Story by Matty Wasserman
Photos by Kayla Shiao
CHESTNUT HILL, MA — On Friday night, Jerry Keefe sat at the podium in the Matthews Arena Varsity Club, searching for answers after another deflating loss. His team had scored one goal in the previous two games, and signs of offensive life were nowhere to be found. A first-round bye in the Hockey East tournament was slipping away, and the margin for error was waning.
“There’s no perfect message, other than the guys in the room, and the coaching staff, we’re all in it together, and we’re the ones who have to change it,” Keefe said after Friday’s 4-1 loss.
And on Saturday, the Huskies changed everything.
Northeastern, with its back against the wall, delivered one of its best all-around performances of the season on Saturday night, defeating Boston College 4-1 at Conte Forum. The Huskies were sharp passing the puck in the offensive zone, finishing checks, blocking shots, and were spectacular on special teams. The offense, which has struggled mightily over the past weeks, roared to life, finishing shots in tight and executing odd-man rushes to perfection.
“We needed a bounce-back win. Last night was a tough night, just getting off to a tough start,” Keefe said after the game. “I’m just really proud of the guys; they played really well tonight.”
The urgency was felt for the Huskies, who entered Saturday with only six games remaining in the regular season, and in danger of losing their third straight contest.
“We knew this was a really big game. Our approach coming in, it was a playoff type game for us. We had to win, and it showed,” Keefe said. “Our guys did all the little things to win the game tonight.”
The Huskies leading goal scorer Aidan McDonough set the tone early in Saturday’s battle, scoring just 23 seconds into action. For a Huskies offensive attack that’s been searching for any semblance of rhythm or confidence lately, the early score provided a huge boost, and meant Northeastern wouldn’t need to play from behind.
“It was big,” Keefe said of McDonough’s early score. “We wanted to come in and establish a lead, and establish our gameplan right off the bat.”
The Huskies, playing with the lead throughout Saturday’s contest, played looser and more composed early in the game than they had on Friday night. The lead was extended early in the second period on a Matt DeMelis score, set-up by a wicked cross-ice pass from linemate Riley Hughes into the low slot.
With the prolonged absence of center Justin Hyrckowian, who Keefe said Friday is considered “week-to-week,” DeMelis has shifted to playing center full-time. The Huskies entire third line — DeMelis, Hughes, and Jakov Novak — provided Northeastern much-needed depth on Saturday, generating consistent zone-time and cycling the puck well in the offensive end.
Northeastern’s stout penalty kill was put to the test on Saturday, successfully fending off seven penalties and 14 minutes of Boston College powerplay action. Northeastern’s 90.8% penalty kill rate is third best in the country, and the unit’s prowess was on full display Saturday. While there were some lucky breaks — namely a second-period Colby Ambrosio shot that rung the post — the Huskies also made their own luck on the penalty kill, with the physicality and toughness of defenders Jordan Harris and Tommy Miller forcing BC skaters off the puck, and penalty-killing forwards Novak and DeMelis prying the puck loose and clearing the zone admirably.
“The kill was huge tonight, it gave us a lot of momentum,” Keefe said. “Coach [Mike] McLaughlin does a great job getting those guys ready, they’re all bought in, and it was big for our team tonight.”
Northeastern, after ceding a late second-period score to Eagles’ center Patrick Giles, led 2-1 entering the third period. It was a defining period for the Huskies, who witnessed this same BC team dominate them early in the third period in the game 11 days ago at TD Garden.
“I told [the players] nothing changes here, we gotta go out and win this game, we can’t take our foot off the gas,” Keefe said of his message to the team prior to the third period.
Northeastern came out blazing hot in the third period, with Novak and Sam Colangelo each netting goals within the first five minutes of the frame. BC’s scoring wizard Marc McLaughlin appeared to have cut the deficit to two goals midway through the period, but the ruling was reversed on replay review for goalie interference. With McLaughlin’s goal taken off the board, the Huskies three goal lead was too much for the Eagles to overcome.
Freshman goaltender TJ Semptimphelter was brilliant again in net for the Huskies. Though his 23 save-performance on Saturday pales in comparison to his 40 saves against BC in the Beanpot semifinal, he was as impressive as ever, making sprawling saves and navigating traffic in front of his crease all night.
Northeastern hopes to return superstar goalie Devon Levi back in net next week against UConn, meaning this perhaps was Semptimphelter’s last start of 2022. His work in the past three weeks was nothing short of remarkable, and beyond the realm of any reasonable possibilities or expectations for him headed into the stretch of play. He produced a save percentage of .934 in 438 minutes, and picked up hardware with the Eberly award for his stellar Beanpot performance.
Northeastern has a difficult schedule to close out Hockey East play. The Huskies face UConn in a home-and-home series next weekend, then travel to Vermont for a Tuesday night road matchup, before closing out the regular season with a home-and-home against red-hot Merrimack. They’ll need to carry the momentum of Saturday’s victory into the final stretch of play to compete for Hockey East playoff positioning, and achieve the ultimate goal of an NCAA tournament berth.
The Huskies next play on Friday at 7 p.m. against UConn at Matthews Arena. Stay tuned to WRBB for complete coverage of the action.