BOSTON — The last time crosstown rivals Northeastern and Boston University faced off was in the 2023 Beanpot Semifinals, where the Huskies came away with a 3-1 win. A lot has changed in a year.
No. 2 BU hosted NU in Agganis Arena for the teams’ first conference game of the new year, with Northeastern seeking its second Hockey East win this season and BU pushing for a seventh straight conference victory. The latter came to fruition.
After a tie game versus No. 3 Quinnipiac just three days prior, forcing the Terriers into overtime seemed like a step in the right direction for the Huskies. It’s important to note that Northeastern’s record was 3-2-1 after that matchup, dating back to the start of December.
But that hope for the end of this team’s rut came crashing down hard as BU snatched the extra point in OT for a 4-3 game. NU now stands at a conference record of 1-9, with a long stretch of Hockey East play ahead.
“Doesn’t matter unless we win the game. That’s our expectation,” head coach Jerry Keefe said of the team finally ‘turning a corner’ after the consecutive close contests. “That was our expectation coming into the year, to win these games. We are where we are.”
Northeastern was hungry to tally first on the scoreboard with two SOG within the opening minutes of regulation. However, that offensive drive came to a screeching halt when sophomore forward Cam Lund took a hooking penalty at 2:47 and handed a stacked BU power play unit an early, golden opportunity.
The Huskies had killed off another penalty by the time the Terriers broke open scoring with an even strength goal at 15:07. Freshman goaltender Cameron Whitehead kept BU at bay as long as he could, saving multiple chances within one shift, before BU graduate forward Sam Stevens put one top shelf from the low slot for a 1-0 game.
Sophomore defender Hunter McDonald was inches away from tying the game before first intermission until BU junior goaltender Mathieu Caron saved their lead with a diving stick save — the first of many jaw-dropping close calls.
Although the score remained 1-0 Terriers headed into the second period, it could easily have been a lot higher with BU’s 15 SOG — six of which came from their two power plays.
The Huskies continued keeping the “sin bin” warm as senior forward Gunnarwolfe Fontaine received a holding penalty only 68 seconds into period two. While NU had yet to learn from its mistakes, BU did.
With roughly 30 seconds left of its one-man advantage, BU sophomore defender Lane Hutson ripped a wrister bar down from the right circle to make it 2-0. The unassisted power play goal bumped Hutson’s already team-leading five to six.
This two-goal deficit felt like the beginning of the end for the Huskies as the team continuously struggled to make clean passes off the rush and set up in the offensive zone.
However, the dots finally clicked for Northeastern midway through. Within a span of 57 seconds, the Huskies had tied the game at two-a-piece — the first goal generated by graduate forward Brett Edwards at 11:41, and the tying one at 12:38, tipped over the red line by junior forward and captain Justin Hryckowian.
If BU had unofficially “won” the first period in all aspects, NU certainly redeemed itself for the second — tying the game up at two and taking an equal number of SOG for the frame at 12 each.
“We just had to refocus,” Hutson said of BU’s mindset headed into the last 20 minutes of regulation. “[Northeastern] had a good push in that second period and we kind of got away from our game a little bit. Coming into that third [period], we knew it was going to be a battle.”
Telling by the score at this point, both teams came out strong and eager for period three. But in familiar fashion, the back-and-forth momentum was lost once NU drew its fourth penalty after roughly five minutes of play.
Naturally, BU jumped at this chance to retake the lead and did just that. With 47 seconds remaining of 5-on-4, BU freshman forward Macklin Celebrini fired a shot over Whitehead’s shoulder from the dot, sitting on a score of 3-2.
Northeastern’s response? A goal 65 seconds later by its point leader, senior forward Alex Campbell, for his 10th of the season — tied with sophomore forward Jack Williams for team-high. Campbell banked the puck off of Caron’s blocker and in from a feed by Williams to tie the game back up at three.
“Just got to manage the puck in the neutral zone against a team that typically has four or five guys in the neutral zone,” BU head coach Jay Pandolfo said of his team’s biggest struggle of the night. “[Northeastern’s] a team that counter-attacks pretty well, as you saw tonight.”
Another missed power play for NU and many quality chances later, on both ends of the ice, the score remained 3-3 through regulation headed into overtime.
Campbell, Hryckowian, and sophomore defender Vinny Borgesi started for the Huskies, against the Terriers’ Stevens, Hutson, and Celebrini.
The action commenced immediately in 3-on-3 as both teams had chances to end it within seconds of puck drop. Unfortunately for NU, BU sophomore Jeremy Wilmer scored on a 2-on-1 after only 1:18, securing the win and continuing the Terriers’ hot streak.
“[Ryan Greene] made a really nice pass,” Wilmer said of the OT winner. “I sort of just skated to open ice and he put it right on my stick. Kind of had a wide open net.”
As we’ve seen recently, Northeastern is neck-and-neck with the top teams in the country — a positive takeaway headed into this second half of the season. The issue then lies in breaking the cycle and making the extra push to take home those well-earned and desperately needed conference points.
Goal-scoring players like Fontaine, Lund, and even graduate defender Pito Walton need to step up, big and fast, if this team wants to see anything but last place in Hockey East by the end of the regular season.
“I think we’ve seen it all year long how good Hockey East is and how competitive it is,” said Pandolfo. “Northeastern had a ton of injuries early on — they’re a really good hockey team. It’s going to be like this down the stretch. There are no easy games.”
Northeastern has all of the tools it needs, it just comes down to using them.
Northeastern resumes conference play in Matthews Arena on Friday for a two-game series against Vermont. Zach Lyons, Zeno Minotti, and Amelia Ballingall will have the call at 7 p.m. on WRBB 104.9FM.