Men’s Hockey Declaws Wildcats

By Khalin Kapoor

DURHAM, NH — Coming off two tough losses last week, the Northeastern men’s hockey team looked like a different breed Friday night, notching a tough, physical, 6–2 road win over the New Hampshire Wildcats. Winger Aidan McDonough led the scoring with a hat trick of power-play goals, netminder Connor Murphy made 22 saves, and Northeastern scored two goals late in the third period to ice the game.

“We blocked more shots, we got in shot lanes, we defended a little bit better in our D-zone,” Northeastern head coach Jim Madigan said. “Having lost the last two, we just needed a confidence boost and I thought our guys played well here tonight.”

The two teams were heading in opposite directions coming in, with UNH (5–11–2) coming off a weekend sweep of UMass Lowell and Northeastern (7–5–2) reeling from back-to-back losses against Boston College and UConn. 

In the beginning of the first period, Northeastern looked lackluster and slow, and repeatedly failed to clear their own zone. Halfway through, New Hampshire’s Patrick Grasso snuck the puck past Murphy off a rebound to give the Wildcats a 1–0 advantage. 

The Huskies of last week may have folded in the face of this one-goal deficit, but on Saturday they struck back with two of their own. With New Hampshire sniper Angus Crookshank in the box for a high stick, McDonough whipped a one-timer from Grant Jozefek past goalie Mike Robinson to knot the score at one.

“Those are confidence boosts also for your club when they happen,” Madigan said. “We played with purpose after going down one and there was no panic, and we still had a little bit of swagger there.”

Just 29 seconds later, Riley Hughes put the Huskies on top with a wicked shot off a slick feed from Matt DeMelis.

“He’s getting to the scoring areas more, he’s shooting the puck more — he’s got a real good shot,” Madigan said of Hughes. “He’s just ready. He’s got that year of experience under his belt . . .  There’s still more there — he’s continuing to get stronger, he’s got a real good skating stride, he’s quick and handles the puck well.”

This 30-second stretch reversed the vibe of the first period, which had been heavily controlled by the Wildcats. The Huskies ended the first period with a great penalty kill to maintain their 2–1 lead.

The first half of the second period featured three penalties but no goals. It was clear, however, that New Hampshire was controlling the game. They were constantly in Northeastern’s defensive zone, rifling shot after shot at Murphy. Thirteen minutes in, the Huskies left winger Benton Maass open on the right side of the goal while the puck slid over to the left boards. The puck slipped out of the scrum directly to Maass, who whipped it right past Murphy to tie the game. 

Up to this point, the Huskies had not put a single shot on goal, and it looked like things were on the verge of slipping away from them. Mike Kesselring had other plans, however; he got a pass from DeMelis, faked out two defenders, then deked the goalie to the left while he slipped the puck in on the right to make it 3–2 Huskies. 

“Tonight he provided some offense, and he’s getting a little bit more opportunity on the power play,” Madigan said. “His game is defending and using that long reach and transitioning pucks quickly, making smart and quick decisions with the puck. He did that, then it’s nice to get rewarded on the power play also.”

Two minutes later, McDonough scored his second power-play goal of the night from the same spot where he scored his first.

That made two periods in a row where Northeastern played poorly in the first half and gave up a goal, then scored twice in quick succession. New Hampshire controlled the second, with the Huskies firing only two shots on goal to the Wildcats’ 12. But what really matters is the goals, and Northeastern capitalized on their chances with devastating efficiency. 

Just like they had the period prior, the Huskies entered the final frame with momentum on their side. But this time, they controlled the entire period. Ten minutes in, McDonough completed his power-play hat trick with yet another goal from the same spot. Neither substitute Wildcat goaltender Ty Taylor nor the skaters in front of him could adjust to the Northeastern power play.

Two minutes later, Wildcat skater Eric MacAdams laid a late hit on Marco Bozzo, blindsiding him and knocking him to the ice. MacAdams was tossed and the Wildcats were charged with a five-minute major penalty. Bozzo lingered on the ice in pain for a while, but eventually rose and skated to the locker room. 

“It was a tough hit,” Madigan said. “Certainly a blindsided, unsuspecting, one I’m sure the supervisor will take a look at . . . He escaped a major blow.”

If McDonough’s third goal didn’t seal this game for the Huskies, the illegal hit definitely did. Kesselring added to Northeastern’s lead during the power play, cashing in from McDonough’s spot to yield the 6–2 final score.

“When you lose a couple of games in a row, and both were at home of course . . . but you lose a little bit of that swagger, a little bit of that attitude,” Madigan said. “You can bring it back in practice . . . but it needs to manifest itself in a game.”

The Huskies and Wildcats will battle again Saturday night at Matthews Arena. Mike Puzzanghera and Khalin Kapoor will be on the call for WRBB, with coverage beginning at 5:45 PM.

2020–21 Men’s Hockey East Preview: New Hampshire Wildcats

Last Season: 15–15–4 (9–12–3, ninth in Hockey East)

Head Coach: Mike Souza (third season)

Preseason poll projected finish: Eighth

Departures: G Joe Lazzaro, D Nolan McElhaney, D Max Gildon, D Anthony Wyse, D Matt Dawson, F Justin Fregona, F Joe Sacco, F Liam Blackburn

Additions: G Jeremy Forman, D Alec Semandel, D Nikolai Jenson, D Joe Nagle, D Luke Reid, F Nick Cafarelli, F Tyler Ward, F Carson Richels, F Cam Gendron

By Josh Chaskes

After a disappointing season saw them finish one spot short of qualifying for the Hockey East Tournament, New Hampshire underwent some radical changes. The Huskies lost four of the nine defenders on their roster, only two to graduation, and including the team’s leader in points that year, junior Max Gildon (28 points). Gildon was drafted by the Florida Panthers, while the team also graduated seniors Matt Dawson and Anthony Wyse and lost Nolan McElhaney to a transfer after just one season. They brought in four new defenders to replace them, three of whom are freshmen.

There’s no reason to question their skill, but this group was brought in to replace four defenseman with a combined 12 years of college hockey experience, and it may take them time to settle in.

The difference maker could be the team’s lone senior defenseman, Washington Capitals draft pick Benton Maass. Maass is an assistant captain this season, and one can understand why. He put up 36 blocks, third-most on the team — behind only the graduate Wyse and junior Ryan Verrier — while also contributing 10 points, among them a game-winning goal against Vermont. He also ended with a plus/minus of +6, again behind only Wyse. Maass, with the help of Verrier, will need to step up as a leader and continue to be a rock at the back for the Wildcats while the new defensemen settle in.

As far as forwards, the Wildcats will be looking to build on last season, with most of their main players returning. This includes last year’s top scorer Angus Crookshank (16 goals) and senior stalwarts Patrick Grasso and Charlie Kelleher. Graduate Liam Blackburn’s five goals and 13 assists will be missed, but the team should have the offensive firepower to make up for it. They boast veterans, three freshmen, and Denver transfer Tyler Ward, who tallied 10 goals and nine assists last year as his team went all the way to the Frozen Four.

In terms of goalkeeping, it should be more of the same from senior Mike Robinson, who was the team’s first option last year, posting a save percentage of just below .900.

Bottom Line: The Wildcats enter the season after a big personnel change. Their retention and addition of offensive threats sets their floor at around last year’s ninth place finish, assuming their defensemen don’t acclimate too quickly. But if veteran players like Maass, Verrier, Crookshank, Grasso, and Kelleher spur the new faces to learn fast and play fast, their ceiling could be a few places higher. Don’t expect them to push for the top five or win it all just yet; improvement is the name of the game this season.