BOSTON — For the first time since Feb. 10, 2020, the Northeastern University Huskies took the ice at TD Garden for the annual Beanpot Tournament. After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the historic tournament last season, both Northeastern and their opponents, the Boston College Eagles, were eager to get back on the ice for a chance to recapture the title for their respective universities. And similarly to the last time the two teams met in the Beanpot in the finals round in 2019, the Huskies found themselves victorious largely in part thanks to many players making their Beanpot debut.
One such player who rose to the challenge was freshman goaltender TJ Semptimphelter, who found himself making his third career start in front of 15,000 fans at TD Garden. Semptimphelter did not disappoint, stopping 41 of 42 shots for the second win of his NCAA career.
Semptimphelter gave some of the credit for his play tonight in thanks to his teammates, calling them “an awesome group to play beyond.”
Northeastern struck first ice with 11:55 remaining in the first period after a shot off the stick of forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine slid through Eagles goaltender Eric Dop’s pads. Fontaine realized the puck managed to find it’s way past Dop to continue on through the crease. Dop, who had sprawled in front of the net to try to make the first save, left the net wide open for Fontaine to take advantage of two confused Eagle skaters and tap the puck home to give the Huskies the 1-0 lead. Forwards Jack Hughes and Matt DeMelis were credited with the assists on the play.
The remainder of the period would be quiet on the offensive side, even as BC managed to gain some momentum after falling behind. The Eagles got their first opportunity at the power play after Huskies forward Sam Colangelo was whistled for a hooking call with 2:26 remaining in the first. While the Eagles were able to get four shots on goal during the man advantage, Semptimphelter turned all of them away to keep the score 1-0 in favor of the Huskies heading into the first intermission.
The BC power play, which has struggled throughout the season, was down three of their key pieces coming into tonight. Forwards Jack McBain and Marc McLaughlin along with defenseman Drew Helleson are all playing for their respective national teams in the Beijing Olympics, causing BC to lose not only key players on their special teams, but also their captain in McLaughlin. On the opposite end, Huskies goaltender Devon Levi, a key part of the penalty kill and overall success of Northeastern, is also in Beijing to play for Team Canada. Levi’s departure did however open the door for Semptimphelter to put on the performance seen tonight.
Both teams started the second period maintaining control offensively for long stretches of time, trading back and forth from one end of the ice to the other. That shared control came to an end after Eagle defenseman Aidan Hreschuk came bearing down toward Semptimphelter’s net in an effort to tie the game. Hreschuk however seemingly miscalculated how much space he needed and ended up careening directly into Semptimphelter’s head, causing the goaltender to ricochet off the hit into the post before he sprawled across the crease. Northeastern, specifically Fontaine and forward Jack Hughes, were extremely unhappy with the dangerous hit and immediately came into a bit of a confrontation with the Eagles to the side of the net. The only penalty on the play was for goaltender interference on Hreschuk, leaving Northeastern with their first power play of the night with 15:20 remaining in the period.
It didn’t take long before the Huskies capitalized on the power play to put themselves further ahead. Fontaine had possession of the puck at the blueline before passing it along to forward Aidan McDonough who was stationed atop the right faceoff circle. McDonough then found a way to thread a pass across ice past three Eagles players directly to a wide open Colangelo, who knocked the puck between Dop and the goal post and into the back of the net for the goal giving the Huskies a 2-0 lead.
The period continued to be a lot of back and forth between the two sides, culminating in some more rough play between the teams in the dying minutes. That rougher style of play would carry on as the teams entered the final twenty minutes with Northeastern still leading 2-0.
Even with the lead entering the third period, the Huskies were being held up by Semptimphelter. It was only a matter of time before the play in front of Semptimphelter caused a bad break for Northeastern, which it did five minutes into the frame. BC took advantage of a bad defensive play by Northeastern Captain Jordan Harris to create an odd-man-rush. Senior forward Patrick Giles scored off a pass across the crease from forward Nikita Nesterenko to cut the deficit in half with 14:45 remaining in regulation.
The Giles goal gave BC new life, and they continued to pepper Semptimphelter with shot after shot in the third. However, Northeastern’s netminder rose to the occasion and made some spectacular saves, including a sprawling stop and cover on Nesterenko to keep the score 2-1. Both teams would get another opportunity on the power play. Northeastern with 11:40 remaining went on the man advantage after a hooking call against Giles. In return, Northeastern forward Riley Hughes received his own hooking call with 7:57 left to play after trying to throw a hard check into the boards behind Dop’s net. Neither team was able to convert on their respective advantages.
Overall in the third, BC outshot Northeastern 18-9 and controlled the pace of play with multiple opportunities after consistent control in the offensive zone for the Eagles. However, the Huskies were still up by one heading into the final minutes of the game. BC opted to pull Dop in favor of the extra attacker and generated some legitimate chances with under two minutes to play. Harris was then able to draw a penalty call on a cross-check thrown by Eagles defenseman Jack St. Ivany and the Huskies went back on the power play. With just 14.6 seconds left on the clock, freshman forward sensation Justin Hrykowian potted a rebound from a Harris shot into the net to ice the game and send the Huskies to their fourth straight Beanpot final.
Northeastern overall played well in this game, but there were a few defensive miscues that were overshadowed by the brilliance of Semptimphelter. Too often did Northeastern allow odd man rushes to BC, and their freshman netminder bailed them out all but once. Next week, they face one of the hottest teams in the country, BU, in the Beanpot final, and those mistakes will have to be addressed. The Huskies cannot rely on Semptimphelter to make the same amount of saves against BU as he did tonight unless they play a tighter game defensively in front of him.
“TJ was outstanding tonight,” Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe said post game of his netminder. “When you’re a coach on the bench and he makes a big save you can just hear the whole group get excited about that. I could hear his name being said a lot.”
Keefe also heaped praise on Fontaine for his play throughout the night saying “I thought he was outstanding. Gunnar had a really really good game.”
Semptimphelter, Keefe, and BC head coach Jerry York had nothing but praise for both the Northeastern and BC student sections who all made the trek to the Garden for tonight’s matchup.
“Electric atmosphere to play in,” York said. “Reminds me of some of the Beanpots of the past.”
Semptimphelter made note that he hasn’t been able to play much in front of crowds over the last two years because of the pandemic, but now after games at Matthews Arena and TD Garden with fans in attendance he remarked that it’s been awesome to play in front of fans again.
“It was unbelievable,” he said. “To see all the Northeastern fans show up and to play in front of them here. It was great.”
Both Northeastern and BC will finish out the Beanpot Monday, Feb. 14 at TD Garden. BC will face Harvard University at 4:30 p.m. in the consolation game after the Crimson lost 4-3 to Boston University in the earlier semi-final game. Northeastern will then face the Terriers in a rematch of the 2020 Beanpot final starting at 7:30 p.m. Before that for the Huskies is a Hockey East road matchup with the UMass Lowell River Hawks on Friday, Feb. 11 at Tsongas Arena. WRBB will not be on air for Friday’s matchup, but will return for the finals with Mike Puzzanghera, Emma Sullivan, and Khalin Kapoor leading coverage from TD Garden.