NU Women’s Hockey Tops Preseason Poll, Men Finish Fifth

By Jack Sinclair and Christian Skroce

For the second year running, the Northeastern women’s hockey team was unanimously selected to win Hockey East in a poll of conference head coaches.

The Huskies ended last season on a resounding high note, smashing UConn in the Hockey East Championship after running away with the regular-season title. The Huskies apparently decided that wasn’t good enough and brought back everyone but three graduating seniors. With former Providence forward and all-conference second teamer Maureen Murphy hopping on, the poll result was a foregone conclusion.

The Huskies are serious title contenders and are poised to become a dynasty. The only first-place vote the Huskies didn’t get was their own, since the poll rules forced head coach Dave Flint to vote for another team.

He chose Boston University, which finished a distant second and is shaping up to be Northeastern’s likeliest challenger this season. The squads will face off on January 15 and 16.

Providence, the only Hockey East team that beat the Huskies last season, placed fifth in the poll, while Chestnut Hill rival Boston College joined NU and BU in the top three. Coming in a resounding last place was Holy Cross, which seems unlikely to improve much from last year’s dismal season.

The men’s preseason poll showed a more muddled conference. Northeastern nabbed the fifth spot, joining Boston College, UMass Amherst, Providence, and UMass Lowell in a clear top five.

BC grabbed eight of 11 first-place votes, unsurprising given that they rank second in the nation. UMass Amherst received two first-place votes and look to be BC’s primary competitor. The final first-place vote went to No. 11 UMass Lowell, which has gotten national attention heading into the season.

Northeastern placed fifth, not far behind Lowell. The Huskies enter the season with several key losses, including captain defensemen Ryan Shea and electric scorer Tyler Madden. However, Northeastern boasts a top five recruiting class (top 10 for the second straight year) that includes NHL second-round pick Sam Colangelo and other lauded recruits.

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

While the talent is there on paper, Northeastern’s overall inexperience likely kept it from the poll’s top four. The group is primarily freshmen and sophomores who may have a difficult time adapting and developing during a strange season

Despite this inexperience, the group’s potential cannot be understated, which is likely what put Northeastern slightly above their cross-town rivals in the poll. The final weekend of the year against Boston University (March 5 and 6) could be Northeastern’s most important, as it will assuredly have a large impact on playoff seeding.

Most coaches perceive a clear bottom three, as there was a significant gap between eighth-place New Hampshire and ninth-place Maine. Merrimack and Vermont come in at the final two spots of the poll, with the Catamounts receiving every last-place vote.

Both the men’s and women’s teams begin their season on Friday, November 27. The men’s team will head to Lowell for the first of two against the Riverhawks, while the women’s team will host Providence.

Hockey East Announces 2020–21 Conference Schedule

By Jack Sinclair

After several tantalizing hints on their Twitter, the moment has finally arrived. The Hockey East Association revealed its schedule for the 2020–21 season.

Both the men’s and women’s leagues will begin on November 20, though the Northeastern women will begin November 27 and the men on November 28. The formatting of the league will be different from past years, with a double round robin format ensuring 20 conference games for the men and 18 for the women. The schedule is designed to accommodate home-and-home series, save for Vermont and Maine, who will play both games at the same venue.

As a contingency plan should any conference games be cancelled, each team is penciled in to play six “flex” games, which will not count toward their conference record unless a prior conference game is canceled. These games can be adjusted to maintain a competitively balanced schedule for each squad.

Unlike the basketball teams, the men’s and women’s hockey teams will not be playing the same opponent at the opposite venue. Hockey East says this was avoided to reduce “instances where multiple campus populations come into close contact,” over the course of each weekend. 

Because of the reduced season length, the Huskies’ series will take place over two days instead of the usual three. This will certainly change the way some players see ice time and how coaches choose their lineups. The reduced resting time between games is the same for all the teams, so no program is disadvantaged. The men’s team will play 13 home games and 13 away games, while the women will only play in Matthews Arena 11 times and on other rinks 13 times.

Aside from the flex games — which are technically non-conference —neither Northeastern team has scheduled out-of-conference games. There has been no official word on the Beanpot, though the difficulty of getting Harvard  The Beanpot is still being planned out and is listed as TBD.

Northeastern women’s hockey head coach Dave Flint said he and his players and staff are excited to have a schedule, though he acknowledged the season would be irregular. His squad is looking forward to their first game of the season, a November 27 tilt against a Providence team that beat them last year. The Friars were one of the few squads that did.

Though NU’s games — and presumably most in the conference — will be played without fans in attendance for a while, it still feels great to have hockey back.

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.”

Hockey East Announces Intention to Play 2020–21 Season

By Milton Posner

Hockey East announced Wednesday that it intends to play a league season with all member schools participating, though it acknowledged the need for real-time scheduling changes in light of pandemic developments. The news was first reported by Jimmy Connelly.

The priority will be completing the league season, although teams can play other games if they can schedule them. The conference also intends to hold its annual tournament as usual, with eight teams playing across two weekends. Per Connelly, play is likely to begin in mid-to-late November or later, and will include as many as 30 league games.

For Northeastern, the biggest non-conference question is whether the 69th Annual Beanpot Tournament — typically the highlight of the season and by far the biggest draw among the student body — will be played in February, as it has been every year since 1955. If the Hockey East season is in full swing by then, the tournament stands an excellent chance of being played. But apart from shifts in the state of the pandemic, the wild card could be Harvard, which — unlike Northeastern, Boston University, and Boston College — does not play in Hockey East and has already suspended all sports until January 1.

On July 17, Northeastern announced the suspension of fall sports, encompassing soccer volleyball, field hockey, and cross country, with the hope that those sports could commence in the spring. Teams can practice in the meantime in accordance with Northeastern, NCAA, and public guidelines.

The conference said that schedule details, including competition specifics and a start date, will be released later. It acknowledged the need to develop multiple balanced schedule models for both men and women to accommodate interruptions. Exactly whether or when those interruptions might occur is anyone’s guess, though it’s worth noting that Massachusetts, where seven of the 11 Hockey East schools are located, has seen the rate of new cases rise and fall in recent weeks, though it has generally trended lower.

The league cited its geography as an asset in creating flexible competition schedules while mitigating non-essential travel. Per Connelly, this entails limiting travel to day trips to prevent overnight hotel stays. Only teams travelling to Orono, Maine and Burlington, Vermont — as well as the Maine and Vermont teams anytime they travel — will stay overnight.

The conference did not specify whether fans will be permitted to attend games, though the experiences of professional sports league around the globe indicate that the games will likely to closed to spectators. Hockey East’s professed commitment to athlete safety — whether through workout and resocialization protocols or an NCAA-guideline-compliant return to play — also makes fan presence unlikely.

Northeastern’s men’s and women’s hockey squads both have success to build on from last season. The men went 18–13–3 (11–12–1 HEA), and though they faltered somewhat down the stretch, they provided the year’s most electric moment when Jordan Harris sniped home a double-overtime goal to seal the Huskies’ third-straight Beanpot championship.

The women (32–4–2, 24–3–0 HEAW) also won a Beanpot title on a double-overtime goal, but it ultimately amounted to just one special moment in a campaign chock full of outright dominance. Behind the offensive powerhouse of Alina Mueller and Chloe Aurard — plus the scintillating goalkeeping of Aerin Frankel — the Huskies seldom stumbled, frequently handing out lopsided clobberings and going more than a month between losses. They will return all but three players from a team that breezed to its third-straight Hockey East Championship, spent much of the season ranked third in the nation and, poised for a serious run at a national championship before the season shut down.