#1 Eagles Make Their Nest in Matthews

Story by Rae Deer and Milton Posner

Photos by Sarah Olender

BOSTON — It was hard to know whether Tuesday night’s Northeastern–Boston College men’s hockey matchup was an attempt to recreate the Beanpot — which begins in the first week of February in non-pandemic years — or merely a resumption of the schedule Northeastern would have played had a positive COVID test not robbed them of two weeks’ worth of games.

Either way, the Huskies hung tough with the newly minted top team in the nation for about half the game, but ultimately fell, 6–2. The fifth-place Huskies dropped to 6–4–2, while the second-place Eagles rose to 10–2–1.

Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan remarked on Monday that he wasn’t sure how much energy and stamina his team would have. After all, COVID testing protocol meant that players were rejoining the team one by one, with some only being cleared on Sunday. Nonetheless, the Huskies began the game with plenty of energy and aggression, with Zach Solow in particular proving impactful on breakouts. This energy gave them a chance when BC’s Patrick Giles went to the box for boarding, and Riley Hughes tipped in a Dylan Jackson rocket from the point.

“I thought at times we had good energy,” Madigan said. “I thought our guys who logged a lot of minutes  — like [Jordan] Harris and Solow — had good legs.”

But the 20 days between games did leave the Huskies’ conditioning short of ideal. Madigan confirmed that goaltender Connor Murphy and forward Grant Jozefek exited the game due to cramps and dehydration. Both are likely to play on Friday. In addition, defenseman Jayden Struble exited with a lower-body injury; his status for Friday is uncertain.

For the first 10 minutes, Northeastern’s energy made up for some discombobulated breakouts, which the Eagles’ size, strength, and speed made exceedingly tricky. But after an entry from the blue line ricocheted off Murphy’s pad, Nikita Nesterenko buried the rebound to even the score.

Less than a minute later, the Eagles caught the Huskies in the middle of a line change. A quick-hit stretch pass from Eamon Powell to Giles was all it took to post another tally.

Going into the second, the Huskies seemed to have solved the breakout issue. They skated with vigor, aggression, and precision, and were finally working in sync. The offense generated chances and put pressure on the Eagles’ blue line. These chances paid off when Mike Kesselring glided unimpeded to Spencer Knight’s doorstep to tie the game at two.

Kesselring, who was bumped off the first line earlier in the season for performance reasons, had notched his first goal of the year and justified Madigan restoring him to the top line. However, BC captain Marc McLaughlin could not let the score go unanswered, scoring his team-leading eighth goal of the year a mere 40 seconds later. 

“We worked hard to get it to 2–2 there in the second and then we gave a goal right back at them, we gave it to them within 40 seconds.” Madigan stated. “For me, that was a turning point and then they got the next goal.”

Marshall Warren’s goal seemed to be the point of no return, as the Husky offense seemed to lose its spark. For the rest of the period, even when Northeastern went on the man advantage, their best outcomes were a flurry of strikes in Knight’s general direction, only a few of which necessitated a save. BC, meanwhile, seemed entirely in control, as only a spectacular Murphy save prevented Matt Boldy from slotting home a breakaway.

The period also marked an escalation of the tensions that had pervaded the game until that point.

“It was a good, physical game,” BC head coach Jerry York remarked. “The refs reffed the type of game that both clubs like. There were no ticky-tack penalties.”

However, the small displays of aggression came to a head with the first of a few scuffles throughout the night. Knight made a save off of a Julian Kislin wrister, then Jozefek and BC’s Jack McBain kicked off with some pushing and shoving in front of the goal. It only amplified when Nesterenko inserted himself into the mix to defend his linemate, resulting in roughing penalties for the trio.

The aggression and skirmishes continued in the third, particularly when a frustrated Solow was whistled for an obvious hooking. Tempers were still running high as the teams departed the ice post-game, with Eagles players waving a still-barking Solow off the ice.

The third period featured two more BC goals, most notably the first collegiate goal for senior defender Michael Karow, who was playing his 120th BC game. The jubilant leaping and piling-on of his linemates, as well as the eruption from the bench, said everything.

Both goals were ceded by Curtis Frye, who took over for Murphy a few minutes into the third. It was Frye’s second appearance in three-and-a-half years with the Huskies; in both, he was inserted in the third period to halt a BC team that had Northeastern on the ropes. With the Huskies struggling to match BC’s aggression, passing precision, shot volume, and overall cohesion, the 6–2 lead was too much to overcome.

The Huskies next play Friday at 6 PM against Connecticut. WRBB will call that game, with coverage beginning a few minutes before puck drop.

2020–21 Men’s Hockey East Preview: Boston College Eagles

Last season: 24-8-2 (17–6–1, first in Hockey East)

Head coach: Jerry York (27th season)

Preseason poll projected finish: First

Departures: D Ben Finkelstein, D Connor Moore, F David Cotton, F Julius Mattila, F Aapeli Räsänen, F Graham McPhee, F Ron Greco, D Luke McInnis, D Jesper Mattila, F Zach Walker, F Mike Merrulla, G Ryan Edquist

Additions: D Stephen Davis, D Tim Lovell, D Eamon Powell, D Jack Agnew, F Nikita Nesterenko, F Gentry Shamburger, F Trevor Kuntar, F Danny Weight, F Harrison Roy, F Colby Ambrosio, G Henry Wilder

By Mike Puzzanghera

Jerry York’s Eagles really flipped things around after a string of disappointing seasons.

Last year, they were one of the top teams in the country. BC ended last year ranked fourth nationally, easily winning the Hockey East regular season title.

This year, they received eight of 11 first place votes in the Hockey East preseason poll. Spencer Knight is one of the best goaltenders in the country — the Panthers prospect was a Richter Award finalist and finished with a .931 save percentage as a freshman. And wasn’t even the Eagles’ only first-year star last year. 

Alex Newhook led the team with 19 goals and 23 assists and was named NCAA Rookie of the Year. A first-round pick of the Avalanche, Newhook led all freshmen in goals and was third in the country in plus/minus (+28).

Matt Boldy finished the year strong, ending with nine goals and 17 assists. Nineteen of his 26 points came in 24 games of Hockey East play.

BC seemed poised to make a deep run in the Hockey East and NCAA Tournaments. After a run of underwhelming seasons, the loss of a realistic shot at a national title couldn’t have been easy to swallow. Luckily for the Eagles, a good chunk of that core returns this year, making them a clear top-five team in the country.

They lose a few excellent players — David Cotton and Julius Mattila are tough for any team to replace, and Ben Finkelstein was a solid defenseman throughout his time in Hockey East. Aapeli Räsänen chose to forego his senior season, opting to go pro in his home country of Finland, which hurts the forward group even more. But they do bring in three draftees from their freshman class. Trevor Kuntar went 89th to the Bruins, and Eamon Powell and Colby Ambrosio both went in the fourth round, at 116 and 118 respectively.

Kuntar, a six-foot left-shot forward, logged 28 goals and 23 points for Youngstown in the USHL last year. He changed his commitment from Harvard after their hockey season was cancelled due to COVID-19, giving the Eagles a huge boost to their recruiting class and to their top lines. Ambrosio is a bit small — 5’9”, 165 lbs — but he managed 26 goals and 24 assists for Tri-City in the USHL.

Powell has valuable Team USA U-18 experience, making him a huge get for the Eagles’ blue line. They’ll look to him to help fill the hole Finkelstein leaves on defense and to bolster the corps playing in front of Knight.

Bottom Line: The Eagles have one of the top goaltenders in the country, young prolific scorers who are still developing, and another solid recruiting class. Newhook is a legitimate star and gives the Eagles a great top-line scoring threat. They’re the clear preseason favorite to win Hockey East, and they look ready to make a fierce run at a national title.