After a rocky start to the season, Northeastern was riding two weeks of momentum heading into Saturday night’s matchup against Brown. It was a must-win game for the Huskies, one with stakes reminiscent of many of the December contests from the 2022-23 season: an opponent that was weaker on paper, but a loss to them would devastate their national standing.
Ultimately, Northeastern rode the coattails of senior forward Alex Campbell, who recorded his first hat trick as a Husky to power Northeastern to a 4-1 victory over the Bears at Meehan Auditorium.
“We really wanted to go out of the first half on a good note,” said Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe “We started to build a little momentum over the last couple weeks, playing a little bit better, and this was one that we felt that we had to find a way to win. Credit to the guys.”
It took some time before Northeastern was able to settle into the first period, a twenty-minute stretch highlighted by unforced errors and turnovers that Brown jumped on, as the Huskies struggled to set up any offensive consistency. But it would be Northeastern to break through on the scoreboard first, as six minutes into the frame, junior forward Matt Choupani popped the puck free from the Bears on the forecheck and into the air. It was batted down at the feet of Campbell who set up a clean passing sequence with junior center Justin Hryckowian, as Campbell slotted the puck home for the Huskies’ first goal of the game.
“It was a good forecheck by us,” Campbell said. “We saw the goalie cheating a little bit, and capitalized on it.”
The physicality of the matchup began to heat up in the second period, and despite fewer turnovers from the Huskies, the Bears were hunting to tie the score. A bouncing puck sent in from the blue line was deflected off of Northeastern freshman netminder Cameron Whitehead right into the path of sophomore forward Dean Bauchiero, who was in the right place at the right time to poke in his first NCAA goal for the equalizer.
Less than 30 seconds later, Northeastern headed to their first power-play of the game, which seemed as if it would incite a swing in momentum back in favor of the Huskies. However, the Brown penalty kill stifled any opportunities that Northeastern tried to generate, and it only continued to take the wind out of their sails.
“At the end of the day, it was just executing. The times we lost the puck were our own fault,” Campbell said.
The second period seemed to deal blow after blow to the Huskies after a hooking call on freshman defender Michael Fisher put them at a player disadvantage on the ice. Northeastern’s penalty kill held strong, and just as the two-minute window was about to close, a sloppy move at the blue line by freshman defender Ethan Mistry left an opportunity for the Huskies to capitalize on.
Sophomore center Jack Williams raced ahead to field a leading pass from freshman winger Dylan Hryckowian, and one-on-nothing with Brown’s freshman goaltender Lawton Zacher, let loose a one-timer for the shorthanded goal to give Northeastern the lead.
““[Williams] is huge. He’s a big-time player that we’re expecting big-time things from,” Northeastern head coach Jerry Keefe said about the sophomore star. “I think he’s one of the best players in our league, all 200 feet. He’s starting to heat up, as you can see.”
Williams’ goal was the spark the Huskies needed to grab a secure hold of the game, as the turnover levels decreased and Brown became more and more desperate with their lack of offensive opportunities generated. Sophomore winger Ryan Bottrill got knocked for a holding the stick infraction, and this time, with all the momentum, Northeastern’s power play delivered.
Just fifteen seconds into the five-on-four advantage, Justin Hryckowian sent a shot in from the edge of the faceoff circle, finding the stick of a waiting Campbell just on Zacher’s doorstep. Campbell got a touch on the puck to shift it just over Zacher’s right shoulder to double the Huskies’ lead.
“[Campbell] gets to the scoring spots and scores. He’s got good skill, he’s dynamic, he’s quick, and he beats his check off the puck, and that’s where he’s so dangerous. He’s consistently been really good for us this year,” Keefe said. “You can see it now, he’s had a few really good weekends for us, I expect him to continue right into the second half.”
The third period featured a desperate Brown squad throwing everything at the wall and trying to see what would stick, firing shot after shot at Whitehead, who managed the intense offensive pressure with a level head one would expect from a long-time veteran. He closed the door on any chance the Bears had of making the end of the game interesting, showing flashes of his athleticism and composure in what was one of his best showings in a Northeastern sweater.
“I think [Whitehead] has gotten better and better,” Keefe said. “He comes here in a game that we need him to win, and he was excellent. The guys have a lot of confidence in him, and you can tell that he goes in there and he’s expecting to be the best goalie on the ice.”
With just under four minutes remaining in the final period, Zacher was removed from the game to set up a six-on-five that Whitehead and Northeastern handled beautifully, keeping Brown pushed mostly to the perimeter of their zone and deftly dealing with the shots that managed to find their way through the crowd of bodies in front of the crease.
As the clock counted down and one minute remained in the game, the Huskies finally were able to get bodies with the puck into the neutral zone, as Williams made a clean backhanded pass to an advancing graduate student center Liam Walsh. He skated the puck alongside Campbell toward the empty Brown net, shifting the puck to his teammate and allowing Campbell to complete his hat trick — Campbell’s second hat trick while playing away at Brown and the third of his collegiate career.
“It’s always nice to contribute to the team, scoring goals,” Campbell said. “Maybe I should come here a little more often.”
As Northeastern was able to come away with the win heading into the break for the holidays, it provides some optimism for an injury-riddled first half of the season that left much to be desired. While the start was slower than the Huskies could have expected, there has been consistent improvement over the final month of the semester, and there is only more to come for Northeastern as they return to full strength again.
“We’re hoping to get healthy because we feel like when we’re playing our best hockey with our best lineup, we like our team a lot,” Keefe said. “It’s a long season — even our first half was pretty short, we have 20 games left in the second half. That’s a lot of hockey, so we’re not going to mope about the first half, we’re going to try to build on some of the things we’ve done the last three weeks of hockey.”
Northeastern returns from the holiday break with a tournament matchup in the Kwik-Trip Holiday Face-Off against Minnesota Duluth Dec. 28 at 5 p.m. Stay tuned for more men’s hockey coverage from WRBB Sports.