By Gordon Weigers, news staff
One of the most memorable seasons in the history of the Northeastern University (NU) men’s hockey team came to a close last Friday as the University of North Dakota Fighting Hawks downed the Huskies 6-2 in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The Huskies had their all-time best 13-game winning streak come to an end in the loss, cementing their final overall record at 22-14-5.
The defeat is one that head coach Jim Madigan has experienced before. Exactly thirty-four years ago, Madigan lost as a Northeastern player to North Dakota in the 1982 NCAA tournament, 6-2. Unfortunately for the coach, history repeated itself.
“I think it’s something that must be with me and North Dakota and 6-2 scores,” Madigan said.
After knocking off top-10 teams in the University of Massachusetts-Lowell and Boston College (BC) the week before, Northeastern was widely labeled the “hottest team” in college hockey and were confident heading into the matchup with the Hawks ranked third nationally.
“We expected to win this game,” senior forward Mike McMurtry said. “We came in prepared to win this game, and we didn’t get the result that we wanted.”
Madigan noted John Stevens’ contributions to the team as a playmaking, two-way center, despite dealing with injuries in the playoffs.
“The guy to my left (John Stevens) shouldn’t have been playing the last few weekends,” Madigan said. “He sprained an ankle at Notre Dame, and we’ve been monitoring his care and we moved him over to the wing today.”
Sophomore defenseman Garret Cockerill was also playing through an injury. Madigan said the team canceled surgery for Cockerill earlier in the week to repair broken finger bones he suffered on March 18 against BC.
“Our guys gave everything we had, but we just didn’t have enough,” Madigan said. “I’m not blaming injuries, I’m just telling you how gritty our kids played.”
Northeastern got on the board first against North Dakota, as Cockerill found sophomore forward Nolan Stevens skating with speed into the offensive zone. Stevens ripped a wrist shot over the shoulder of sophomore goalie Cam Johnson for the 1-0 lead. NU only held the advantage on the scoreboard for 2:36 before North Dakota blew the game open.
Sophomore forward Johnny Simonson popped home a rebound to tie the score at 1-1 before sophomore defenseman Tucker Poolman fired a shot past freshman goalie Ryan Ruck to turn a 1-0 Northeastern lead into a 2-1 North Dakota lead.
Junior forward Luke Johnson scored the eventual game-winner late in the first period to give the Fighting Hawks a 3-1 lead at the break.
Despite scoring the game’s first goal, Northeastern hardly generated any offense in the opening frame, only putting six shots on Johnson.
“They’re a good team,” John Stevens said. “They play fast and transition. I think maybe the nerves and getting ready for the speed, we weren’t ready coming out of the gate.”
The Huskies needed to respond in the second period to get back into the game, but North Dakota laid on the pressure even heavier than it did in the first. Goals from senior forward Bryn Chyzyk and freshman forward Brock Boeser had the Fighting Hawks up 5-1 after two periods.
Junior defenseman Matt Benning got one back for Northeastern when he fired a shot that beat Johnson glove-side to make it a 5-2 scoreline. But senior forward Drake Caggiula finished off a passing play between himself, Boeser and sophomore forward Nick Schmaltz for the game’s last goal to seal the 6-2 North Dakota victory.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock on Friday, the collegiate careers of senior forwards Kevin Roy and Mike McMurtry, defensemen Jarrett Fennell, Dustin Darou and Colton Saucerman and goaltender Derick Roy came to an end.
McMurtry and Kevin Roy assisted on Benning’s goal in the third period, both scoring their final points as Huskies. McMurtry ends his time on Huntington Avenue with an even 20 goals and 60 assists for 80 career points. Roy now sits 11th all-time in scoring at NU after finishing his career with 65 goals and 85 assists to give him 150 points in red and black.
North Dakota went on to defeat the University of Michigan in the Midwest Regional Final and will head to Tampa, Fla. for the Frozen Four. Joining the Fighting Hawks in Florida is the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, the Denver University Pioneers and the BC Eagles.
Gordo’s goal of the year:
Looking back on this season as a whole, there was a lot to be proud of. There were also a lot of delicious dangles by the Huskies, but none better than on night one of the season. Nolan Stevens earns the nod of goal of the year for his game-winning score against Colgate back on Oct. 10.
Stevens grabbed a breakout pass from Saucerman on the left side of the ice and started toward the Colgate net. With no offensive support following him up the ice, Stevens decided to take it all the way to the cooker himself. He made a quick head fake to dodge a sweep check from the first defender before cutting toward the middle of the rink. He touched the puck between the stick and body of Colgate’s last defenseman, then reached around the defender and dragged the puck with one hand behind the opposing player’s back. After dipping around the player, Stevens gently and deftly slid the puck between the legs of Colgate’s netminder Charlie Finn.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern University