BOSTON — It was a season where Northeastern was perfectly positioned to dominate.
With one of the most talented rosters on paper in the conference, sky-high expectations, and a second half of the season that was much better than the first, the Huskies were primed for success entering the postseason.
However, Northeastern was unable to get it done when they needed to, as they fell in overtime 2-1 in their Hockey East quarterfinal matchup versus Providence on Saturday.
The start of the game had all the markings of a great performance by a team seeded third in the conference. The Huskies dominated the shot count, outshooting Providence 12-5 by the end of the first period.
Defensively Northeastern was blocking shots all over the ice and made sure to keep their opponent out on the perimeter. Offensively they were firing on all cylinders — pushing momentum in their favor by keeping the puck deep in their end and taking shots from the interior in an attempt to catch freshman netminder Philip Svedebäck out of position.
It all came to a head after Friars’ defender Will Schimek knocked down senior forward Riley Hughes next to the goal, sending the sophomore to the box for interference with 11:37 remaining in the period. Northeastern’s power play had been surging, scoring in three of their past four games. While the top unit was unable to generate many opportunities, it was the second unit that was able to capitalize on a rush in transition.
Graduate student forward Liam Walsh had the puck tangled up underneath his feet in front of the Northeastern bench, allowing him to push it back in the defensive end for forward Cam Lund. The freshman carried the puck all the way back past the opposite blue line, before firing a shot from above the left faceoff circle that beat Svedebäck over the shoulder, with 10:16 to go.
The rest of the first period remained in Northeastern’s hands, as Lund’s seventh tally of the season forced Providence back on their heels allowing the Huskies to control play.
Coming out of the first intermission however, it was a completely different story.
By the end of the second period, Providence put 20 shots on goal for a two-period total of 25. They also were able to limit the Huskies to just four shots, all in the first five minutes. The Friars got their first attempt at the power play after freshman defender Jackson Dorrington went off for roughing with 10:44 on the clock.
The penalty call was preceded by a chaotic sequence of challenges. First, Northeastern wanted a major penalty called against Providence for a hit thrown in front of Devon Levi’s net that caught senior Jayden Struble awkwardly.
After officials determined that play was not cause for a major penalty, on the very next shift Dorrington and senior forward Patrick Moynihan got tangled up in each other’s face masks. Again there was a review for a major on Providence, but no penalty was assessed.
Northeastern was able to kill off their penalty even after allowing five shots on goal during the ensuing two minutes. Just under two minutes after power-play time expired however, forward Parker Ford took on and then beat out three Northeastern skaters while driving toward Levi.
The senior captain wrapped all the way around the net, and slid the puck home between the pipe and defender Vinny Borgesi’s skate to tie the game at one. Levi, caught on the opposite side of the blue paint, had no chance to stop the puck.
The goal energized an already cruising Friars squad, helping them kill off a Northeastern power play drawn 16 seconds after the game-tying tally. The rest of the period was highlighted by more chances for Providence, and not a lot of opportunities for the Huskies.
In the third, freshman defender Hunter McDonald went off for roughing with 11:33 left in regulation. After killing off the penalty, Northeastern was able to claw some momentum back on their side, and while they were unable to find the back of the net, they created some grade-a chances in front that could have been the difference.
On the opposite side of the ice, the Friars finally were able to drive to the Northeastern net, trying to stuff the puck behind the netminder to no avail. Thanks to some help from his defenders, Levi maintained the play seen so often over the last few years, determined and utterly solid in between his pipes. There were plenty of chances that Providence almost buried which could have run up the score, however the junior was able to turn them all away and regulation time ended still in a deadlock.
After a better third frame than their second one, Northeastern turned right around and allowed themselves to fall behind in the overtime period. They did not record a single shot on goal in the four minutes of extra play, and Providence was able to keep them out of their offensive end almost entirely.
In what would turn out to be the final minute of the game, the Friars dominated puck possession in their own end. Shots from Ford, Brett Berard, and Riley Duran were all either turned aside or went wide, buying the Huskies a little bit more time. Then, after sophomore defender Guillaume Richard fired a puck in from the top of the zone, the puck bounced off the pads of Levi back out to the left of his crease.
Right to freshman Brady Berard.
The forward easily lifted the puck over Levi’s legs as the goaltender sprawled in the crease, finding the back of the net for his first collegiate goal and booking his team’s ticket to TD Garden for the conference semifinals.
“I just beat the guy to the net,” Berard said. “Coach was preaching ‘good anchor’ and try to just get in front of Levi. … He’s a hell of a goalie so just try to get to the net. When I saw the puck I tried to put it on net and luckily it went in.”
Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe attempted to challenge once more, this time for goaltender interference on the score. His challenge was again unsuccessful and the final score stood, ending his team’s season in the exact way it did a year ago: a heartbreaking, 2-1 overtime defeat.
“It’s a tough loss,” Keefe said. “It wasn’t the result we were looking for tonight, definitely not the result we were looking for with this group. … I thought they battled, they’re obviously disappointed, but there’s a lot of good kids in that locker room.”
So where does Northeastern go from here? There will be no appearance in the NCAA tournament this season, as they’re stuck down at 20 in the Pairwise with no games left to play. Their season is over, and now the guessing game of when-and-where are some of their players signing professional deals begins.
On the positive side, there is plenty to be excited about for next season; Justin Hryckowian can be a leader both in the locker room and in the scoring race for this Northeastern squad as he gets set for his third season on Huntington Avenue.
McDonald ended his season with an absurd 94 blocked shots and was the first freshman to ever win defensive defender of the year honors in Hockey East history. If he’s able to continue to grow in his role alongside Dorrington and Borgesi, the Northeastern blue line will be perfectly solid for years to come. Not to mention more maturity and larger roles for forwards like Lund, freshman Jack Williams, and sophomore Matt Choupani.
On the negative side, there are the gaping holes that are getting left behind. Struble, and potentially Jeremie Bucheler and Tyler Spott will all leave behind the Northeastern defense that they’ve helped lead for the better part of four years.
Struble potentially will join the Montreal Canadiens in the coming days, following in 2022 graduate Jordan Harris’ footsteps to Quebec. Bucheler, Spott, as well as forwards Jakov Novak, Riley Hughes, Matt DeMelis, Alex Mella, and Walsh’s next steps are unknown, however seeing a combination from those seven signing professional deals or potentially entering the transfer portal in the near future wouldn’t be a surprise.
Then there’s the biggest loss up-front: Aidan McDonough. The Milton native is already being heralded as one of the best in recent memory to don the Northeastern sweater. His 124 points in 124 games are highlighted by 66 goals, including 29 on the power play. His production and leadership next season will be sorely missed by a Huskies team that is about to get a whole lot younger.
“Aidan will go down as one of the best I’ve coached here for sure,” Keefe said. “Not only as a player but as a kid. … He showed up every single day and wanted to make himself better and this team better. I have so much respect for just the way he approached every day. I know that a lot of our younger guys learned a lot from him.”
And of course, who can forget the magic that is leaving the Northeastern net in the form of Devon Levi. Over 66 starts for the Huskies, there’s no better word for Levi’s performances than outstanding. Every single game he was a difference maker, backstopping the Huskies with a career .942 save percentage, the second highest career save percentage in NCAA history.
Levi’s brilliant saves, keen awareness of the puck, and just utter domination are some of the main reasons Northeastern was able to get as far as they did in his two seasons. His production in the crease may never be seen again for Northeastern, and the Huskies were lucky to have it when they did.
McDonough and Levi are both expected to sign professional deals with the Vancouver Canucks and Buffalo Sabres respectively. While their paths to the biggest stage in hockey will not be easy, those outside the Northeastern program recognized what they were able to do during their time in the NCAA.
“I want to tip my hat to Aidan McDonough and Devon Levi,” Providence head coach Nate Leaman said. “Two of the best players to come through the league in my time, both classy kids, really classy kids.”
Looking ahead for Northeastern, at the start of the 2023-24 season the team will be vastly different. They’ll be a bit more inexperienced and less talented on paper than they were this year. Maybe the transfer portal can infuse them with some veteran presence, and it obviously will come down to how well the returning members from this roster are able to step up.
But that’s a conversation for a later day. For now, as the Huskies enter the offseason earlier than they planned, the discussion remains on a far more desolate note — what might have been.
WRBB will return in the fall for full coverage once again of Northeastern men’s hockey. Until then, thank you for tuning in with us this season, and we hope you join us again when the Huskies return to the ice.