Northeastern and UMass Amherst have both seen their Hockey East fortunes change drastically over the past several seasons. The teams had frequently been referred to as the little brothers of Hockey East, but impressive coaching and talented recruiting classes have turned both into true conference powerhouses.
They have almost met in the Hockey East Tournament several times during the past few seasons. Two years ago, the programs seemed destined to meet in the title game; UMass secured the one seed, while Northeastern finished third. Both teams were rolling heading into the semifinals, but an upset by Boston College forced the Minutemen out of the tournament, leading to an NU–BC final (and we all know how that ended).
Northeastern and UMass were finally slated to face off in the first round of the 2020 Hockey East Tournament, but COVID-19 cancelled this meeting just as the Huskies were set to arrive in Amherst. Fast forward one year, and the two finally went at it in postseason play, the same date they were scheduled to just a year prior.
The two meetings between the Massachusetts schools this season ended in two UMass victories by a combined scored of 9–6. A third meeting was cancelled due to COVID protocols. But as the Hockey East Tournament drew near, there would be nothing getting in the way of the long-awaited playoff matchup.
“With the one-and-done format, you have to bring everything you’ve got into each game – that’s been the message we’ve been sending our players,” Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan said before the game. “Now it’s up to them to make the most of this opportunity.”
Northeastern received positive injury news before the game, as touted freshman forward Sam Colangelo returned to the lineup for the Huskies. Meanwhile, the third-seeded Minutemen headed into the tournament fully healthy and ready to finally make their mark.
Junior forward Garrett Wait got the scoring going for Amherst just three minutes in. The goal came after an impressive push from UMass, with fellow junior Bobby Trivigno setting up his linemate with an impressive pass from behind the Northeastern net.
Sophomore defenseman Zac Jones doubled the UMass lead just six minutes later, as Trivigno picked up yet another assist. The goal came off an odd-man rush that found Jones in the slot with just the goalie to beat. With NU defenders trailing back, Jones coolly finished off a wrister to give UMass the 2–0 lead.
Northeastern’s best chance to get on the board in the first came in the period’s dying minutes, as the Huskies went on their first power play. Despite some nice chances, the Minutemen’s kill proved too much for the Huskies.
The Minutemen continued to dominate through the first few minutes of the second period, but their two-goal lead would not hold for long. Northeastern finally got their first goal halfway through the second, as sophomore defenseman Jeremie Bucheler scored with an impressive wrister from just in front of the goal line. Bucheler’s defensive linemate Jayden Struble was crucial, as he opened up room on the ice before finding his teammate on the blue line. Bucheler then employed a nifty shot fake before firing the wrister into the back of the net.
Despite the new Husky confidence, the Minutemen continued their assault. While UMass certainly had their fair share of chances, Northeastern goaltender Connor Murphy came up big to keep the score 2–1.
Northeastern continued to make defensive plays and generated their fair share of chances, but the UMass attack proved too much as Bobby Trivigno would showed why he’s a finalist for Hockey East Player of the Year, finishing off a two-on-one with a calm five-hole shot against Murphy. The chance came almost completely against the run of play, as Northeastern had enjoyed extended zone time prior to the break lead. The goal came with under two minutes remaining in the second period, giving UMass a 3–1 lead and all the momentum heading into the final frame.
It would not take long for UMass to widen their margin, as Philip Lagunov made it 4–1 four minutes into the third period. While the Huskies continued to fight, the score would remain 4–1, sending UMass into a semifinal matchup against Providence.
Madigan was candid after the game, explaining that today was “a game similar to the last few games . . . chasing from behind. Can’t be playing from behind against good teams. Been chasing the last few weeks. 9–9–3, being .500, is not what this program is about.” But he noted later that “these guys faced a lot this season and dealt with it with class; I’m proud of all of them and I’m excited for the future.”
Madigan also mentioned the injuries his team has dealt with throughout the campaign, specifically during the past month. Almost every Northeastern player was dealing with some type of knock at this point, and simply being in the lineup did not make a player fully healthy.
Madigan closed his final press conference of the season by praising this year’s senior class, the best in Northeastern’s history, one that often exceeded expectations and continued the program’s upward trajectory.
“Those seniors deserved a better finish to their careers, but they’ve all enjoyed successful careers here,” Madigan said, listing the accolades and hardware the class collected, which includes two Hockey East championships and three Beanpot titles.
“The culture was changed by Josh Manson, passed down to the Solows and Jozefeks and the graduating group,” he continued. “They’ve continued the passing of the torch.”
Despite a lackluster end to the season, the Huskies’ future is bright. Northeastern will take the offseason to reassess and continue improving the program Madigan and company have built during the last decade. While NU will again enjoy an impressive recruiting class next season, perhaps the greatest change will come between the pipes, as goalie Devon Levi will likely make his Husky debut to start next season. After being sidelined this season due to an injury suffered during World Juniors, Levi will look to finally make his mark and step into the large shoes left by Cayden Primeau two years ago.
Northeastern will also return its top freshman class, including Sam Colangelo and all-rookie selection Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. The bar has unquestionably been raised for this program.