If back-to-back losses to Union and Sacred Heart were disheartening, Northeastern’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of Bentley might just be rock bottom.
For the Huskies, this should have been one of the easiest matchups on their remaining schedule. Entering this game, the Falcons were 4-13 overall, ranked 58th of 62 nationally in the Pairwise ranking, and are dead last in the Atlantic Hockey standings. They had 28 days off to Northeastern’s 12, and had won a measly two games at home previously this season.
From the jump Bentley dictated play. Huskies’ freshman forward Jack Williams took a holding penalty to put Northeastern down a man 48 seconds after the first drop of the puck. The Falcons, whose power play entered the game at just a 9% conversion rate, took only 46 seconds before netting their seventh tally on the advantage of the season.
Senior forward Josh Latta was all alone at the top of the faceoff circle to the left of the Northeastern net, allowing him to fire the puck towards traffic. It then pinballed off skates and sticks alike in front including the stick of senior forward Matt Gosiewski who took advantage of a discombobulated junior netminder Devon Levi to put the puck in the back of the net. Bentley took the lead 1:34 into the game and never looked back.
Northeastern looked sluggish throughout much of the first 10 minutes. They struggled to connect on passes and spent more time trying to enter the zone than time spent actually in it. Bentley on the other hand did a solid job protecting the front of their net, and they were often able to clear the puck and keep it on their own sticks to keep the Huskies from gaining any momentum.
It didn’t get much better after that. With 13:59 remaining in the period and a faceoff in the Northeastern defensive end just to the right of Levi, the Falcons wasted no time after winning the draw to set up a play in front. Freshman forward Arlo Merritt got the puck back to defender Tucker Hodgsen at the line. The sophomore fired the puck on net, where it slipped between Levi’s pads and into the blue paint.
Levi, caught on the opposite side sprawled on his stomach, couldn’t get back in time to stop freshman forward Nicholas Niemo who easily tapped the puck in for the 2-0 lead with 13:55 left in the period.
The first two goals are certainly ones Levi is going to want back, especially after losing control of the puck on the eventual game winner. It’s not everyday that the netminder gives up those types of tallies, and after those first 10 minutes of regulation Levi was almost flawless. However, with a team struggling to get going offensively over their last four games, it just goes to show how they can’t always rely on their goaltender to bail them out time and time again as he did last season.
A lucky break for the visiting team came at 7:23 into the frame after sophomore forward Harrison Scott was sent to the box for a boarding minor. However the Northeastern power play, which came into the game sitting at a 17.9% conversion rate, couldn’t quite find their rhythm, and the Falcons were able to get through the two minutes unscathed.
Bentley senior forward Lucas Vanroboys found himself on the unfortunate end of a turnover after he tripped up coming out of his own defensive end with the puck on his stick. Huskies’ sophomore forward Jack Hughes, who’s defensive prowess this season has grown, poked the puck away from Vanroboys to carry it back into the offensive end for Northeastern.
Hughes passed the puck easily to his linemate, junior Gunnarwolfe Fontaine, who then tried a cross ice feed to fellow junior forward Sam Colangelo. The puck originally got deflected in front by junior forward Cole Kodsi, however it found its way to Colangelo’s stick on the goal line. Colangelo and Hughes drew junior netminder Nicholas Grabko over to his right post and the Bentley defenders followed suit. Fontaine was left alone in front, allowing Colangelo to feed him for an easy tap-in for Fontaine’s sixth tally of the season.
The Huskies looked much more in control after the Fontaine score, however that resurgence grinded to a halt after freshman defender Hunter McDonald threw a hard hit at center ice. After a review during the media timeout, officials determined McDonald’s arm came in contact with the head of Bentley’s Scott, giving the Falcons a five minute power play. It’s the second such major penalty this season for McDonald, but luckily unlike in the Providence game back in October, the defender was not shown the gate.
With just under a minute gone by on the major, senior forward Riley Hughes got a breakaway chance toward Grabko’s net that was stopped thanks to freshman defender Seth Bernard-Docker slashing at his hands. Bernard-Docker was sent off for the infraction, giving Northeastern some time to kill off the major with 4-on-4 play. Colangelo had one good look in front during the even strength time, however Grabko was able to keep it from finding the back of his net.
Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe has talked about his team’s lack of discipline over their last stretch of games, including their last matchup against LIU. He stressed that he wanted his team to stay out of the box a bit more, something they did not accomplish tonight with seven penalties in total including three after the whistle that very well could have been avoided.
McDonald put the Huskies shorthanded again with a boarding call 18:57 left in the second period, followed shortly after by matching unsportsmanlike conduct infractions against Riley Hughes and freshman forward Stephen Castagna with 18:19 remaining. The Huskies got lucky thanks to a shot going off the pipe and some strong saves from Levi to keep the game from slipping out of reach.
Second period action overall was much like the first’s in the order of things. For the Huskies it took about 10 minutes to get their feet back underneath them, however Bentley was just putting a higher volume of chances on net. By the end of the second 2o minutes of play they’d outshot Northeastern 21-19 in total.
Some of the best chances in the second period were generated specifically by the third line of graduate student Jakov Novak, Riley Hughes, and junior Michael Outzen. Both Novak and Outzen had great backhanded opportunities in front of Grabko’s net, however they were both turned away and the score remained 2-1.
The second line of Colangelo, Jack Hughes, and Fontaine also had one of their strongest games of the season so far. They generated opportunities and were able to keep the puck in the offensive zone for longer stretches of time than in previous matchups. Of the 35 shots on goal Northeastern had overall, 11 came from that line including four apiece for Hughes and Colangelo.
The Huskies got the luckiest of lucky breaks with 5:03 to play in the second. A scramble in front of Levi’s net had two Falcons practically on top of him, including sophomore forward Harrison Scott. Scott got his skates caught up in Levi’s pads, knocking into the goaltender and sending the forward sliding into the crease. The interference on Levi allowed senior forward Josh Latta to get the puck into the net for the supposed 3-1 lead. However after review it was determined Levi had in fact been interfered with, keeping it a one-goal game.
The third period was the strongest offensively for Northeastern, as they had 16 shots on goal and spent the majority of the frame in their offensive end. It seemed as though it was only a matter of time until the puck found a way to beat Grabko, whether from a rebound attempt in front or from catching Grabko out of position.
Except Grabko never really was out of position after the sole Huskies goal in the first period. He was sharp at all times, reading where the feed was going to come from and using his glove skills to block down a variety of chances from the Huskies. His defense was a solid help as well, blocking 12 shots from even reaching his net. And if he got a little help from his post, he more than earned it.
All the chances the Huskies had to start the period, as well as the momentum from killing off another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty this time to Novak assessed in post second period shenanigans, soon soured with 12:07 left in regulation. Freshman forward Cam Lund got his legs taken out from underneath him in the offensive zone, allowing Gosiewski to slip in and nab the puck from him.
Gosiewski then flipped the puck past senior defender Jayden Struble and beat him on the ensuing footrace to carry the puck into his own zone without much difficulty. Gosiewski fed a pass across the crease to Nause who wasted no time putting the puck up past Levi for his first career goal and the 3-1 lead.
Northeastern continued after that by peppering more shots on Grabko’s net that were all either blocked or turned away. Keefe opted to pull Levi with just over a minute left in regulation after the Huskies successfully killed off a tripping penalty assessed to senior defender Jeremie Bucheler. The extra attacker did not bring another goal on the board however, and after a few icings from the Falcons and three last minute shots on goal from Northeastern, the final buzzer signified the most disappointing loss for the Huskies they’ve suffered so far this season. A hard task considering the ones that came before it.
If there’s any consolation from this game, it’s that the Huskies didn’t roll over entirely at the end of the game, especially after the third Falcons’ goal. They drove to the net, forced turnovers and minimized the damage on the other end, by allowing only five Bentley shots on goal. Unfortunately, they just couldn’t seem to find the back of the net when it mattered.
Friday’s matchup notably marked the return of two key senior defenders in Bucheler and Tyler Spott. Both took inopportune penalties, including a hit after the whistle penalty for Spott after he dragged his opponent off his feet during a stoppage in play. The defenders were solid on the back end all night, including three blocks between them. For a defense that was holding up sufficiently while undermanned over the last month, having those two back is going to be a huge boost. They just have to get their feet back underneath them and find ways to stay out of the box.
So where do the Huskies go from here? Honestly, it doesn’t look at all pretty.
Sunday’s matchup against No. 9 Harvard is no easy contest. And the remaining games of Hockey East opponents are all against teams higher than them in the Pairwise rankings, save one game against UVM. It means wins against these teams could be invaluable to claw their way back up towards a potential berth in the national tournament. If they keep playing the way they did in the third period on Friday, they could have a shot. But if they end up back in the box for extended periods of time while struggling to generate anything offensively, it all very well could slip away faster than it seemingly has over the past month.
Northeastern returns to the ice on Sunday with a cross-town matchup against Harvard at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center. WRBB will have on air coverage from Khalin Kapoor, Zach Lyons, and Kayla Shiao live when the puck drops at 4 p.m.