Photos by Kayla Shiao
BOSTON — It was offense galore for the Northeastern Huskies as they took on the Merrimack Warriors on Friday in their last home game of the regular season. Matthews Arena was bouncing as the Huskies cruised to a 6-1 win over the Warriors on Senior Night, matching their season high in goals and rebounding nicely after a disappointing loss to Vermont on Tuesday.
The win gave Northeastern sole possession of second place in the Hockey East standings, and a chance to win the regular season title with a UMass Amherst loss and a Husky win tomorrow night. It also clinched a top-four finish in the standings, meaning Northeastern will host a quarterfinal Hockey East playoff game at Matthews Arena.
Despite going 60 minutes without a goal against Vermont on Tuesday night, it took the Huskies just 11 minutes to find twine on Friday, with Jack Hughes burying his first career power-play goal. A wicked Sam Colangelo one-timer from the right faceoff circle blasted through Merrimack goaltender Zachary Borgiel, but he took enough sting out of it for the puck to drift along the goal line, where Hughes was waiting to poke it home.
But the Warriors responded well to end the period and got a goal to show for it off a scintillating rush. The move started with a great win by forward Steven Jandric right in front of the Merrimack bench, and he backhanded a pass to star forward Max Newton, who entered the zone unencumbered. Newton found the trailer — defender Zach Uens — who caught Northeastern goaltender Devon Levi out of position to log his second goal of the year. The teams entered the first intermission deadlocked at one.
The second period started slow, as the puck seemed to be put into the crowd more times than on net by both teams. Northeastern was able to dominate offensively once again as time went on, adding to their shot total with 15 in the second frame alone. Levi was forced to make some great saves including one where he forced a Merrimack skater to hold onto the puck a bit too long, cutting off the chance for a shot on goal. The puck eventually was sent in search of a pass in front but ended up flying across the crease and into the corner, forcing the Warrior offense to reset.
A Merrimack turnover in their offensive zone wound up on the stick of Hughes in the neutral zone. Hughes held onto the puck until he entered the offensive zone for Northeastern and even a little longer as he deked around multiple Warriors while still maintaining possession. He sauced a no-look backhand pass to the far faceoff circle, directly hitting the stick of defender Julian Kislin who’d just come into the zone. Kislin was left all alone, enabling him to skate into the net front and backhand the puck up and over Borgiel for his second of the season with 6:34 remaining in the second.
For Kislin, who went his first three and a half years at Northeastern without scoring a goal, the score came less than a month after his first goal against UMass Lowell, doubling his career tally.
“People always told me, ‘you just need one to get going,’” Kislin said. “I just decided to wait three and a half years, but it paid out and we have a final push here, so I’m happy it finally came.”
Just 43 seconds after the Kislin tally, the Huskies’ fourth line, with a little help from defender Jayden Struble, got to work and put Northeastern up by two. Struble held the puck at the blue line before passing it to forward Ryan St. Louis. The freshman rifled a slapshot into traffic in front of the net where the puck was eventually tipped by the shaft of sophomore forward Michael Outzen’s stick before finding the back of the net. With the goal Outzen got his first career point and goal in the NCAA while St. Louis added the first assist of his career.
“Outty’s a really smart player, the guys have a lot of respect for him,” said Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe. “He plays the right way. We trust him. You love seeing a guy like that get rewarded, and that was a big goal that he scored.”
Struble was crucial once again on the fourth Northeastern goal in this game after he won a puck battle in the neutral zone before passing it along to Aidan McDonough. McDonough entered the offensive zone for the Huskies and found a wide open Colangelo at the opposite faceoff circle. Colangelo wasted no time taking advantage of being left all alone in front as he sniped a one timer past Borgiel with 3:02 remaining in the frame.
Postgame, Merrimack head coach Scott Borek said he liked the way his team was playing up until the last six minutes of the second.
“We got a little bit more physical, we weren’t letting them break out of the zone quite as easily, and I thought we played a little bit more structured,” Borek said. “But we can’t play their game, and the same thing’s going to happen tomorrow if we try to do that. We didn’t play with a lot of maturity tonight without the puck.”
Hughes put Northeastern back on the penalty kill with only 28 seconds remaining before intermission. He headed off for a hooking minor, giving a high powered Merrimack offense a bit of wiggle room to start the third period. The Northeastern penalty kill however stayed strong and killed the minor off with little difficulty.
The Warriors did not go down without a fight as they upped their offense. After 40 minutes Merrimack was only able to put 13 shots on Levi’s net, but they added another 18 in the final 20 minutes alone. To his credit, Levi turned them all away. He was aided slightly in a crazy sequence halfway through the frame after he was forced out of the blue paint and got stuck on the right side of his net. A mass of bodies in front created a scramble for the puck before defender Tyler Spott cleared it out, buying Levi time to return to his position.
Northeastern did have one more opportunity on the power play after forward Filip Forsmark headed to the box for tripping up forward Ty Jackson in the neutral zone with 13:39 left to play. The Huskies were able to set up the cycle for a few opportunities in front of Borgiel, but the netminder made some brilliant saves to keep the score from upping any higher.
Unfortunately for Borgiel, it would be his own teammate that caused another goal to go on the board for Northeastern with 9:49 remaining. Struble maintained possession along the boards for the Huskies before getting off a shot on net. Similarly to the Outzen goal in the second, the puck deflected off a stick in the traffic in front. However it was Merrimack defender Christian Felton who’s stick got the redirection, scoring an own goal to put Northeastern up 5-1. McDonough and defender Jeremie Bucheler had the two assists on the goal.
The best performance of the night came from Colangelo, who capped Northeastern’s offensive explosion with 4:13 remaining. Colangelo entered the zone all by himself with four Merrimack players defending against him, but that didn’t slow the sophomore down at all. He carried the puck to the middle of the zone before firing another shot that slipped past the right pad of Borgiel and into the back of the net. Kislin and Hughes both added to their points totals with the assists on the play and Northeastern secured their win by a score of 6-1.
“It was a great blocked shot by Aidan McDonough in the D-zone, and the puck came to me, and I saw that their D had a bit of a bad gap, and I just kind of let my instincts take over,” Colangelo said. “I wasn’t really thinking too much. Obviously, it was a pretty good feeling to see that hit the back of the net.”
Tempers began to flare in the dying minutes of the game, leading to Struble taking a roughing penalty with 2:42 left. Struble caught Warrior forward Ben Brar up high with his stick in the Northeastern defensive zone while play was all the way down in front of Borgiel’s net. Struble was exiled to the penalty box and then after the buzzer, some pushing and shoving from either side went on at center ice and all players involved had to be separated by the officials.
Neither Borek nor Keefe seemed too concerned with how the skirmishes at the end of the game would translate over into the matchup between these two teams tomorrow.
“They took some liberties physically with their sticks — that happened in the second period as well — that weren’t called,” Borek said. “We’ve got to respond better than that. There’s going to be times when things happen like that, it’s a hockey game. I think we were frustrated, and they were riding high and that’s typically when those things happen.”
Northeastern’s hopes for a Hockey East regular season title rests in the hands of themselves but also Boston College who face off against UMass Amherst tomorrow. Northeastern’s eyes are not on the game in Amherst, but on their own matchup they have left to play.
“That’s our goal — to go in there and take care of business and focus on what we can do,” Keefe said. “Hopefully we get some help there. It’s nice to go into the last game knowing you still have that opportunity.”
The team knows however on what they need to focus on — in this case just playing their game and trying to win.
“When everyone’s going, we’re going, and we’re a pretty unstoppable team when that happens,” Kislin said.
These two teams will meet again for the final game of the regular season at Lawler Rink tomorrow. Puck drop is scheduled for 7 p.m. WRBB will have coverage from North Andover with Khalin Kapoor, Matty Wasserman, and Eamonn Ryan on the call on WRBB’s Mixlr stream.