By Josh Brown
Before Sunday afternoon’s Hockey East opener between No. 16 Northeastern and Vermont got underway, a bit of bad news circulated Huskies nation.
With John Stevens already out of the lineup due to an upper-body injury he suffered against Arizona State, the revelation that his brother Nolan had suffered an upper-body injury as well had Huskies fans on edge.
“John, it’s week-to-week,” said Northeastern coach Jim Madigan. “We’re hopeful in a couple weeks, that he’s back playing. Nolan will be a little while, and we’ll have more of an update on Nolan early this week coming up, but he certainly will be out for a period of time.”
The result of the game did not help.
Behind two goals by sophomore third-liner Craig Puffer, the Catamounts (4-1-1, 1-0-0) escaped Matthews Arena with a 3-2 win. The loss is the Huskies (3-2-2, 0-0-1) first in the home barn since December 6, 2015 and drops the Huntington Hounds to 13-14-6 all-time in Hockey East openers.
As Northeastern has been prone to doing over the past four games, the Huskies got it rolling just 45 seconds into the game courtesy of Adam Gaudette’s fifth goal of the season.Sneaking his way into the slot, the sophomore forward was able to beat Catamount freshman goalie Stefanos Lekkas (24 saves) over the shoulder to give his team a 1-0 lead.
While Vermont did not capitalize on a power play they received via a Grant Jozefek hooking call just over a minute later, the freshman forward gave the Catamounts another opportunity on the man-advantage when he got whistled for tripping at the 4:19 mark. Sensing an opportunity to knot the score back up, Puffer beat Northeastern goalie Ryan Ruck (26 saves) for his first of the night.
Just over a minute later junior forward Dylan Sikura scored what should be an early contender for goal of the season. Collecting the puck along the right side half-wall, the Aurora, Ontario native stick-handled through a host of traffic, eventually beating Lekkas stickside for his second goal of the season.
From that point forward the lion’s share of the grade-A opportunities went the Catamounts way. After Matt Alvaro tied the score up at two, Puffer scored at the 14:55 mark of the third, poking a rebound past Ruck to put Vermont up 3-2.
Despite pulling Ryan Ruck with 1:38 to go in the contest, the Huskies failed to get pressure at the net and Vermont was able to clear the puck several times to drain the clock.
“We’re getting good starts,” said Madigan, “which is what we want, and we talked about it and put a lot of emphasis on it. I’d be more concerned if we weren’t getting chances in the second and third period. We scored two goals on six shots in the first period, and I thought we made that goalie look good.”
“In the second and third period, we had some chances and we were obviously trying to go high and elevate because he’s small and our first two goals were high, but when you go high, you have to hit the net. We had chances, but at the end of the day, you have to bear down more at the net.”
Northeastern will look to grab that elusive first Hockey East win of the season on Friday night when they host Boston University in the first of a home-and-home series. WRBB will have full coverage of both games beginning at 6:45 p.m.