Story by Rae Deer & Mike Puzzanghera
WORCESTER – The Ice Breaker Tournament hosted by the Holy Cross Crusaders was an opportunity for Northeastern to kick off their season on the right foot. They had a great home opener victory and showed promise after a victory over Holy Cross the night before. However, on Saturday the Huskies were left to face their first real challenge of this season.
The No. 9 Quinnipiac Bobcats are one of the best teams in the country early in this season. Therefore, this was the shot to show how this Northeastern team could fare against extremely skilled opponents. It did not go well for them. They fell to the Bobcats 3-0, ending goaltender Devon Levi’s shutout streak and falling short of a first place finish in the tournament.
“We weren’t even close to the level we needed to be at to win,” Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe said.
From the beginning, the team struggled on defense and had a hard time getting the puck out of their zone. Quinnipiac opened strong and had possession immediately in the first, putting immense pressure on the defense. This pressure turned into a bad defensive decision that left Levi unable to prevent the Bobcats from getting the first on the board. Levi saved the first attempt from Ty Smilanic, who was afforded way too much space on the rush, but no Husky reacted fast enough to get to the rebound below the goal and, more importantly, no Husky defended the slot. Michael Lombardi crashed the net hard and got the return feed from Smilanic, and he buried the point blank chance to put the Bobcats up.
“I didn’t think we were ready at the start, and that’s not a team you want to fall behind against,” Keefe said. “They’re a very, very structured team … we gave up a goal early that we shouldn’t have given up, and right then and there we were playing from behind.”
The second goal by the Bobcats was not so much a mistake by either the defense or the goaltender, but an unlucky set of events in which a save made by Levi on TJ Friedmann bounced up and over him right onto the goal line and crossed right as he gloved it down. It was an unfortunate bounce for a goaltender who, through the first 120 minutes of his career, had everything go his way.
Once the second period began, the sky looked a bit clearer for the Huskies. They played well on the penalty kill and had key moments on both of their power plays, but could not break through Quinnipiac goaltender Yaniv Perets, or the sticks of the skaters in front of him. They also couldn’t stop forward Friedmann from getting his second goal of the night on a great 3 man rush.
The third period was the Huskies best effort yet, as the defense looked a bit stronger and they continued to excel on the penalty kill, though they spent far too long using their kill units, especially after a five-minute major was assessed to Jayden Struble. Their offense however, seemed to take a serious hit, and they were still unable to generate any points during the 20 minutes.
Some big issues seemed to be a lack of rhythm in rushes and hesitation on the puck movement. Huskies also had problems clearing the puck out of their zone and turned it over too many times throughout the game, making it hard for them to get anything going. And while there were small chances here and there with key performances from captain Jordan Harris (4 shots on goal) and forward Sam Colangelo (3 shots on goal), the solid Bobcat defense and strong performance from Perets in goal prevented anything from sticking. In particular, the stick work of the Bobcat forwards thwarted many Northeastern chances, as the Quinnipiac players threw both their bodies and sticks in front of shots, resulting in many “blocks” that don’t show up on the stat sheet, but still altered the play heavily.
Northeastern’s schedule doesn’t get any easier next weekend, as they make the long trip outside of Boston to Chestnut Hill to face another top-ten foe in Boston College.