BOSTON — Sighs of relief could be heard across Fenway Park as Northeastern secured the 4-1 win over UConn on Saturday, their first regulation victory since Nov. 18.
The Huskies, who entered Saturday 1-7 in the past eight games, have struggled to stay out of the box especially due to after the whistle penalties. To their benefit on Saturday, those struggles were not present as they played a cleaner game. While they did take three penalties to UConn’s one, the penalty kill’s ability to block passes and keep their opponents on the perimeter kept UConn from converting on any of their advantages.
UConn had their foot on the gas early, generating 15 shots on goal in the first period to Northeastern’s five. Northeastern in turn however, had two goals on those five shots while UConn had zero.
Junior forward Ryan Tverberg received the first penalty of the game after a boarding infraction with 13:10 left in the period. On the power play Northeastern had to settle for a quick passing game to try and catch the UConn defense out of position. They were unsuccessful in getting any high danger chances off during the ensuing two minutes, however they did manage to keep the puck in their offensive zone for extended periods of time.
Northeastern jumped out to the lead late in the period and didn’t look back. Freshman forward Cam Lund backhanded the puck out of his own defensive zone to an awaiting senior Aidan McDonough in neutral territory. The forward then carried the puck all the way into the Huskies offensive end, with linemate Justin Hryckowian rushing up the ice with him.
McDonough opted to keep the puck himself instead of passing it however, leaving him to snipe it past freshman goaltender Arsenii Sergeev from the — faceoff dot for his 13th goal of the year. Lund and senior defender Tyler Spott picked up assists on the play, as Northeastern secured the one goal lead with 9:24 left in the first period.
“Recently we’ve had tough puck luck and dug ourselves into a hole,” McDonough said. “It was really important for us to get a lead.”
Five minutes later graduate student Liam Walsh, the lone forward in the lineup for Northeastern without a goal coming into the game, finally secured his first tally in a Husky uniform. Freshman forward Jack Williams grabbed the puck in the corner behind Sergeev and fed it in front for Walsh. Walsh then deflected the puck off a stick in front and past the netminder to secure the two goal lead with 4:27 to play in the frame.
“He’s a really well-liked guy in the locker room, that was a huge boost for our entire team,” said head coach JerryKeefe. “He helped us win that hockey game today. I’m proud of him because it hasn’t been easy.”
Before the period ended, senior forward Riley Hughes sat for two minutes after a hooking penalty with 2:58 on the clock. Outside of the penalty, Hughes had one of his best performances so far this season, driving to the net and contributing multiple scoring chances throughout the full 60 minutes of regulation.
The fourth line of Hughes, graduate student Jakov Novak and senior Matt DeMelis, was all over the ice forcing turnovers and generating opportunities every shift. After some lackluster play from the roster as a whole since before Thanksgiving, seeing the senior most members step up in the way they did was a much needed change of pace..
The second period was silent on the scoring front, with both defenses keeping the shot counters down below double digits. As through much of the game, play was back and forth in both offensive zones however the goaltenders in either cage had outstanding saves to rob the opposing side.
Third period play started in similar fashion with the two teams trying to build momentum and keep the game from slipping away from them. It took until past the halfway point in the frame for chaos to descend on the ballpark.
This season, the youngest player in the NCAA is UConn forward Matthew Wood. Predicted to be a first-round pick in the upcoming NHL draft, Wood has been outstanding for the Huskies in his first 22 games in college hockey. This game was no different.
With 7:34 left in regulation, Wood potted his eighth goal of the season after being left alone on the side of the Levi’s net. Instead of slipping it past a sliding Levi, Wood flipped it up over the net and behind the netminder where it eventually ended up trickling past the goal line to bring the game within one.
“He’s an excellent player, you’ve got to remember he’s still 17 playing against 24 and 23-year-olds,” said UConn head coach Mike Cavanaugh. “He makes excellent plays, and he’s got poise. He’s just scratching the surface right now.”
The Huskies have blown two-goal third period leads on multiple occasions this season, but on Saturday Northeastern turned momentum right back around with Hryckowian’s 11th goal of the year.
Thanks to a sprawling save by Levi, the puck ended up with Lund deep in the defensive zone. He passed it to McDonough who was breaking out at the blueline, allowing McDonough to get it up to a wide open Hryckowian. Hryckowian carried the puck all the way down to Sergeev’s net and beat him with a beautiful shot to the right side of the cage for the 3-1 lead.
“It was absolutely huge, a big time player making a big time play,” Keefe said. “We need our best players making plays like that.”
UConn thought they had gotten back in this one with a 3-2 goal from junior forward Hudson Schandor, however a lengthy review called the score back to keep Northeastern up by two.
“I coach games, the players play, and the referees ref. If the referees made a decision, that was their decision,” Cavanaugh said. “It doesn’t matter what I think about it, it certainly wasn’t the reason why we lost the game. That was the call.”
The icing on the cake for Northeastern came with 3:16 to play after Williams forced a turnover in his own defensive end. He then put the puck past freshman defender Tom Messineo and picked up his own pass at the opposing blue line. After driving to the net, a beautiful back-handed shot around Sergeev slotted the puck in the back of the net to bring the score to 4-1.
Extracurriculars after the whistle between Spott, fellow senior defender Jeremie Bucheler and UConn freshmen forwards Ryan Tattle and Huston Karpman, put Northeastern on the power play for the remaining 7.6 seconds of the game. Karpman after a review was tossed from the game with a misconduct and a five-minute major for face masking. It didn’t matter much for either team, and the final buzzer sounded without any further commotion.
This by no stretch erases the issues plaguing Northeastern over the last month and a half of the season. While definitely one of their most complete performances all around, their hardest stretches of the schedule still lie ahead, including a rematch with these same UConn Huskies next Saturday at the brand new Toscano Family Ice Forum.
But after suffering some demoralizing losses in recent weeks, it’s hard not to have some hope as the Huskies approach their last 13 games of the regular season. And this team knows that they have the capability to turn this ship right around.
“The effort has always been there,” Keefe said. “The mindset was better today. We came into this building saying we know we can go out and we can win this hockey game.”
In this one, both goaltenders had their shining moments that deserve to be highlighted. The four goals against did not tell the whole story on Sergeev as shown in just one of his saves where he robbed McDonough in front by swiping the puck away from him and then covering the ensuing shot off the rebound.
“I thought he made some big saves at times,” Cavanaugh said. “He’s a really good goaltender, and we certainly have faith in him.”
At the other end of the ice, after giving up eight goals in their last game against Harvard, Levi rebounded with an outstanding performance on the big stage something both his coach and captain recognized.
“We have all the confidence in the world in Levi,” Keefe said. “He’s the best goaltender in the country, and we know that.”
However it was Aidan McDonough who put it best.
“Dev does what Dev does,” he said.
Northeastern returns to the ice against UConn next Saturday in Storrs with a 7:05 p.m. puck drop. WRBB will not be live from the game, however on-air coverage for men’s hockey returns the following weekend against Merrimack.