Huskies Domesticate Wildcats, 7–0

Story by Milton Posner and Jack Sinclair

Photos by Sarah Olender

BOSTON — For most of the game, the Huskies weren’t headed for a blowout.

Their first goal, skilled as it was, was a quick punch on the penalty kill. Their next two, both late in the second period, came on the man advantage. With 45 minutes played, it looked a fairly typical — if not fiercely competitive — contest.

And then the dam collapsed. Four unassisted Northeastern goals within five-and-a-half minutes turned Matthews Arena into a slaughterhouse. The Huskies (6–3–2) left the ice Wednesday night with a 7–0 win over New Hampshire (3–5–1).

Each team exited their locker rooms with a different agenda. For Northeastern, it was out-skating their opponents all over the ice. For New Hampshire, it was setting the physical tone of the game with heavy hits. The Wildcats made sure to finish every check, while the Huskies used the spacious ice of Matthews Arena to spread themselves out and use their speed. 

There was no better example of this plan coming to fruition than the play leading to the Huskies’ first goal. After James Davenport interfered with a Wildcat forward in the Northeastern defensive zone, Husky captain Zach Solow received the puck from Grant Jozefek in the Huskies’ zone, flew behind the Wildcats’ defense, and cooly finished with a backhand for Northeastern’s first short-handed goal of the season.

“I thought that the draw got scrummed up a little bit, and I was just sealing the wall,” Solow recalled. “The puck squirted to me, I saw that the D jumped down in the corner of my eye . . . I just took it to the middle, I beat them, and then on the two-on-one I was looking through [the goalie’s] triangle. I couldn’t really make the play and saw him turn his toes towards me, so I went to my backhand, got the goalie moving, and put it five-hole.”

After the goal, Northeastern handled the pressure from the Wildcats’ power-play unit and held on to their one-goal lead. Their speed produced an aggressive, targeted forecheck that kept the puck in New Hampshire’s zone and forced them to rely on the occasional rush to create chances. A few more scoring opportunities came the Huskies’ way, mainly created by dynamic freshmen forwards Ty Jackson, Dylan Jackson, and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine. All three leveraged their speed to skate behind the Wildcats’ defense and create quality looks. New Hampshire goaltender Mike Robinson stood fast, though, keeping the deficit at one, after one.

In the second period, the Wildcats displayed more aggression, tighter passes, and cleaner zone entries than they did in the first. Then Northeastern’s penalty bug struck again. First it was Mike Kesselring for interference. Right after the Huskies killed it off, Solow went to the box . . . again for interference. The Huskies’ penalty killers kept the center of the ice clear, and Connor Murphy’s positioning in net did 90 percent of the job.

“We talked about it every TV timeout,” associate head coach Jerry Keefe said of the team’s many penalties. “Our guys recognize it. There’s a couple times tonight I thought we were a little unlucky — so to speak — on a couple of calls. I thought we were playing hard and maybe they were penalties, but I didn’t think they were reckless penalties, which is a good start . . . But there’s no question that we have to be disciplined. It takes you out of your rhythm.”

Nikolai Jenson was sent to the box soon after for hooking. The Northeastern power-play unit took the ice and quickly made their presence felt. Jozefek passed left and drew defenders as he charged toward the net, leaving Harris to blast an unobstructed one-timer to Robinson’s glove side. Northeastern led 2–0.

A few minutes later, Wildcat Charlie Kelleher found himself in the sin bin, yielding another Northeastern power play that would spell “DOOM” for New Hampshire. Sam Colangelo, in just his third college game, charged into the zone and snapped a pass to Jozefek, who was open on the back side. It was Colangelo’s first point as a Husky and Jozefek’s third goal of the year.

“We had the attack mindset,” Solow said of the power play. “We didn’t really generate enough against Merrimack. So the days that we could prep, we were focused on getting shots through and trying to create more chances that way, and clearly it helped out tonight big time.”

The Wildcats started the third period clawing at any chance to get back into the game. Line tweaks allowed them to get more time in the offensive zone, but Connor Murphy stood strong en route to his first career shutout.

“The guys in front of me did a hell of a job getting pucks outside the dots and keeping the shots where I could control them,” Murphy said. “Makes my job a lot easier.”

And then came the five-and-a-half minute stretch in the middle of the third where Northeastern made the Wildcats look like kittens. First, a Jayden Struble screamer caromed off Robinson and right onto Gunnarwolfe Fontaine’s stick.

Less than a minute later, Zach Solow mounted a similar rush to his short-handed goal in the first and beat Robinson five-hole again.

“His 200-foot game has been outstanding the last few games,” Keefe gushed. “He hasn’t really got on the scoresheet as much as he used to and it hasn’t changed his game at all. Tonight was a great way for him to get rewarded for playing the right way.”

The replacement of Mike Robinson in net with Ty Taylor produced some quiet . . . for four minutes. Then Julian Kislin justified his spot in the top defensive pairing by dropping Eric Esposito to his knees . . . 

. . . and firing a shot at Robinson. The netminder coughed up a rebound, and Ty Jackson — who was hanging out at the edge of the crease — didn’t need to be asked twice.

Fifteen seconds later, Jayden Struble got as uninhibited a path to the goal as anyone had all night and put it home to yield the 7–0 final score, the largest blowout of the season for the Huskies.

The Huskies looked energetic all game, while the Wildcats looked energetic only in stretches. By the time the Huskies reeled off four goals in the middle of the third, the Wildcats looked dead. And despite a 37–29 Wildcat shot advantage, the Huskies had many more quality looks.

“We’re not a big shot-taking team. We haven’t been built that way for years,” Keefe noted. “There’s going to be a lot of games where we might be out shot . . . If we’re not giving up grade As, I’m fine with it . . . We like to try to wear you down. We like to hold on to the puck, and we like to look for quality [over] quantity.”

The Huskies pulled off the rout with several notable absences. Freshman goaltender Devon Levi, who has yet to play for Northeastern after a magnificent run for Team Canada in World Juniors, remains out with an upper body injury and no timetable to return. Jeremie Bucheler was out after sustaining an injury against Merrimack. And head coach Jim Madigan was absent after a close contact with a non-player who tested positive for COVID-19; Keefe has the reins at least until the end of the week.

“It’s a little nerve-wracking just because you don’t want to mess it up,” Keefe said. “We all miss Coach Madigan . . . I think the whole staff felt that way.”

The Huskies will face the #3 Boston College Eagles in a home-and-home, with games at 7 PM on Friday and Saturday. Mike Puzzanghera and Sarah Olender will call the Friday game for WRBB, with coverage commencing a few minutes before puck drop.

“They’re dangerous in transition,” Keefe said of the Eagles. “So a lot of the messaging that we talked to our group about heading into today’s game is not going to change against BC. If you don’t check against BC you’re not going to give yourself a chance.”

“This is a big series,” Solow said. “We know what BC is capable of. We know who they have. They got us last year in a regular season game, so we’re going to come out flying. They’re a good team, but I think we can match that.”

Goal-angelo: The Story of Northeastern’s Newest NHL Draft Pick

By Milton Posner and Christian Skroce

On Wednesday afternoon, the Anaheim Ducks nabbed Sam Colangelo with the 36th pick in the NHL Entry Draft, making him the highest Northeastern selection since Jamie Oleksiak in 2011. He was also the first Hockey East player selected this year and the first college player off the board in the second round.

It was, he says, the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. But Anaheim can wait for now. Colangelo, who grew up about 25 minutes from Matthews Arena, has some local hockey left to play first. 

***

Sam Colangelo’s ties to Northeastern don’t end with his nearby upbringing in Stoneham, MA. They don’t end with his reunion with high school teammate Neil Shea, or with high school and USHL teammate Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, or with summer skating partner Aidan McDonough. The roots run even deeper; he’s skated with Jayden Struble, Jordan Harris, and Riley Hughes since they were all five or six years old.

He had an actual relationship with Northeastern early on, too. It was the first college he visited, back at the age of 14.

“I was still in middle school and I didn’t even know where I was going to high school yet, so it was pretty crazy,” Colangelo told WRBB. “I love being in a city. Obviously Northeastern is a great school as well. So it was kind of a no-brainer for me. I kind of fell in love with the school right away.”

Northeastern Associate Head Coach Jerry Keefe, who spearheads the team’s recruiting, told us the feeling was mutual.

“I’ve known Sam since he was about 11 years old . . . and he was just a little guy back then,” Keefe recalls. “When he was a 14, 15-year-old he started to pop hard. He was always a good skater, but then all of a sudden, the pop in his legs came. He started to become a more powerful skater. He was always really smart, and then he started to play the game faster.”

“Coach Keefe was straightforward with me on what I needed to work on,” Colangelo remembers. “He believed in me from the start and I always trusted him from the start. He’s a great guy and a great offensive style coach, and that’s my game . . . I just thought [the coaches] knew my game better than anyone else.”

Colangelo was also attracted by the experiences of former Huskies — including Adam Gaudette and Dylan Sikura — who the Huskies developed into NHL-quality talents. But there was yet another draw for the local kid: a little hockey tournament in early February, one he attended every year growing up.

“When you’re a young kid and you commit to a Beanpot school, everyone talks about ‘Oh, you’re gonna play in the Beanpot!’” Colangelo says with a grin. “That was when I was 15; I’m almost 19 now, and realizing I’m going to be playing in TD Garden hopefully pretty soon is a cool thing to think about. Going to it every year growing up, I was always dreaming about playing in it.”

After sharing a line with Neil Shea at Lawrence Academy, Colangelo and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine hopped to the Chicago Steel of the USHL. Colangelo tied for third in the league in points and goals, and the team was on pace to break numerous league records en route to a championship. But COVID-19 didn’t care, and the season shut down in mid-March, leaving Colangelo to shift his focus to the NHL draft earlier than he’d anticipated.

“I was able to meet with some teams in person, but I was supposed to go to the NHL combine when you do all the interviews with the GMs and stuff like that, which would have been a cool experience,” he tells us. “I ended up having to do it basically the same way I’m doing this right now: sitting in front of my computer.”

But even if Zoom calls dulled the pre-draft experience, it couldn’t dull the emotion when the moment finally came.

“I’m an only child,” he says. “And [my parents] invested so much in me and I’m excited to see how happy they are. I definitely wouldn’t be here without them.”

***

Sam Colangelo is one of the most promising players Northeastern has seen in years. Though he’ll likely still be 18 years old when the season kicks off, the 6’2”, 208-pound forward will be one of the strongest players in Hockey East.

“He’s a big, powerful guy with skill,” Keefe observes. “So he’ll end up being a power forward with a great stick that has great vision.” Keefe also noted his goal scoring and all-around offensive game, saying “we’re expecting big things from him right away.”

Colangelo cited his hockey IQ and shot as strengths, and mentioned that he’s worked hard to boost his speed over the last few years. But his biggest strength might be his elite vision and playmaking; he excels at being in the right place at the right time, and consistently creates offensive opportunities for teammates. But he acknowledged that he’d like to improve his first three steps and, though he’s a stronger defender now, he wants to be the sort of player his coaches can trust in all three zones.

“I’m definitely a hockey junkie,” he says. “I love the game and I’ll do whatever it takes to get to the next level.”

Keefe cited Colangelo’s down-low game as a key area to improve, noting its importance for NHL-caliber forwards. But he’s already psyched about the offensive possibilities Colangelo can help the Huskies unlock.

“We want to work hard to get the puck back, but when we do get it back, we want to go to work offensively,” he explains. “Any time we can get someone with really good hockey sense and hockey IQ offensively, it really does fit into the style we want to play. And he skates really well for a big guy. We want to play fast in transition and he fits that mold.”

When asked about his favorite current NHL player comparisons, Colangelo mentioned several offensive power forwards, including Charlie Coyle, Kasperi Kapanen, and Mark Scheifele, but noted that the list doesn’t stop there: “I could probably sit here and name 10 to 15 guys that I’ve watched all their shifts from the season. In Chicago, we’ve watched film every single day. And there are a lot of guys I like to just take bits and pieces from their games and keep that in mind.” 

Colangelo sees himself as a true all-around player, which has often been echoed in profiles from NHL experts and draft analysts. One cited Colangelo’s “bulldozing strength and near pathological need to shoot the puck” with accurate, powerful snapshots and wristers. Another lauded his strength, which gives him not only scoring range and accuracy, but makes him powerful enough to hold off defenders, throw checks, snag loose pucks, and muscle into corners, the slot, and the crease. They acknowledged, as does he, that his speed and acceleration are improving but remain a work in progress, especially given his professional potential. He also excels at clogging passing lanes, creating zone exits, stifling opponents on the penalty kill, distributing to teammates, picking corners from distance and bad angles, and securing the puck while handling.

For a Huskies team that lost leading scorer Tyler Madden to the pros this offseason — plus two of their top point men to graduation — the offensive boost is a must-have.

***

For the next few days, Colangelo and teammate Jayden Struble will be in Michigan for the US National Junior Team Evaluation Camp, which is used to gauge players for next year’s National Junior Team. If Colangelo can make it, he’ll follow in the footsteps of his friend Jordan Harris, as well as former Huskies Tyler Madden and Cayden Primeau.

“My birthday is December 26, and that’s when the World Juniors start every year,” he says. “Since I was a little kid, I’d always wake up the day after Christmas, it would be my birthday, and I got to watch World Juniors. That was my favorite tournament to watch growing up.

“If I have a chance to make that team, I’m gonna go there and work my hardest and hopefully have a chance. To go with Jayden is awesome as well. I know we both worked hard for this. And we’re both super excited to get there.”

But for now, Colangelo is, in many respects, just like any other Northeastern freshman, taking classes online and limiting in-person socializing due to COVID-19 safety protocols. Though his first puck drop at Matthews Arena likely won’t arrive until late November, his eyes are trained on the prizes already.

“We have the same three goals every year,” he states bluntly. “Beanpot, Hockey East, national championship. If you don’t win all three of those there’s definitely some stuff left on the table.”

And as for moving from the USHL to Hockey East, where he’ll face players up to six years older than him?

“I’m a pretty confident kid and I think my game will adjust well,” he offers. “I’m not really the type of kid who gets nervous. I get excited and let the adrenaline take over.”