Northeastern Men’s Hockey Thrashes Merrimack to Kick Off Season

By George Barker and Mike Puzzanghera

BOSTON — Eight was great for the Huskies Saturday night, as they tallied multiple goals in each frame to claim their first win of the season over Merrimack, 8–2.

Northeastern (1–0–0) hosted Merrimack (1–2–0) for their first game of the season at Matthews Arena. While the Huskies had yet to hit the ice competitively, the Warriors split a home-and-home against a very talented UMass team the prior weekend.

It was the Huskies’ fourth line that created the first goal. The top defensive pairing of Michael Kesselring and Jordan Harris connected as Harris crept in from the blue line. Harris played a slick pass across the ice to freshman Steven Agriogianis, who ripped the puck past Merrimack goalie Troy Kobryn on his glove side for his first college goal.

Northeastern went glove side again on Kobryn later in the frame, as Harris picked up a power-play goal to go with his assist. It was almost a carbon copy of the first goal, as Grant Jozefek passed it low to Zach Solow, who shuttled it across the ice for Harris to fire home.

The Huskies held a two-goal lead entering the break. But they continued relentlessly and picked up four tallies in the second period.

“As the game went along, we got better,” Northeastern Head Coach Jim Madigan said. “Early in the year, the first game, you’re trying to play to your identity. Every hockey club has their identity and I thought as the first period transitioned to the second period, we started to play more to our identity. In the second period, we had a lot of offensive zone possession time.”

For the first goal, TJ Walsh and Solow combined to win the puck in the offensive zone, catching Merrimack napping. Solow sliced across the ice to set up a forehand and, rather than beating Kobryn high like the first two goals, slipped the puck five-hole for his first of the year.

Photo by Jordan Baron

Solow played provider once again for the fourth, as he patiently waited for sophomore Tyler Spott to enter the zone on the power play. Spott came screaming in, took a sharp feed from his captain, and one-timed it into the top corner, beating Kobryn glove side for the third time on the night. It was Spott’s first career goal.

“The bench went nuts for that one,” Harris said. “He teed it up too, he got good wood on that puck. We were all just so happy for him.”

Harris picked up his second goal of the night on the power play a few minutes later. He played a neat one-two with Jozefek to set up a shot at the point and, with the help of a great Solow screen, rifled yet another puck by Kobryn glove side. The goal went to review, but the officials determined Solow did not interfere with Kobryn in front.

“He’s an elite player so we expect him to play at a high level,” Madigan said of Harris. “It’s nice that he got those goals and got us on the board, two really nice plays. Solow made a nice play to him on his first power-play goal, finding him and he was really good back there just moving pucks.”

The second Harris goal wrapped up Kobyn’s day. The sophomore forfeited five goals in just under a period and a half, and Merrimack head coach Scott Borek had seen enough, replacing him with freshman Zachary Borgiel.

Not that it made a dent in Northeastern’s momentum, as three minutes later, the fourth line combined for another goal.

Photo by Jordan Baron

Spott capitalized on a poor pass from Merrimack and took it into the offensive zone himself. Agriogianis broke forward and continued the rush after receiving it from Spott, and he pushed a neat pass over to Neil Shea, who made no mistake with his finish, beating Borgiel high blocker side.

“I’ll enjoy it for the night,” Agriogianis said. “Obviously, Jordan Harris made a great play and like I said, I’ll enjoy it for tonight but quick turnaround for tomorrow.”

Photo by Jordan Baron

With an increasingly lopsided score, the game got increasingly chippy. Merrimack typically puts out a very physical side, but the Huskies matched their physicality on numerous occasions. Hard hits came across the ice from Northeastern’s Marco Bozzo and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine and Merrimack’s Patrick Kramer. Kramer eventually left the game with an injury after a hit from Northeastern’s Jeremie Bucheler sent him sliding into the boards.

“Every team has certain types of DNA and that’s been a big part of their game: being physical, heavy, they’re strong on pucks,” Madigan said of the Warriors. “One of the things we wanted to adjust a little bit was that hey, we have to be heavier, we had to get over pucks a little bit more because we thought they were a little bit stronger on pucks.”

Photos by Sarah Olender

The Warriors pulled a goal back with a slick rush before the period ended. Logan Drevitch seized the puck at center ice, broke through the Huskies’ defensive line, and fed the onrushing Dominic Dockery with a crisp pass. Dockery beat Husky goaltender Connor Murphy glove side to bring the period to a close at 6–1, NU.

The third period was marred by more physical play and a big scrum after Merrimack’s Patrick Holway grabbed one of the Jackson twins around the neck and attempted to throw him to the ice. Holway received only two minutes alongside Drevitch and Northeastern’s Fontaine.

“I thought we were throwing the body around well, and it’s a smaller building as you know tomorrow,” Solow said of the Sunday tilt at Lawler rink. “So it’s going to be a physical game and we’re ready for it.”

There were no goals until the 17-minute mark, as Agriogianis grabbed his second of the night. Bucheler gave him a great feed in front of the net and the freshman put a pretty redirect on it to take it over the outstretched Borgiel.

Riley Hughes got in on the act just over a minute later to cap the scoring for Northeastern. The sophomore picked the pocket of a Merrimack defender in his own zone and beat Borgiel high blocker side to score the only unassisted goal of the night, and Northeastern’s eighth in total.

The Warriors grabbed the final tally as a bit of consolation, as Liam Walsh fed the puck right across the face of goal to freshman Conor Lovett, who scored his first career goal with ease.

Connor Murphy got his first career win between the pipes, saving 20 of 22 shots and looking comfortable doing so. With Devon Levi off playing for Team Canada, Murphy stepped up and got the job done in game one.

“I thought he did a real good job there,” Madigan said of Murphy. “A couple early rebounds were put back in front, but he knew it and I thought he did a really good job and played with some poise.”

Photo by Sarah Olender

Also standing out for Northeastern were the bottom six forwards. While the Jackson–Jackson–Fontaine line didn’t register any goals, they constantly created chances and caused problems with their speed and agility. The Shea–Agriogianis–Austin Goldstein fourth line created three goals, but also kept steady pressure on Merrimack with the forecheck, something Madigan said the whole team did well.

The two teams will make the hour-long trek up to Merrimack Sunday to cap off the home-and-home.

“We know it’ll be much more of a different situation tomorrow night in their building,” Madigan said. “The confines are a little bit tighter and they play very well at home . . . They’ll be looking to avenge tonight’s game.”

2020–21 Men’s Hockey East Preview: UMass Amherst Minutemen

Last Season: 21–11–2 (14–8–2, second in Hockey East)

Head Coach: Greg Carvel (fifth season)

Preseason poll projected finish: Second

Departures: F Mitchell Chaffee, F Marco Bozzo, F Niko Hildenbrand, F Jack Suter, D Jake McLaughlin

Additions: F Josh Lopina, F Oliver MacDonald, F Ryan Sullivan, D Alger Linden, D Aaron Bohlinger

By Christian Skroce

Like many teams, UMass Amherst was disappointed by the way last season ended, as it deprived them of the chance to flex their muscles in postseason play. Most would say Cornell or Boston College were most negatively affected by the COVID-19 shutdown, but UMass absolutely belongs in that conversation. The Minutemen had locked up the second seed in the Hockey East playoffs and were set to take on a reeling Northeastern team when the world shut down. Suddenly, UMass saw their opportunity to avenge a semifinals loss a year prior vanish, as did their chance to reach the Frozen Four for a second year in a row. UMass found itself wondering what could have been, and this upcoming season will be their chance to answer that question.

As has been the case over the last two seasons under Greg Carvel, this year’s Minutemen squad is poised not only to contend for a Hockey East Championship, but for a national championship as well. UMass entered the season ranked seventh in the country and was selected to finish second in Hockey East behind Boston College in this year’s preseason poll. The team has experienced a meteoric rise under Carvel, ascending from 5–29–2 during his first year at the helm to 31–10–0 (and the NCAA runner-up) in his third season. Interestingly enough, Carvel owns both the single-season loss and win records for UMass.

Carvel has become known as a master recruiter, crafting two straight top-five classes in his second and third offseasons with the team. Although this year’s incoming freshman class is not as highly touted as Carvel’s previous groups, it will do well to fill key holes left by UMass’s departing players. Most notably, the Minuteman lost captain forwards Mitchell Chafee and Niko Hildenbrand, both of whom are members of the historic class that included current NHL star Cale Makar.

Amherst brings in freshmen forwards Josh Lopina and Oliver MacDonald to help replace its stars. Lopina brings unmatched size and physicality to the forward group, while MacDonald is more of a skillful forward with impressive skating and playmaking ability. Jake Gaudet, Oliver Chau, and Bobby Trivigno will be the important veteran presence for UMass’s forward group. 

While the team may not have any true attacking stars, their impressive forward depth can wreak havoc. Despite not having any-top tier forwards, UMass can employ dangerous third and fourth lines to wear down opponents and allow for multiple scoring opportunities.

The team’s strength will continue to be defense and goaltending, as it has for the last several years under Carvel. The defensive unit is led by captain Marc Del Gaizo, who has logged at least 15 points in both of his seasons with the Minutemen. Joining him on the blue line will be returnees Ty Farmer, Colin Felix, Zac Jones, and Matthew Kessel, all four of whom like to be involved in the offense and set up crippling counterattacks.

The Minutemen also added freshman defensemen Linden Alger and Aaron Bohlinger to round out the unit. Bohlinger will be a name to watch all season long and should be considered a favorite to make the all-freshman team for Hockey East. He is undersized, but provides an excellent spark on offense and offers tremendous upside.

If an impressive group of defensemen wasn’t enough, UMass also boasts one of the best goalie combinations in the country. The team’s starting netminder for most of the season will likely be senior Matt Murray, who has a 42–23–2 record during his three years at UMass. The Minutemen can also call on junior Filip Lindberg, who might be the best backup goalie in the country. In a season as strange as this one, having two capable goalies may prove to be a significant advantage. Both Murray and Lindberg posted goals against averages of less than 1.90 last season and have plenty of experience to lean on.

UMass’s schedule this season certainly favors a late-season run, but the Minutemen have some difficult stretches early in the season. In December, they play New Hampshire and BU back to back, and in January they play BC and Providence back to back. The weekend to watch will be January 15 and 16, when UMass takes on Hockey East favorites Boston College.

Bottom Line: Despite their offseason losses, the Minutemen will once again rank among the nation’s best. They have retooled their lineup and should have one of the best goals against averages in the country by the season’s end. Tack on elite coaching and the absence of Cornell after the Ivy League cancelled its season, and UMass — like BC — has a legitimate shot at a national title.