By Jake Sauberman, deputy sports editor
The Northeastern University (NU) men’s hockey team dropped two frustrating bouts last week after showing signs of a possible turnaround. Coming off of a 6-2 victory over Michigan State on Dec. 18 before returning to friendly Matthews Arena to stomp Clarkson 8-2, NU looked as if it was turning a corner.
It has been done before—the Huskies finished the 2015-16 season on a 14-game unbeaten streak (13-0-1), and with a current Hockey East record of just 1-7-2, the team will need to strike a similar fire to gain momentum as it enters a stretch of Hockey East matches.
No such beacon of confidence was found this week, however. Losing by a mere goal in each game, the pattern was facing a 1-0 deficit early in the match. That began the 5-4 loss to Yale on Tuesday, when the Bulldogs’ Chris Izmirlian started off the scoring not four minutes into the game. The Huskies would retaliate with two goals of their own; senior Sam Kurker and sophomore Patrick Schule did the damage to cap off the first period.
It was a short-lived lead, as Yale would storm back to take the 3-2 lead early in the second period. That was tied up at three on a shorthanded goal by the nation’s top scorer, Zach Aston-Reese, seemingly giving the Huskies some much-needed momentum. But Yale would end the power play with a goal that would put them ahead once again—a feeling that Northeastern never experienced in the 5-4 loss.
“We didn’t deserve to win the game at the end of the night,” head coach Jim Madigan told GoNU after the game. “Credit Yale, but they played with a bit more pace and we were just too inconsistent with our effort.”
Northeastern came back that weekend ready to right the ship, but instead the frustration continued to mount. The Huskies took on No. 13 University of Vermont on the road, and dropped the match 4-3.
Again falling behind by one goal early in the game, NU tied it up halfway through the first period on a score by junior defenseman Garrett Cockerill. That would be the lone stretch where Vermont didn’t hold the lead, as it grew to a 4-1 advantage seven minutes into the third period.
The Huskies showed some resilience, tacking on two more goals in a two minute span to bring it to a one score game. They gave themselves 12 minutes remaining to relentlessly attack, controlling the puck for the vast majority of that span and keeping the pressure on Vermont’s defense. However the Catamounts’ goalie, freshman Stefanos Lekkas, remained steady, handing the Huskies their second consecutive loss.
“It was a disappointing loss. We came up here tonight expecting the win and two points in the Hockey East standings and we let two points slip,” Madigan said. “[We’re going to] get back to the drawing board, back on Monday and back to Boston. We’re defending better, but we can’t give up four goals a game.”
Despite the rough patch, there are still bright signs for the road ahead. Loaded with talented scorers like Aston-Reese, Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura, NU is never truly out of the game.
It’s just giving the offense a chance to score is what has escaped in the last couple of games.
Look for the Huskies to place a new emphasis on defense, and it seems that Coach Madigan is confident his team is on board.
“[It’s the] second half of the year, I’m not yelling and screaming about what we need to do,” Madigan said. “They know what we need to do. We’ve got to go out and execute for 60 minutes.”
The Huskies will face the University of New Hampshire (UNH) on the road on Thursday before returning to Boston, where they will battle UNH at Fenway Park on Saturday as part of the annual Frozen Fenway event.
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics