BOSTON — When it comes to Northeastern’s men’s hockey team, you have to expect the unexpected. And no part of the Huskies’ senior night game could have been anticipated.
When the Huskies hosted UMass Lowell in Matthews Arena Saturday night, they faced a daunting task; Northeastern had already fallen twice to the River Hawks this season — a 3-2 defeat in late October and a 3-1 slugfest the night before. But in a high-scoring game fraught with penalties and review calls, Northeastern clambered to the top with a final score of 7-3, capping off a roller coaster of a regular season and claiming the third seed in the Hockey East tournament in the process.
“You want to win that last regular season game at home,” said Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe. ”Obviously we had a bad taste in our mouths, losing last night, so really proud of the effort and I know the rest of the group really wanted the seniors to get that one.”
As the game got underway, Lowell had the better looks, and although Northeastern notched the first few shots of the night, they were easily gloved down by graduate student goaltender Gustavs Davis Grigals.
Fueled by a hard-checking defense and disciplined breakout attack, a key component of the River Hawks’ style of play, Lowell quickly turned the Huskies on their head when their first shot of the night found the back of the net.
The shot, off the stick of senior forward Jake Stella, whistled above Levi to put the River Hawks on the board just 40 seconds into the game. Their lead wouldn’t last long, however. The Northeastern bench pushed for a review and it paid off — the goal was disallowed for a previous offsides offense against Lowell and the score reverted to 0-0.
That early taste of the lead made the River Hawks even hungrier to get a goal, and at 6:24, with the help of sophomore forward Owen Cole, they were able to take control of the scoreboard 1-0.
But Northeastern was quick to respond. Halfway through the game, freshman defender Hunter McDonald fired the puck toward the net. The rebound attempt of junior forward Sam Colangelo bounced off the pad of Grigals, and senior forward Matt DeMelis was right there to scoop the puck past the netminder for the equalizer.
With the game tied and control of the ice shifted back in their favor, the Huskies hit their stride. It only took three minutes for graduate student forward Liam Walsh to put Northeastern in the lead.
From the right faceoff circle, freshman defender Vinny Borgesi slapped the puck over to sophomore forward Matt Choupani. Choupani’s one-timer ricocheted off Grigals’ pads, but once again, there was a Husky on the doorstep to knock it home.
Once the Huskies fell into that groove, they could not be stopped.
At 17:42 into the period, Novak joined in on the senior night scoring. Borgesi dumped the puck into the crease, but traffic in front of the net forced it out. The puck skittered over to sophomore forward Justin Hryckowian, who played it back in front of the net. The quick turnaround caught Grigals off guard, leaving Novak the opportunity to finish the job and double Northeastern’s lead.
The goal went quickly under review, the referees certain Novak had kicked it in. After watching back the play, the referees determined that Novack got a stick on the puck and the goal stood, leaving Northeastern with the 3-1 lead.
The three unanswered goals told the River Hawks they needed to work if they wanted to beat Northeastern that night, especially with its high rate of turnovers all across the ice, but that hard work had already turned to desperation and Lowell’s physical play grew sloppy.
With a minute left on the clock, the River Hawks took the first penalty of the night and Northeastern finished out the frame on the advantage.
When the second period commenced, Northeastern still had a minute to go on the power play, but Lowell dove into the offensive zone, tallying six shorthanded attempts in the remaining 57 seconds of its player deficit and refusing to let the Huskies escape their own defensive zone.
That penalty was just the first of a long series, as tensions ramped up consistently as play progressed.
“Once games get two, three, four goals, sometimes guys start to trip a little bit and that’s just the nature of it,” Keefe said. “We’ve got to clean that up going into next week for sure.”
Four minutes later, Lowell junior defender Ben Meehan was sent to the box with two simultaneous minor penalties — for interference and slashing — leaving the River Hawks down a player for the next four minutes.
The Huskies made quick work of the power play; it only took 24 seconds of the player advantage for them to score.
In Northeastern’s fourth straight goal, sophomore forward Jack Hughes snapped the puck across the crease, where Hryckowian was there to tip it in.
Feeling disheartened by Northeastern’s dominant stretch, Lowell decided they needed to make a change. At 5:25 into the middle frame, junior goaltender Henry Welsch headed between the pipes to replace Grigals in net, who’d shined in the River Hawks’ victory a night earlier
The goalie swap proved to be exactly what Lowell needed — for the time being. While Northeastern continued its offensive pressure, Welsch’s fresh legs provided a change of pace in the crease and he was able to keep the puck out of the net when Lowell headed back to the penalty kill two minutes later.
A minute through its power play, Northeastern took a penalty of its own, throwing the game to four-on-four. The depleted even strength teams resulted in a stalemate, and once Lowell was able to regain its fifth skater, the Huskies’ authoritative streak ended.
Thirty seconds into the power play, Lowell freshman defender Mitchell Becker found himself in front of the net with an open shooting lane. With Cole screening Levi out front, Becker took an easy shot into the back of the net for his first career goal.
At the same time as the River Hawks started closing the gap, Northeastern took another penalty. With senior forward Riley Hughes in the box for slashing and the difference narrowed to two, the Huskies put their best foot forward on the penalty kill, only allowing Lowell to tack one shot against junior goaltender Devon Levi.
After a successful penalty kill, Northeastern pushed back into the offensive zone and broke open the scoring once more.
Assisted by junior forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine and freshman forward Cam Lund, DeMelis took the puck into the crease. When his initial shot couldn’t break through, DeMelis picked up his own rebound and slotted it under Welsch’s pad in his second goal of the night. DeMelis’ two-goal senior day performance was a career high and doubled his goal count for the season.
Levi’s stellar work between the pipes kept Lowell largely off the scoreboard, but the River Hawks continued to gain offensive momentum as the game wore on, leading the Huskies 14-10 in shots in the second period and doubling their tally from the first.
Heading into the final frame, Lowell made yet another goaltending change. For the first time in his career, sophomore netminder Edvard Nordlund took to the ice to see if he could have a little more luck against the Huskies than his teammates.
But Northeastern proved him wrong; just fourteen seconds into the period, the Huskies extended their lead to four with their sixth goal of the night.
After drawing Nordlund to the edge of the goal, Hryckowian found senior forward and captain Aidan McDonough on the doorstep for McDonough’s 20th goal of the season.
“You’ve got to shoot the puck to score,” McDonough said. “It was just a big thought of mine today, was like ‘let’s just put more pucks on the net.’ I like it when I’m shooting the puck a lot more and it usually gets me engaged in the game and good things seem to happen.”
Shortly after, Northeastern took yet another penalty, but the team’s seventh-ranked nationally penalty kill easily drained the two-minute minor.
Fresh off the penalty, the Huskies raced back to the offensive end. Senior forward Alex Mella picked up the puck in the neutral zone and headed toward Nordlund. Despite the defender between Mella and the net, he fired a shot down low and it snuck past the netminder just inside the far post. The goal was the first of Mella’s career — a perfect senior night for the graduating forward.
“He’s just an amazing kid, an amazing teammate, works so hard every day in practice and he can shoot the puck really well,” McDonough said. “I think our bench celebrated more for that one than we did for the Beanpot.”
Throughout the final frame, penalties continued to go back and forth between the two teams — a total of thirteen in the game.
With five minutes remaining in regulation, the River Hawks tacked on their final goal of the game. Senior forward Brian Chambers’s score was the third of the night for Lowell, but the Huskies had created too much space to give the River Hawks a fighting chance.
Dueling penalties took the game to four-on-four play with three minutes remaining, but without an advantage on either side in those final moments, both teams were unwilling to budge defensively and the clock quickly ran out on the game.
Although Lowell outshot the Huskies 22-6 in the third period — 43-26 in the game as a whole — the combination of bad luck for the River Hawks and some show-stopping saves from Levi spelled out a recipe for disaster for the visiting team.
The 7-3 victory over the River Hawks was a messy win, but it was a sweet one for the seniors. Six of Northeastern’s seven goals were scored by seniors, including Mella’s first career goal.
With the weekend’s split series, Northeastern finishes the regular season third behind BU and Merrimack, but is still in the running for the tournament title. The Huskies host a quarterfinal matchup Saturday, playing the winner of a Wednesday night opening round game.
While Northeastern’s opponent for their Hockey East quarterfinal matchup is yet to be determined, the Huskies will return to Matthews Arena Mar. 11. WRBB has full on air coverage of the game when the puck drops at 7 p.m.