Story by Emma Sullivan
BOSTON – It’s been 735 days since Northeastern defender Jordan Harris scored in double overtime to lift the Huskies to their third straight Beanpot championship victory. The same opponent for Northeastern on that night over two years ago will be on the opposite end of the ice during the 2022 final of the Beanpot – the Boston University Terriers.
Now, after COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the tournament last year, BU is hoping for a different outcome from two years ago in their quest to win the 31st Beanpot in program history. While Northeastern is looking to extend their dominance in the tournament for a fourth straight championship title and their eighth trophy overall.
In terms of momentum, the pendulum is fully on the side of the Terriers. Despite starting with a bleak record of 4-9-2 through their first 15 games, BU has turned it around and are entering the finals with only one loss in 1o games to start 2022. Northeastern struggled mightily in the month of January, going 3-4 including a three game skid to end the month. They have been able to turn it around somewhat with a three game win streak going into the matchup against BU, but those lackluster performances from just last month are hanging over their heads.
Part of the struggles for BU to start the season included two games against Northeastern in November. The first game, a 1-0 Northeastern win in overtime at Agganis Arena, came after BU put up 38 shots on goal to Northeastern’s 16. However it only took 55 seconds of OT before forward Aidan McDonough was able to break the ice and send the Huskies home with the win.
The next night ended similarly, with Northeastern eking out the win this time in an eight round shootout to nab the extra point in a 2-2 tie after a bizarre goal scored by Husky forward Jack Hughes. The shots were more even in this contest, with BU only outshooting the Huskies 35-31.
During the games in November, the storyline was focused on the goaltenders in either net, however both teams are playing in the tournament without their first string netminders. For the Terriers, sophomore goaltender Drew Commesso (12-8-3) is currently with Team USA at the Beijing Olympics. His Northeastern counterpart, also sophomore goaltender Devon Levi (16-7-1), is in the same place playing for the Canadian contingent.
The loss of the two players have opened the door for their teammates to make a case for themselves in net to help their respective teams. BU’s junior netminder Ashton Abel does have experience playing in the Beanpot final as he started the game for the Terriers in 2020. However, after giving up four goals to start the second period, he was pulled from the game and has only made two appearances since. The likely option for the Terriers is sophomore Vinny Duplessis. Since Commesso departed for the Olympics, Duplessis is undefeated in three games including the 4-3 victory over Harvard in the Beanpot semifinals. In those games he’s only allowed four goals on 73 shots for a .917 save percentage.
On the other end of the ice, all signs point toward freshman TJ Semptimphelter getting the start in net for the Huskies. Semptimphelter has gone 3-1-0 since taking over for Levi, including a 41 save performance last week against Boston College in the semifinals. Despite having no NCAA experience until merely two weeks ago, Semptimphelter has looked mostly dominant in his crease, helping the Huskies ensure their spot in the finals as well as lead them to wins over the University of Vermont and UMass Lowell. Semptimphelter currently sits on a save percentage of .938 through four games, making 116 saves on 125 shots.
“No doubt he’s confident,” Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe said of Semptimphelter during a press conference Sunday. “More importantly, our group is pretty confident with him playing in front of us. That’s a big step as a goaltender knowing that your teammates trust you.”
“He’s playing really well,” Keefe also added. “We’re excited for him to have another good performance for us.”
For the Northeastern coach this isn’t his first opportunity at the Beanpot, but it is his first time as the leader of this Husky program. Long time head coach Jim Madigan was in control behind the bench for the three straight tournament wins before being promoted to Northeastern’s athletic director in the summer of 2021. Keefe served as Madigan’s assistant and associate head coach on the Northeastern bench for 11 years before taking the reins. Now, even with Northeastern potentially on the cusp of winning their fourth straight Beanpot and the first for Keefe as a head coach, that championship streak isn’t at the forefront of his team’s minds.
“I know what it was like chasing that first one, and it was a big one,” Keefe said. “Now it’s more exciting for your guys to experience it. [We’re] not really looking at number four. We just want this team to have the experience and opportunity to win a Beanpot.”
“Playing the late game, that was our goal,” he added. “Just excited for them to get back to the Boston Garden and have an opportunity to play for a Beanpot championship.”
On offense, both teams have some of the strongest weapons in Hockey East. McDonough, who had all three non-shootout goals for Northeastern during the series against BU in November, has been on a tear throughout the season. He is leading the team in goals with 17, which is tied for third in goals scored by a single player throughout the NCAA. He also leads the team in points with 25 through 27 games played.
“There’s not a kid that works harder than him at putting themselves in situations at practices to score goals,” Keefe said when asked about McDonough’s scoring ability. “He’s always ready. Anytime you see a kid that puts the time in to become a better player, you want to see them get rewarded. And I’m not surprised to see that he scores as much as he does because he works at it so much.”
McDonough was one of the nine members of this Northeastern squad who won the Beanpot back in 2020. Now a junior and an assistant captain on this team, McDonough is no longer the young rookie he was two years ago.
“I think I was a little more nervous this time around,” the Milton native said of the difference between his first tournament and his second. “I was just so excited my freshman year, so happy to even be playing in it and playing at the Garden for the first time. I think now knowing what comes with it after winning, now it’s a little more pressure to do that again because you know how unbelievable it is when you do win.”
“It’s awesome, and I’m just as excited as I was my freshman year,” he added. “It’s an amazing opportunity to play at the Garden in front of so many people.”
Also on the upswing are sophomore forwards Sam Colangelo and Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, two of the three goal scorers for Northeastern last week. Colangelo, who missed 10 games due to injury, is tied for second on the Huskies in points with 20 (eight goals, 12 assists). In the ten games played in 2022, he’s had two three point games for a total of 16 (6g, 10a). He added a goal and an assist on Friday versus Lowell, extending his point streak to four straight games. Colangelo’s power play goal against BC wound up being the game winner for Northeastern.
Fontaine on the other hand, is a point behind his teammate for third with 19 points in all 28 games Northeastern has played. He got the team on the board first with a brilliant heads up play to knock the puck in after it found its way through the crease.
For BU, their offense has largely been in the hands of four players. Forward Wilmer Skoog is first on the team in points (10-14-24), tied with defender Domenick Fensore (4-20-24). Forward Robert Mastrosimone is in third (11-11-22), but is the team leader in goals. Rounding out the top five are forwards Jay O’Brien (9-11-20) and Matt Brown (7-8-15). Both O’Brien and Brown scored in last week’s win over Harvard while Fensore and Skoog assisted on both goals. O’Brien has only appeared in 18 games this season for BU but with his point total, he is the only Terrier to average above a point per game.
Brown, a transfer from Lowell this season, scored the third of BU’s four goals last week off a brilliant wrist shot from the faceoff dot while the Terriers were on the power play.
Overall offensively, BU has an upper hand on getting shots to the net and in goals scored throughout the season. For comparison, BU averages 31.3 shots on goal per game to Northeastern’s 26.1. While the Huskies score 2.6 goals on average every game (for a season total of 74), the Terriers score 3.2 (for a season total of 92).
On the other hand, Northeastern’s defense has been largely dominant throughout the season. Aside from the play from Levi and now Semptimphelter in net, the Huskies allow 1.8 goals per game on average to BU’s 2.4. A key to Northeastern’s success at keeping their opponents off the scoreboard is their penalty kill which currently ranks third best in the NCAA.
“It’s good that we’ve already played them,” McDonough said. “We get to see how they’ve played and see what we have to do to win. It’s really tough to beat a team twice, even harder to beat them three times. We know it’s gonna be a big challenge.”
“But at the end of the day we don’t like them and they don’t like us, it’s the Beanpot final. What happens before these games doesn’t really end up mattering and whoever comes out of this one is gonna have the bragging rights for the year.”
One problem that may arise against the Huskies is an unexpected injury up front. According to Keefe, freshman forward Justin Hryckowian is a “game time decision” for the finals. Hryckowian has taken over control of the first line center position for the Huskies largely thanks to his prowess in the faceoff dot. In 475 faceoffs taken, the Husky has won 303 of them for a winning percentage of nearly 64%. Hryckowian is tied for second in points on the team with linemate Colangelo with six goals and 14 assists for a total of 20 points in 24 games. The loss of that much power on the top line for Northeastern could spell problems for an offense that has struggled to keep guys healthy throughout the season. Definitely something to keep an eye on as lineups are announced.
The staff members at WRBB were asked for predictions on what they believe will happen in today’s championship game. Here were some of the responses:
Peyton Doyle: “3-2 Northeastern win. Gunnarwolfe Fontaine scores his second goal of the night for the winner late in the third period. ”
Adam Doucette: “Winner, NU. Final score 4-3. Riley Hughes nets the winner in the third.”
Rae Deer: “2-1 Northeastern victory. Hometown hero Sam Colangelo nets the game winner in OTThe one goal BU gets is Wilmer Skoog hitting the Michigan. Again.”
Khalin Kapoor: “Northeastern wins 2-1. Colangelo game winning goal in the second and TJ Semptimphelter holds on in the third..”
Justin Diament: “BU hits an empty netter with 30 seconds left to win 4-2. Semptimphelter’s beginner magic doesn’t quite hold up as NU is forced to play from behind early and can’t quite make the comeback.”
Kayla Shiao: “3-2 BU for no other reason than my gut feeling.”
Mike Puzzanghera: “BU wins, 4-3. Two goals from Jay O’Brien and a goal apiece from Matt Brown and Ethan Phillips. Huskies score late with an extra attacker but can’t quite make up the deficit.”
Matty Wasserman: “BU 4-2. Northeastern starts off hot with an early Aidan McDonough score, but BU pulls away in the third period behind a Jay O’Brien power play goal and a Domenick Fensore empty netter to cap it off.”
Daisy Roberts: “Northeastern 3, BU 1. Fontaine nets two, but one is an empty netter. TJ has another 40+ save game.”
Emma Sullivan: “5-4 win for BU. The Terriers have more sustained offensive pressure throughout the game and while Northeastern is able to get one back off a power play goal from Jordan Harris, they fall just short.”
Justin Chen: “I think there will be a fight post game in North Station and both teams will have fun.”
The general consensus is that the teams will play a relatively close game, but the staff was evenly split on who will emerge as the champions with five votes received for each team. We’ll look to see which staff members are correct, but there’s no telling which outcome will happen before the game begins. Although if one thing is certain, it’s that this is a game you won’t want to miss.
WRBB will have full coverage of the final matchup on 104.9 FM in the Boston area and on our website when the puck drops at 7:30 p.m. Mike Puzzanghera, Khalin Kapoor and Emma Sullivan have the call from TD Garden.