By Josh Brown
The #9 Northeastern Huskies (18-10-4) hockey team has clinched a first-round bye in the Hockey East tournament, after picking up 3 huge points against Maine (15-11-4) despite playing without captain Josh Manson, Matt Benning and Dalen Hedges.
The Huskies fell behind 2-0 early in Friday’s game after a Connor Leen goal at the end of the first, followed by a Steven Swavely goal just 24 seconds into the second period gave the Black Bears the early lead.
The Huskies would not roll over, as just over seven minutes later Colton Saucerman brought the Huskies within one on a shot that went sailing past Black Bear goalie Martin Ouellette. A couple minutes later Kevin Roy scored the equalizer on a shot by Saucerman that Roy tipped in for the goal.
John Stevens gave Northeastern a 3-2 lead at 14:14 of the second period on assists from Braden Pimm and Dax Lauwers. 1:36 later Maine was able to get an equalizer of their own when Byron Blaine beat Clay Witt top shelf to send the teams into the locker room tied.
A back-and-forth third period stayed scoreless until 13:57 of the period, when Mark Anthoine put Maine up by 1 with under 7 minutes to play. It looked like the Black Bears were going to come away with the victory until with 1:11 left in the game Braden Pimm scored off an athletic pass by Mike Szmatula to send the game into overtime,
Neither team could find the back of the net in overtime, as both Witt and Ouellette bailed their respective teams out with huge saves, and the game would end in a 4-4 tie.
Head Coach Jim Madigan was pleased after the game with how his team responded when falling behind 2-0.
“I like the way we battled back,” Madigan said, “We got down 2-0 early in the second and I liked the way we bounced back, and I think we’ve shown some pretty good resolve this year.”
Saturday proved to be a better result for the Huskies, who this time were able to jump out to the early lead.
Zach Aston-Reese would collect his first of two goals on the night just 3:41 into the game on an assist from Kevin Roy and Mike Szmatula to give the Huskies the early lead. Just 3:03 later that same line would find the back of the net again, as this time it was Mike Szmatula lighting the lamp on helpers from Aston-Reese and Roy.
As the Huskies did the night before Maine would not role over, and at 16:46 of the first period Ben Hutton would score a power play goal to get the Black Bears within one. Early in the second period Devin Shore would tie the game at two after he beat Clay Witt, who ended the contest with 33 saves.
Mid-way through the second period, Braden Pimm would get in on the action thanks to a pass from Roy to give the Huskies the lead. Aston-Reese would put Northeastern up two in the third on Kevin Roy’s 4th assist of the night, and Szmatula’s 2nd.
Maine would put some pressure on Northeastern, getting the game to within one with an extra attacker thanks to Ben Hutton’s second goal of the game. That is as close as Maine would get as Northeastern was able to kill off a ferocious Black Bears attack and hang on for the 4-3 win.
Kevin Roy talked about how he was able to wrack up 5 assists on the weekend.
“These past few games I’ve had the opportunity to pass the puck more than shoot so I’m just doing anything to help the team to find guys open.”
Coach Madigan was happy taking three points, on what was arguably the most important weekend of hockey for Northeastern in years.
“I thought it was a great weekend of hockey. With two evenly matched teams…I was thrilled with obviously the way our guys battled and showed a lot of resolve from Friday night into tonight.”
Madigan was also pleased with the way his team responded despite a couple key injuries.
“Faced a little adversity with a few guys being out of the line-up. I like the way the guys in the line-up responded today…we talked about it all year long, it’s 28 guys we have on this roster, it’s going to take all 28 to get to where we want to get to…”
The Huskies have one lone regular season weekend series remaining as they have a home-and-home with Boston University Friday and Saturday night. Northeastern has a chance to move all the way up as far as the 2 seed, with a top 4 seed landing home ice for the playoffs.