“It was our most complete game of the season,” head coach Jim Madigan said. “[St. Lawrence] is a very good hockey club. They’re strong, they’re heavy on pucks and they came at us a few times that game, and I liked the way we weathered the storm.”
Northeastern followed up the shutout victory with another strong showing, earning the 4-2 decision over St. Lawrence on Saturday night. The Huskies enjoyed strong offensive outputs from Junior defenseman Matt Benning (two goals), Nolan Stevens (two goals), freshman forward Adam Gaudette (three assists), Aston-Reese (two assists) and John Stevens (two assists). Ruck was solid in net once again, making 27 saves in the victory.
On Jan. 2, the Huskies rang in the new year against one of the hottest teams in college hockey, the No. 3/2 Quinnipiac Bobcats. The Bobcats came to Matthews Arena for only the second time in program history, with a 2-1 loss to the Huskies on Nov. 23, 2002 well in the rear-view mirror. After trailing 1-0 for most of the first period, Kurker found the back of the net with under one minute left in the opening frame. The Bobcats would add a goal with under 20 seconds left in the period to take a 2-1 lead into the dressing room.
Late in the second period, Gaudette lit the lamp for his fourth goal of the season. On the Gaudette strike, Senior forward Mike McMurtry picked up his second assist of the contest. The line of Aston-Reese and the Stevens brothers all had their hands in on the go-ahead goal for the Huskies, off the stick of John Stevens. A late third period goal from the Bobcats would bring the game to its eventual final score of 3-3.
McMurtry’s two assists marked his third-straight game with a point, a streak that now sits at five games. He’s been Northeastern’s hottest player over the last seven games, putting up three goals and eight assists (11 points) in that span. Despite his offensive success of late, McMurtry knows that winning games is more important than scoring points.
“I don’t think anyone in the room is happy with that tie,” McMurtry said. “We had them on the ropes 3-2 in the third. That’s gonna make the difference down the stretch, we’ve got to learn how to close out those games.”
Back on Dec. 19, the Huskies closed out the Northeastern Winter Showdown with a 2-1 victory over Michigan State. McMurtry got the Huskies on the board with less than two minutes left in the first period, snapping a quick shot inside the post after a sneaky pass from Collier. Aston-Reese tallied on the power play in the second period, tipping home a beautiful pass from John Stevens into the open cage. Michigan State broke Ruck’s shutout bid midway through the third period, but couldn’t muster any further offense and Northeastern came away with the victory.
Northeastern’s last conference weekend was against Boston College during the first weekend of December. At the time, BC held the No. 2 ranking in the nation and was riding a 12-game winning streak. The Eagles jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period of game one at Conte Forum and 31 seconds after, Sophomore forward Alex Tuch made it a 2-0 advantage.
Nolan Stevens then found the back of the cage, with assists from none other than brotherJohn Stevens and Aston-Reese. In the third period, Griffin scored his first goal as a Husky to level the score at 2-2. Freshman phenom Colin White gave Boston College the 3-2 lead with under nine minutes left in the third, before Nolan Stevens scored his second of the game to knot the game up at 3-3. The clock struck 00:00 with the Huskies and Eagles forced to split the Hockey East points.
The scene shifted to Matthews Arena for part two of the weekend saga. The Huskies pounced on the Eagles early, controlling the pace of play for the early stages of the game. Freshman defenseman Eric Williams scored twice in the opening frame, first sneaking a wrist shot past junior goalie Thatcher Demko, then blasting a slap shot top corner on the power play to make it a 2-0 NU lead. Aston-Reese tallied in the second period to put the Huskies up 3-1.
In the final frame, the Eagles asserted their dominance and scored three times to take the game 4-3. After playing 40 minutes of strong, high-tempo hockey, the Huskies couldn’t maintain the pressure against one of the nation’s top teams in the final 20 minutes.
A positive note for the Huskies to take away from those two games against BC was the goal scoring. Demko is widely regarded as the best goalie in college hockey and has posted two separate three-game shutout streaks this season. Northeastern’s six goals in the weekend were the most the Vancouver Canucks draft pick had allowed in a weekend all season.
The Huskies are still in search of their first Hockey East victory and will have two chances to gain ground in the standings against New Hampshire this weekend. If there is anything to learn from last year’s team that started 0-8-1 and still finished 16-16-4, it’s that any tough start can be overcome. With the way Northeastern has come out and played the last seven games, no one is looking forward to playing the Huskies of Huntington Avenue.
Gordo’s goal of the week:
With six games played since our last edition, the goal of the week comes from Adam Gaudette on Jan. 2 against Quinnipiac.
With under 2:30 remaining in the second period and Northeastern on the power play, Gaudette carried the puck through the neutral zone with Senior defenseman Colton Saucerman and McMurtry joining him in the rush up-ice. Gaudette sent a pass to McMurtry on the left side who skated the puck into the Quinnipiac zone. McMurtry pulled the puck from forehand to backhand to evade the defender’s poke check before sliding the puck back to Gaudette who was streaking towards the net.
The Freshman wasted no time after receiving the pass, taking a quick look at the net and ripping the wrist shot near-side top corner, popping Bobcat goalie Michael Garteig’s water bottle off the top of the net. Gaudette’s snipe evened the game at 2-2 and prompted a great celly after the goal.
Photos courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.