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.”

Hockey East Preview: New Hampshire Wildcats

Last Season: 12–15–9 (8–10–6, eighth place), lost to UMass Amherst in HE quarterfinal

Head Coach: Mike Souza (second season)

Coaches’ Poll Projected Finish: Seventh

Losses

  • D Richard Boyd
  • F Brendan Van Riemsdyk
  • F Marcus Vela
  • F Ara Nazarin
  • F Chris Miller

Additions

  • D Nolan McElhaney
  • D Kalle Eriksson
  • F Lucas Herrmann
  • F Chase Stevenson
  • F Robby Griffin
  • F Joe Hankinson

By Matthew Cunha

In his first year as head coach of the Wildcats, Mike Souza led UNH to their best win percentage (.458) since 2014–15. In the previous three years, UNH had finished 11th, 10th, and 10th in Hockey East and failed to post a win percentage above .438 under longtime coach Dick Umile.

During a stretch between December 7 and February 1, the Wildcats posted an 8–1–3 record, including a win over Boston College and a tie over 15th-ranked Miami. That run helped them sneak into the playoffs after starting the season 2–7–5. They faced off with eventual NCAA runners-up UMass Amherst and came up just short, losing to the Minutemen in a 5–4 double-overtime thriller in Game 1. They got shelled 6–0 in game 2, but nonetheless it was a positive season for coach Souza.

Last season, nine Wildcats produced more than 15 points; only three (Ara Narzarin, Marcus Vela, and Van Riemsdyk) aren’t returning. Leading the way will be senior Liam Blackburn, who produced 24 points last year. Fifth-round NHL pick and Ottawa Senators prospect Angus Crookshank tied for second in scoring with 23. Fellow rookie Jackson Pierson, third-round pick Max Gildon, and junior assistant captions Charlie Kelleher and Patrick Grasso were the other Wildcats to produce at least 15 points.

With plenty of scoring returning and Crookshank and Pierson likely to take steps forward, scoring should not be a problem this season for UNH. Losing Nazarin and Vela to graduation hurts the Wildcats’ bottom line, but there should be enough firepower to fill those gaps. The good news for Northeastern fans: Brendan Van Riemsdyk, brother of NHL player James Van Riemsdyk, left UNH to play his senior season at Northeastern. 

On the back end, UNH will be led by senior defenseman and captain Anthony Wyse. Last season, UNH allowed 2.86 goals per game, ninth in Hockey East. In the net is Mike Robinson, 86th overall pick of the San Jose Sharks in 2015. Robinson has not lived up to expectations in Wildcat land, finishing 10th in Hockey East in goals against (2.48) and save percentage (.915) last season. Seventh-round Tampa Bay prospect Ty Taylor will back him up.

Bottom Line: The Wildcats’ offensive depth should be fine, as they return six of their top nine scorers plus Angus Crookshank and Jackson Pierson. The concern for the Wildcats is the question marks on the back end, where goalie Robinson has not lived up to his potential. If he can break out as a junior, the Wildcats could be in good hands. In his second season, Souza should continue to improve with a top-five finish in Hockey East.