BOSTON — One step forward, two steps back. The Huskies came into Saturday’s stand-alone match against the No. 12 UMass Minutemen with a chip on their shoulder, seeking revenge after a 2-1 OT loss back in November. After a promising conference win against Vermont last weekend, Northeastern appeared primed to build off that momentum and make it happen — but that wasn’t the case.
In another tight 60-minute battle that slipped through the cracks, Northeastern walked away with a 2-1 loss in regulation and a deeper hole to crawl out of its last-place slot in the conference, at an underwhelming nine points through 13 league contests. Although the Huskies have put up a fight in nearly every game and come close to turning things around, the result has almost always been the same.
“Bad game. Can’t lose that game,” said head coach Jerry Keefe. “We battled — it’s not a lack of effort … I’m not sure why we started so slow, but it’s still a 1-1 hockey game [in the] second period and I thought [in] the third period, we were playing well. We don’t finish a couple of chances we have around the net, pucks bobble on us, miss a couple of open nets, and, at the end of the day, we handed them two goals — on us.”
The opening five minutes of regulation was already telling of the game’s ultimate trajectory. Northeastern was struggling to make any stick-to-stick contact in the offensive zone compared to UMass rushing the net on every shift, resulting in a 4-1 SOG count by this point.
Aside from UMass dominating in shots, Northeastern was holding its own in other departments like tilting strongly in faceoffs at 71.4%. To no avail, it was an error on NU that handed UMass the opportunity to open scoring and wasted no time in doing so.
The Huskies began their first power play at 14:36 into the first and by 15:29, the puck had found the back of their own net.
Unable to keep possession in UMass’ zone, sophomore defender Vinny Borgesi chased UMass sophomore forward Cole O’Hara down the right wall on the backcheck. In a 2-on-1, O’Hara slotted the puck over to junior forward Ryan Lautenbach who tipped it home for the 1-0 lead.
“That was huge. The penalty kill has really been a focus for us,” said UMass head coach Greg Carvel of the shorthanded tally. “Our [penalty] kill was great tonight … I thought special teams was really solid, goaltending was solid and the kids played really hard 5-on-5 so, to me, we had all the pieces going tonight.”
In Hockey East contests, Northeastern has let in four shorthanded goals for the season thus far — one for every power play goal it’s scored. Against good competition each night, it’s virtually impossible to win games with both special teams suffering and a mere three SOG in a period.
Things picked up for the Huskies after killing succeeding penalties midway through the second frame, keeping UMass to three SOG for the combined four minutes of power play time.
Returning to even strength prompted a boost in NU’s offense and brought its closest tying chance with a breakaway attempt by the freshman forward Dylan Hryckowian. Roughly twenty seconds later, it was graduate forward Brett Edwards who notched the tying goal.
For a 1-2-3 play, graduate defender Pito Walton took a shot from the high slot and Edwards was waiting at the dot to pick up the rebound and let it fly over 6′ 7″ UMass freshman goaltender Michael Hrabal.
When asked if freshman goalie Cameron Whitehead played a big part in silencing UMass’ offense, Carvel said: “He’s been good both games [against us], I think he’s a really good young goalie. I just think that we just held onto pucks too long. If you want to score, you have to shoot it quick[ly]. And I just felt like we were skating pucks around the zone a lot, and how did they score their first goal? They just threw it on the net and [got] a rebound.”
Despite a UMass interference minor overlapping from the second period to start the third, a bench violation for a minute of 5-on-3 action, and five minutes for boarding freshman Michael Fisher, Northeastern couldn’t finish on any of its chances to take the lead. Among their 12 SOG over the seven-minute span of power play time, the Huskies almost sealed their fate with another 2-on-1 shorthanded opportunity handed to UMass that was luckily shot wide.
“Not enough urgency, not enough moving,” said Keefe of the Huskies’ long stretch on the man advantage. “And when we did have a couple chances, we didn’t put them in. You get a couple chances, you have to put them in.”
Cutting down to the wire with five minutes remaining in regulation, the score was still tied at one and NU had crept back up in the shot count at 33-31 in favor of UMass. In an effort to make a pass cross-ice to sophomore forward Cam Lund, sophomore defender Hunter McDonald turned the puck over in Northeastern’s end for a golden opportunity for UMass.
Without hesitation, UMass freshman forward Dans Locmelis fed the puck to linemate Nick VanTassell who snuck it in the pocket far-side for the game-winner at 16:39.
“You gave them two goals, we battled hard and we didn’t score on the powerplay. It’s as simple as that,” said Keefe of his message to the team post-game. “We didn’t make them work for the two goals they got, we gave them the two goals. That’s what’s frustrating … It’s not something you practice — not turning the puck over.”
We’ve seen how Northeastern can match any opponent and its systems in place are effective, but one way or another, it always seems to backfire in the end. Headed into next weekend’s home-and-home series with Merrimack, the Huskies need to reflect and regroup in order to regain confidence and achieve a different outcome.
Northeastern is back in Matthews Arena next Friday to face off with the Merrimack Warriors for their second matchup of the season. Matty Wasserman, Zach Lyons and Amelia Ballingall will have the call at 7 p.m. on WRBB 104.9FM.