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. 

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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.”

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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.

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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.”

Men’s Hockey Swept by Vermont

By Jack Sinclair

BURLINGTON, VT — Every season, every team, no matter the sport, goes through ups and downs. The 2007 Patriots rode high for 18 games, then fell in the Super Bowl. The 73–9 Golden State Warriors’ high lasted until the last three games of the NBA finals.

The 2019–20 Northeastern men’s hockey team is no different. They began the season with five straight wins, then laid some eggs, like the 6–3 loss on home ice to UMass where the Huskies allowed six unanswered goals. The team went on to experience one of the highest highs possible in college hockey, with an epic comeback win in the Beanpot Final.

The Huskies entered tonight’s match in Burlington, Vermont riding the lowest of lows. A tough loss at home to Boston College, followed by the Huskies’ worst loss since 1992 — a 10-1 thrashing at the hands of BC — was the prelude for what would happen Friday in Burlington. A 4–2 loss to Vermont, the Catamounts’ first conference win this season, may be the most embarrassing loss of this unholy trinity. 

Despite this, the Huskies had an opportunity on Saturday. The mark of a truly great team is not how high their highest point is, but how well they bounce back from their lowest of lows.

The Huskies wasted no time in rebounding from their previous efforts, coming right out of the gates with an energy that had been missing as of late. With Grant Jozefek and Tyler Madden sitting out, forwards Neil Shea, John Picking, and Brendan Van Riemsdyk performed admirably, flying to every loose puck and putting loads of pressure on the forward and back check. Northeastern dominated the first 20 minutes, outshooting Vermont 12–7. Vermont netminder Stefano Lekkas was more than up to the task, as he stopped all 12 of the Huskies’ efforts.

The Huskies carried their first-period momentum into the second. Just under two minutes into the frame, a Riley Hughes pass down the boards found a surging Matt Filipe who, as he has several times, took his space behind Vermont goal and tucked away a lovely wraparound shot, giving the Huskies a much-needed lead.

Had the Huskies exorcised their second-period demons? Could we finally look away from the barn fire of the past three games to the greener pastures of victories to come?

No, they had not. And no, we couldn’t.

Less than a minute later, Vermont forgot they were a one-conference-win team playing the reigning Hockey East champions, and fought through the neutral zone into the Huskies’ end. The Catamounts forced Craig Pantano out of his crease to make a tough save and, in the defensive disarray, poked the puck into the empty net. Whether the failed puck clearance was due to poor sticks on Northeastern’s part or excellent ones by Vermont is almost beside the point. Gutterson Fieldhouse erupted, and Junior Bryce Misley skated away to celebrate. 

The goal took all the wind out of the Huskies’ sail, and Vermont took advantage by pressing up the ice. The Catamounts had a couple of dangerously close chances, but Pantano held fast, undeterred by the change of momentum. The Northeastern defense is known for extremely disciplined and steady sticks when defending five-on-five situations, but this time they were wild, allowing the Catamounts to carry the puck through the Northeastern defensive zone with little-to-no resistance.

As the second period continued, the Huskies struggled to pass the puck tape to tape, with overpassing and underpassing resulting in several neutral zone turnovers. A costly turnover only a few minutes after the first Vermont goal resulted in a loose puck in the slot. Once again, the Huskies couldn’t clear the puck away from danger, and Vermont snuck a point-blank shot between the legs of Pantano to take a 2–1 lead.

The Huskies’ play did not improve from there. The Huskies saw barely any offensive zone time, and when they did, they were quick to turn the puck over and give Vermont loads of space to skate. The period couldn’t have ended soon enough, and it ended with the opposite result that the end of the first period would have indicated. Northeastern was outshot 11–4. 

The final 20 minutes of the game were a complete shot in the dark. Which Huskies team would we see? The aggressive, fast-paced team that executed with precision in the first period, or the sluggish, uninspiring team from the second?

Northeastern captain Ryan Shea came out of the locker room and tried desperately to get something started. He skated around the Vermont goal three times, looking for any sort of opening. However, his teammates were not on the same page as him. The Huskies that weren’t handling the puck looked look statues. No one moved to create a shooting lane for Shea, or to get open and cycle the puck around. Shea eventually found someone to pass it to — no doubt he was dizzy from circling the net so much — and there were a few opportunities, but Lekkas stood on his head between the pipes and made several ridiculous saves.

When Vermont regained the puck, the most glaring flaw in the Huskies game became apparent: neutral zone defense. To call the it swiss cheese is an insult to the dairy product. Whether it was a single Catamount carrying the puck towards the Husky zone or an even-man rush after a lengthy buildup on the Vermont end, the Huskies couldn’t challenge.

As a result, Pantano would decide the game. Vermont had free passage into his zone, and shots resulting from the biblical parting of the Northeastern back check would need to be covered up to prevent an unlucky rebound from winding up in the back of the net. Pantano finished with 24 saves, and for most of the night he covered the puck or deflected it away.

But his luck ran out when a shot bounced off his pad and stayed in the crease. Vermont pounced on the gift like an excited kid on Christmas morning and potted their third goal of the game. From then on, Vermont stopped trying to score, opting to pin the puck on the boards and let the clock wind down. This strategy change gave Northeastern a few glimpses at Lekkas, but Hockey East’s all-time saves leader flashed his glove and prevented all of Northeastern’s efforts. 

As the clock neared triple zeroes and the reality of defeat set into the heavy Husky hearts, the extracurriculars began. Soon after Pantano gave way to an extra skater, Zach Solow got into a shoving match with a few Vermont defensemen. A gnarly cross check by Solow well after the whistle earned him a 10-minute game misconduct, and Alex Mella wound up in the box. This was an ugly end to an ugly 40 minutes of hockey, and in a way it felt fitting. The clock struck zero, and the Huskies had been swept. 

After the game, Jim Madigan praised the Huskies’ increased effort in comparison to their previous games. He chalked up the lack of execution to fatigue, saying that “running 10 forwards and going back to back caught up to us.” The fatigue was clear, as the offensive shifts were definitely shorter than usual without forwards Tyler Madden and Grant Jozefek in the lineup.

“We didn’t have quite enough in the tank, to be frank” said Madigan, adding that returning to Boston would provide an ample opportunity to “settle in, get a good week of practice in, and get ready for BU on Friday.”

When asked how the Huskies could return to their winning ways, Madigan expressed his confidence in his players’ ability to bounce back from the low point of their season, “knowing next weekend is the last weekend of the season if we don’t play well.”

“We have got enough guys who have played meaningful games and don’t want [the season] to end,” he continued, indicating that he expects the older players to step up and lead. The Huskies have a lot of experience on their roster, but they also have a lot of fresh faces. The guidance of veterans like Solow, Shea, Filipe, and Van Riemsdyk, many of whom have been on this Northeastern team for several years, will be essential in salvaging the season.

This loss, and a win by Providence over Maine, dropped the Huskies to eighth in Hockey East, the lowest playoff seed. New Hampshire is just one point behind Northeastern, so the Huskies need to hope for a BC sweep of the Wildcats or sweep Boston University themselves if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive. In the national pairwise rankings, the Huskies fell even further. They took the ice at 14th in the national polls, and left in 17th

The Huskies make a much-needed return to Matthews Arena this Friday for the first game of the season’s final home-and-home series. It is also the final regular-season game at Matthews Arena, and will include senior night celebrations honoring the team’s graduating seniors. Matt Neiser and Adam Doucette will call the game, with coverage beginning at 6:45 PM EST.

Men’s Hockey Notches Second Straight 2–1 Win Over Union

Image Credit: nuhuskies.com

By Christian Skroce

SCHENECTADY, NY — It was another stressful outing for the young Huskies team, but Northeastern was again victorious in a come-from-behind effort against the Union College Dutchmen. The game started as a defensive slugfest, with the first two periods devoid of scoring and chock-full of penalties.

Union finally scored early in the third period. Union forward Anthony Rinaldi swooped in from the left wing and fired a poorly angled shot on goal. Despite a nice save from Northeastern goalie Craig Pantano, the puck remained untouched in the crease, and Morton — who entered the offensive zone from the penalty box just as Northeastern’s power play ended — put away the easy chance.

For a while Northeastern’s offense continued to struggle as they failed to capitalize on another power play. Then, with 11 minutes remaining in the third, freshman forward Riley Hughes came to the Huskies’ rescue. He stole the puck from a Union defender, earned a one-on-one breakaway against Union goalie Darion Hanson, and sent a shot through Hanson’s legs to even the score.

Northeastern didn’t take long to gain the upper hand. Just three minutes later, senior forward Biagio Lerario finished off a rebound from a long-range effort by fellow forward Zach Solow. The Huskies would not look back, as they fought their way to their second consecutive one-goal win during opening weekend.

“Well you’re playing with danger, you have to play well,” coach Jim Madigan said. “It’s good that we can find a way to win in a close game in the third period, and that shows resiliency and a mature team, but at the same time, there’s an identity we want to start playing to.”

While the Huskies were happy to come away with two weekend wins, there were clearly some growing pains for the team’s younger players. As Madigan pointed out, the coaches clearly have a plan for this team, and while it was a tough two games, the team held their own and begins its season undefeated.

Tune in Tuesday night at 7 PM when Northeastern returns to action against UMass Amherst; Matt Neiser and Dale Desantis will be on the call.