Story by Khalin Kapoor
HARTFORD, CT — The Northeastern Huskies (22-10-1) defeated the UConn Huskies (17-14-0) 5-2 on Saturday at the XL Center. Northeastern was led by junior forward Aidan McDonough, who notched a hat trick and an assist, which brought his series point total to seven. Goaltender Devon Levi also shined for the second straight day, turning away 40 of 42 shots for his 18th win.
The game began relatively slowly, as Northeastern mirrored their troubles from Friday night in the offensive zone. They were having difficulty working the puck in deep and consistently turned the puck over in their own end. With a minute left in the first, Northeastern forward Riley Hughes took a bad slashing call, sending his team to the penalty kill. UConn was able to strike with the man advantage to take the 1-0 lead heading into the second period. Northeastern was outshot 15-11 in the first and were severely outplayed.
UConn doubled their lead early in the second, with senior forward Jachym Kondelik potting his 12th goal of the season.
However, midway through the second, McDonough rifled a shot past UConn netminder Darion Hanson to cut the deficit in half. It was a goal off the rush for Northeastern, as they created a 2-on-1 in transition and took advantage of an out of position Hanson. In the past few weeks, McDonough had hit a little bit of a lull offensively but absolutely exploded in the weekend series against UConn.
Northeastern trailed 2-1 entering the third and faced a tough test right from the jump, having to kill off a 5-on-3 for 40 seconds and a power play for another minute. They killed it off with some help from defenseman Tyler Spott as well as the posts. Just a few minutes later, Riley Hughes exploded with the puck into the offensive zone, fed a perfect pass to his brother Jack, who promptly tied the game. It was yet another goal off the rush for Northeastern and was the sixth goal of the season for Jack Hughes.
On his message to the team heading into the third, Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe remarked “We needed to get a kill. … We knew we were getting looks, so I said the only thing we haven’t done today was put the puck in the back of the net.”
Just 20 seconds after the Jack Hughes goal, forward Matt DeMelis took a tripping call and Northeastern went to the kill once again. Four seconds into the power play for UConn, it looked as if forward Carter Turnbull tied the game, but he was called for goaltender interference after running directly into Levi’s head during the play. The goal was taken off the board, a huge break for Northeastern, as it kept the momentum in their favor.
McDonough notched his second goal of the night off of a perfect feed from Sam Colangelo to give Northeastern the lead 11:40 into the third. After being down 2-0, Northeastern scored three unanswered to take the lead and did not look back from there, ultimately scoring two more goals later in the third. Ty Jackson scored his sixth to extend the lead, and McDonough completed his hat trick with an empty netter to seal the win and the sweep for Northeastern.
Levi did not see any live action while in Beijing for the winter Olympics. There was worry that he would show rust in his return to NCAA games, but he has not. In the two game series against UConn, Levi made 100 total saves to cement himself as a strong contender for the Mike Richter Award. Both he and McDonough have legitimate chances of winning the Hobey Baker award this year.
“[Levi] gives us a lot of confidence,” McDonough said after the game. “Anyone who knows Dev, he’s an awesome guy, he’s a guy that you really want to play hard for, but you kind of just let him do his thing.”
After the series sweep, Northeastern rises to 15th in the Pairwise rankings, a position that puts them in contention for an at-large NCAA tournament bid with three regular season games left. Northeastern also hops UConn in the Hockey East standings and is now tied for second in the conference with Merrimack who they will play next weekend to close out the regular season.
This was a season-defining series for Northeastern. All of the ambiguity around this team, from Levi’s return to the injuries to defender Julian Kislin and forward Justin Hryckowian was put to rest after these two games against UConn. Kislin should hopefully be back in the lineup on Tuesday’s game against Vermontand will provide some much-needed stability to a beleaguered Northeastern defensive core that allowed more than 100 shots over the past two games.
Keefe has stressed throughout the home stretch of the season that his team needs to take things one game at a time. The next game for the Huskies will be against UVM at Gutterson Fieldhouse. It is a must-win to keep the Huskies alive in the Pairwise. WRBB will not be providing live coverage from Vermont, but will have a written recap after the game.