Hockey East Preview – Northeastern University Huskies

By: Josh Brown

Head Coach – Jim Maimages.duckduckgo.com_-272x300digan, 6th season

Last Season – 22-14-5 (10-8-4 in Hockey East, 6th); won Hockey East Tournament, lost in first round of NCAA Tournament

Losses – G Derick Roy,
D Logan Day, D Matt Benning, F Mike McMurtry, F Kevin Roy, F Dalen Hedges, D Colton Saucerman, F Will Messa, D Dustin Darou, D Jarrett Fennell

Newcomers – F Nick Fiorentino, D Jeremy Davies, D Ryan Shea, F John Picking, F Biagio Lerario, F Grant Jozefek, F Matt Filipe, D Garrett Cecere, G Curtis Frye

Days before the Boston Red Sox opened up the 2014 MLB season, Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy penned a line that in many ways is a microcosm of the state of Northeastern University hockey heading into the 2016-2017 campaign.

“The Red Sox at this moment are perfect,” said Shaughnessy. “They just completed a magical, worst-to-first championship season that made them darlings of New England and then they followed it up with perhaps the most tranquil and happy spring training since the sport was invented.”

The Huskies are coming off a fairytale season of their own in which they didn’t win the Beanpot or win a game in the NCAA Tournament. So what gives? Not only did Northeastern go 15-2-3 to close the regular season after starting off a dismal 1-11-2 (which included a sweep at the hands of Bentley), but the Huskies brought home the program’s first Hockey East title since 1988, entering the NCAA Tournament on a 13-game winning streak, the longest in program history. Undoubtedly sweetening the deal for many Northeastern fans was the team’s 5-4 win over Boston College in the Hockey East semifinals at the TD Garden.

So even despite their Beanpot semifinals loss to Boston University and the 6-2 beating they took from eventual NCAA Champion North Dakota in the first round of the tournament, the Huskies enter the 2016-2017 season as close to perfect as they’ve ever been in the eyes of Northeastern fans. A program previously plagued by the inability to win the big game won several.

Understandably for Huskies fans, that left many cautiously waiting for the second shoe to drop. Although the team did suffer a big loss in defenseman Matt Benning, who decided to turn pro instead of returning for his senior season, the Huskies had a relatively quiet off-season. Despite the natural speculation after a championship caliber season, assistant captain Zach Aston-Reese, who led Northeastern in points last season (43), is still a Husky. John and Nolan Stevens, who will serve as captain and assistant captain respectively after breakout seasons, are still Huskies. And along the way Jim Madigan and staff brought in what is looking like one of the best recruiting classes in all the nation.

Along with Benning the Huskies will enter the new season without a core of players – notably Mike McMurtry, Colton Saucerman, Dustin Darou, Jarrett Fennell and Dalen Hedges – who were instrumental in changing the culture of Northeastern hockey. And of course how could we forget about Kevin Roy. One of the most decorated players in Northeastern history, Roy (who ended his career 11th all-time in program history with 150 points) would have surged up the history charts even further had it not been for a slow start paired with a concussion he suffered early on in the season forcing him to miss 13 games.

Despite their early struggles Northeastern ended the year in the top half of nearly every statistic in Hockey East. They were second in goals per game (3.27), fifth in scoring defense (2.56 g/gm), they took the second least amount of penalties (8.9 per game) and the Huntington Hounds had the second best power play in all of Hockey East (23.2%). The Huskies one Achilles heel was their penalty kill, which operated at a mediocre 78.8%, but is expected to improve with the help of the incoming freshman class. For the first time since the 1993-1994 season, Northeastern had five players (Zach Aston-Reese, Nolan Stevens, John Stevens, Mike McMurtry, Adam Gaudette) finish the year with at least 30 points, four of whom are returning this season.

Along with the aforementioned returning forwards, the Huskies will look to junior Dylan Sikura and sophomore Lincoln Griffin to keep the Northeastern offense atop Hockey East.  An already crowded top-12 gets even tighter with the addition of four freshman – John Picking, Biagio Lerario, Grant Jozefek and Matt Filipe – who will all find themselves competing for ice time right off the bat. Especially notable is Filipe, who was drafted 67th overall to the Carolina Hurricanes in June’s NHL Draft. A former two-time Super 8 champion with Malden Catholic, Filipe, the son of former Northeastern great Paul Filipe, played the 2015-2016 season with the USHL’s Cedar Rapids RoughRiders where he scored 19 goals and racked up 17 assists earning USHL All-Rookie Second Team honors. Jozefek will also be entering Huntington Ave after playing in the USHL last season, netting 21 goals and 32 assists with the Lincoln Stars, an organization that has become a breeding ground for future Huskies. Speaking of former Stars, Joefek played the last two seasons in Lincoln with Lerario who captained the team and also led the league with 167 penalty minutes.

Defensively Northeastern will counter the loss of Benning, Darou, Fennell and Saucerman with newcomers Nick Fiorentino, Jeremy Davies and Ryan Shea. Selected 121st overall to Chicago in the 2015 NHL Draft, Shea, who followed a magical three season career at Boston College High School (14 goals, 54 assists in 64 career games) with a year in the USHL, suffered a shoulder injury early last season which forced him to miss the first half for Youngston. Davies was selected 192nd overall to New Jersey this year and leaves behind a Bloomington Thunder (USHL) team where he became the all-time leading scoring defenseman, knotting  16 goals and 53 assists in 103 games over two seasons.

In net the Huskies will turn to sophomore Ryan Ruck, who won over the Northeastern faithful after a standout freshman season which saw him go 20-11-4 with a .909 save percentage and 2.36 goals against average. Looking to challenge him for ice time will be 6-foot-4 netminder Curtis Frye. Playing the last two seasons in the USPHL, Frye is accustomed to a college hockey schedule having played over 1,400 minutes in the 2015-2016 season.

Bottom Line: Let’s be blunt about it, this Northeastern team is really good. Although they’ll need some returning guys not named Zach Aston-Reese, John Stevens and Nolan Stevens to take that next step and carry some more of the load, this freshman class has the potential to be one of the best in recent Northeastern history. Expect the Huskies to be a top-five team in Hockey East and make a return trip to the NCAA Tournament regardless of if they can defend their Lamoriello trophy.

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