CHESTNUT HILL — It felt like a different lifetime, but it had been only 24 hours since Cam Lund’s buzzer-beating score sent Matthews Arena into a frenzy, and capped off a Northeastern comeback for the ages.
Lund’s stunning late-game heroics on Friday gave Northeastern a gutsy win and big momentum boost headed into Saturday’s rematch with Boston College, but it didn’t change the fact that BC was the better team for the first 50 minutes of the contest.
And on Saturday night, that trend reared its ugly head again for the Huskies, who were defeated by the Eagles 3-2 in a game they were fortunate to lose by just a single goal. Northeastern was outshot by BC 36-21, and now faces a slew of potential suspensions after an ugly brawl ensued after the final whistle.
“We didn’t deserve to win the game,” said Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe. “They looked like a much faster team than us, and we were undisciplined again tonight. It wasn’t very good at all.”
Boston College deserves immense credit for their strong rebound performance. Fresh off the backbreaking loss to Northeastern and riding a four-game winless streak, the Eagles could’ve come out flat against the reinvigorated Huskies. But instead, they played some of their best hockey of the season, capitalizing on Northeastern’s mistakes and playing a physical, 200-foot brand of hockey.
“It was great to see the response our guys had after that real tough one last night,” said Boston College head coach Greg Brown. “The attitude today in the meetings was really strong, really positive, and you can see right from the first period they were emotionally invested in it.”
Northeastern struggled to control the netfront area on both sides of the ice, and failed to man up BC’s skaters in the slot. The game was mucked up by penalties, replay reviews, and chippiness, which stemmed in part from these conference rivals meeting for the third time in under four weeks.
The Eagles came out of the gate strong, outshooting Northeastern 15-6 in the first period and crashing the net hard and effectively. The Eagles built an early 2-0 lead with scores from veteran forwards Colby Ambrosio and Trevor Kuntar, and controlled the pace of play and possession time throughout.
Then, with 3:56 left in the first period, a fight (or as close as you’ll get to one in college hockey) broke out after the whistle. Huskies’ forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine lost his helmet in the scuffle, and defender Vinny Borgesi and BC forward Christian O’Neill ripped at each other’s jerseys. BC defender Charlie Leddy threw a punch in the midst of the altercation. The net result was three minors and one 10-minute misconduct for both sides, while Leddy was handed a five minute major and ejection, giving the Huskies an extended power-play opportunity.
But the Huskies failed to capitalize on their big chance on the man advantage, which was a theme throughout the entire weekend. Northeastern registered only three shots on goal on the power play, and none of them were high-quality chances. Though the Eagles’ penalty kill entered the weekend with a relatively low 76% kill rate, their ability to disrupt passing lanes and force the Huskies to the perimeter on the kill proved paramount.
“We handled the puck well, we got some clears and won a lot of draws,” said Eagles captain Marshall Warren of his team’s penalty kill. “We worked hard and moved our feet — I think when we move our feet we’re a really effective team.”
The Huskies kept themselves in the game with a beautiful snipe from freshman Jack Williams with 0:40 seconds left in the first period, but Northeastern did not register a single shot from the slot or low circle area in the entire frame.
The story was similar in the second period: the Eagles controlled the play, but a fastbreak score from Fontaine with 0:23 seconds left in the period — set up on a great feed from Williams — evened the score at 2-2.
It was somewhat miraculous that Northeastern was tied headed into the third period. Even by his lofty standards, Devon Levi had one of his most impressive showings in a Northeastern uniform on Saturday. There’s a world where the Eagles could’ve notched six or seven goals, were it not for Levi’s slew of brilliant saves early in the third period and throughout the night.
“He played really well tonight,” Keefe said of Levi’s performance. “He gave us a chance. He was the best player on the ice.”
Northeastern didn’t register a single shot through the first nine minutes of the third period, as Levi handled rush after rush and kept the Huskies alive by a thread. Warren finally banged home a rebound in the crease to give BC the 3-2 lead with 11:30 left to play in the game.
Northeastern seemingly responded just 24 seconds later, as Cam Lund — who else would it be — buried a shot from the left circle on a rush set up by Fontaine. But after a lengthy replay review, the goal was overturned due to a high stick by Fontaine, negating the Huskies last good chance of the night.
After fumbling a three-goal lead in the final 9:32 of Friday’s game, the Eagles did a far better job playing with a lead late in Saturday’s contest. BC netminder Mitch Benson never looked too comfortable in net all weekend, but unlike in the prior meeting, the quality chances weren’t there on Saturday for Northeastern to force Benson’s hand.
“[Friday] night, when we got the fourth goal, we really started to back off almost, instead of keeping our foot down and keep pushing,” Brown said. “We didn’t have that kind of retreat in us tonight. I think we stayed positive and stayed forceful the whole game.”
On the other side, Keefe was displeased with the penalties his team took — beyond the three penalties assessed as part of the first-period melee, Northeastern was whistled for four other penalties during the game, and struggled to contain an impressive Eagles power play.
But beyond their play between the whistles for 60 minutes, the stain on this night for Northeastern came after the final horn sounded, when complete chaos broke out. It all started with Northeastern captain Aidan McDonough, who initiated a tussle with Kuntar right as the buzzer sounded, and the two star forwards went at it. The entire squads then cleared their benches as the squabble turned ugly.
As of this writing, Northeastern defender Jayden Struble was handed down a Game Disqualification, which means he’ll be suspended for the Huskies’ next game against Boston University on Friday. McDonough, and potentially others involved, could face similar fates for their involvement in the postgame scuffle, as the league sorts out the punishments in the coming days.
The messy ending only added to an already-disappointing night for Northeastern, who is banged up, and can’t stand to lose more players for any length of time — let alone stars. The Huskies are currently playing without middle-six centers Jack Hughes and Liam Walsh, depth forward Michael Outzen, and key defender Tyler Spott due to injury.
“It’s got to come from within,” Keefe said. “I don’t know, we talked about it and you know, it’s not working. So something different than what we’re doing.”
Keefe will use the next six days to head back to the drawing board. While BC has some high-end talent, they still are a middle-of-the-pack team in Hockey East, and one that Northeastern needed to earn more than two points against this weekend.
Just one day after the highest of highs, Northeastern reached a season lowpoint on Saturday. The team is now 5-3-2 in Hockey East, with each of the five wins coming against Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire — the three worst teams in the conference. The Huskies get two more league games against another rival in BU, before heading for a six-game non-conference road trip to close out the first semester.
WRBB Sports will have full coverage of the Huskies’ weekend series with BU, first from Agganis Arena on Friday night at 7 p.m. Mike Puzzanghera and Emma Sullivan will have the call.