Story by Daisy Roberts and Matty Wasserman
BOSTON – Gunnarwolfe Fontaine’s eyes widened as he caught steam on the one-on-zero fastbreak just 25 seconds into overtime.
“My mind just went blank. I just felt like I was in a natural spot, I didn’t even feel the stick in my hand,” he said.
Fontaine netted the game-winner in the upper-right corner of the net, putting his hands in the air as his teammates rushed the ice to mob him. It was the eclipse of Northeastern’s grittiest, scrappiest, and most impressive win of the season against one of the most formidable opponents on its schedule.
Northeastern wasn’t perfect – they were called for five penalties, and ceded quality looks deep in the zone to Harvard’s explosive attack in the first and second periods. But Northeastern was consistently willing to match Harvard’s physical forwards with toughness and grit, and ultimately scrap out just enough defensively behind one of the best goaltenders in the country.
“I don’t think I’ve played in front of a team like that in a while, that just dominated offensively and defensively. It was really special to watch,” Northeastern goaltender Devon Levi said postgame.
The Huskies spent 16 minutes on the penalty kill tonight, and asked a lot of the second penalty kill unit to hold steady. As Harvard’s electric wingers Nick Abruzzese and Alex Laferriere tried to attack the slot on the power play, killing forwards Jakov Novak, Ty Jackson, and Justin Hryckowian held steady and squeezed the zone. Northeastern’s special teams, across the entire lineup, defined and ultimately won this game for the Huskies.
“As a [penalty kill] unit, we just took it one entry at a time. We were on the PK for a while, so it kinda sets you in a bad mindset if you look at the whole time you have to kill rather than just in increments,” Levi said. “During the five-minute, we just looked at every zone entry. Let’s dominate every zone entry, get the puck out, and reset.”
But for all the discussion about the Huskies tough-nosed, well-disciplined penalty kill tonight – which is well-earned – Northeastern was in this game because of Devon Levi. Levi has now allowed 17 goals in 11 starts this season, and is a bona-fide star with a .945 save percentage and four shutouts in his first season as a full-time starter. Levi had the highlight saves tonight – his second-period save on Sean Farrell was an absurd display of athleticism moving to his left – it’s his calmness and reliability that are so crucial in high-stakes games like tonight.
“That’s what preparation does. He’s constantly prepared, and he’s a real focused kid,” Northeastern Head Coach Jerry Keefe said of Levi’s performance. “He’s going to give us a chance to win every night. Knowing that he’s back there, the guys feel confident. I thought he was outstanding tonight.”
Northeastern’s first goal was its most impressive play of the night – a smooth passing sequence that started with a great feed down the ice from Ryan St. Louis. Hryckowian received it and sent a beautiful pass just in front of the Harvard net, where Jeremie Bucheler was able to deflect it in easily. The goal completely flipped the game’s momentum and brought Matthews Arena – which announced a Monday-night attendance of 4,018 – back to life.
The energy at Matthews was electric all game. After playing the entire season in an empty arena filled with only cardboard fans, the crowd support wasn’t taken for granted by the Husky players.
“Last year, we had the cardboard cutouts, and obviously that’s not the same as a bunch of people yelling in the stands. It’s amazing having them on your side. It’s another guy on the ice, it feels like, having them behind you,” Fontaine said.
Levi agreed, “I’ve never played in an ambiance like we had today. It was unmatched for me. The support from the crowd, I’ve never felt more confident.”
That confidence was clear, as the Huskies were never once fazed by the constant barrage of attacks from their cross-town rivals. They kept clear, calm minds, and got the win solely from their tenacity and grit.
Both teams played their third game in just four days. But Keefe recognized the strength he saw from his players.
“I said to the group after the game, that was one of the best wins we’ve had. Overall, I thought the entire game was two good teams,” Keefe said. “We had good legs, they had good legs, I just thought it was a really good college hockey game.”
An air of positivity and determination radiated off the Huskies, despite the physical strain they went through this weekend en route to a clean sweep of six points.
“I’m tired, but it’s a really good tired feeling. It’s a feeling that all of us can say we emptied the tank, and we did everything we could to come out with three wins this weekend. It was really well fought by the whole group and we’re super proud,” Levi said.
Northeastern gets three days to rest before it travels to UMass Lowell on Friday. Puck drop is at 7:15, with live coverage on the radio WRBB radio network. Mike Puzzanghera, Matty Wasserman, and Emma Sullivan will be on the call.