BOSTON — For a player so often celebrated for doing all the little things, Justin Hryckowian just had his moment on the biggest stage.
Throw the records, winning streaks, and pregame predictions aside. Harvard gave Northeastern a battle on Monday, right down to the final whistle. But when things got tough in the third period, the Huskies turned to their captain — offensively, defensively, breakouts, special teams, you name it — to somehow find a way across the finish line.
With all eyes on him, Hryckowian’s game did the talking.
Behind the captain’s three-point night, which included the game-tying goal in the third period and the primary assist in overtime, Northeastern topped Harvard 3-2 in a thrilling Beanpot semifinal at TD Garden. The victory was the Huskies’ fifth-straight, improving their record to 12-12-2 and securing a date with No. 3 BU in next Monday’s Beanpot final — their sixth consecutive trip to the title game.
“Our captain just willed us tonight,” said Northeastern coach Jerry Keefe. “In that third period, he was outstanding. Every time he stepped on the ice, we were creating scoring chances. So I think the rest of the group fed off that.”
Hryckowian is both the leader and embodiment of Northeastern’s program identity under Keefe — not flashy or headline-grabbing, but detailed, skilled, and ultra-competitive in all three zones. And while the Huskies have taken their lumps this season, over time, sticking to that process leads to resilient victories like these.
“He takes a lot of pride in playing the full time on the clock and playing 200 feet, and he’s such a great example for all our other players,” Keefe said of Hryckowian. “And I think as a group, Northeastern hockey is about that. We want skilled players, we want guys who play honest and play the right way.”
Monday was not Northeastern’s best effort over their five-game winning streak, which has dramatically flipped the season narrative in just a 17-day span. But after suffering three one-goal losses in early January and falling to 2-11 in league play, the Huskies are now finding different ways to win every night — be it a six-goal onslaught, tight low-scoring affairs, games controlled from start to finish, or late comebacks.
“This group has a little bit of confidence when we step onto the ice,” Keefe said. “We expect to win…and we feel like if we play a certain way, we’re going to give ourselves the best chance.”
After a hot opening minute for Harvard, the Huskies settled down and controlled the first period, outshooting the Crimson 15-7 in the frame. In his first Beanpot, senior Alex Campbell got Northeastern on the board with a beautiful walk-in wrister in transition.
The score was Campbell’s fourth in the past five games and 15th of the season, elevating him to sole possession of the team lead and tied for 18th nationally. Northeastern brought in Campbell this offseason to pair an elite goal scorer alongside Hryckowian, and despite an early adjustment period, he’s now just one goal shy of his best season-long goal count at Clarkson.
“He helps the line out in so many ways, with retrievals and hunting out pucks, and you can see his speed and skill out on display,” Hryckowian said of Campbell. “I just tried to get him the puck and get out of the way so he can do the rest.”
The second period did not go well for Northeastern; it was among their sloppiest stretches in weeks. They were only outshot 10-7 in the frame, but quality scoring looks and possession favored the Crimson. Just two minutes into the frame, Harvard freshman Ben MacDonald’s bouncer from the left point snuck through a screen and beyond Cameron Whitehead to tie up the game.
Minutes later, with Hunter McDonald already in the box for indirect contact to the head, Vinny Borgesi was whistled down for a second trip penalty on a breakaway in front of Whitehead’s crease. Instead of resulting in a minute of 5-on-3, top-scoring defenseman Ryan Healey was awarded a penalty shot, which he potted right into Whitehead’s chest.
“The penalty shot was huge,” Keefe said. “What [Whitehead] did at Boston Garden — I don’t know how many people were here, it was pretty packed when I looked up around that time. And he made a huge save against a really good player.”
Though Northeastern entered Monday having scored seven power play goals in their past four games, they failed to capitalize or even generate many quality looks on back-to-back power plays to open the third period. The issue for the unit stemmed largely from its breakouts, which made it difficult for the Huskies to generate enough offensive zone time to get their cycles in order.
Then, within a minute of the Crimson killing off the Northeastern power play, Harvard took the lead on defenseman Matthew Morden’s bullet from just inside the blue line.
In need of a spark, the Huskies’ top line delivered quality shift after quality shift, propelling the momentum back to Northeastern by dominating puck possession while on the ice. Led by Justin Hryckowian, the top line was spectacular at both generating traffic and launching pucks towards the net — all three players registered eight total shot attempts, and combined for 13 shots on goal.
Finally, after a well-executed cycle in the attacking end, Hryckowian plotted home a clutch rebound to tie the game with 9:17 remaining.
“I thought we had a huge response,” Keefe said. “I thought we put on our toes right away. There was still a lot of time left in that game, the bench was really positive and we knew we were one shot away from tying that game.”
After the teams wrestled control back-and-forth in the closing minutes of regulation, Northeastern controlled the opening draw of overtime and never looked back. With Hryckowian and Fontaine on a 2-on-1 rush, Hryckowian looked off the defender and delivered a perfectly-timed feed to Fontaine, who had plenty of space to pot the winning goal.
“Me and Ritzy have played with each other for three years now, so I think we have a pretty great chemistry on the ice,” Fontaine said. “So I just took that pass from him, and had to put it in the open net.”
Fontaine’s winner added to his growing Beanpot lore after he scored twice in last year’s final. Fontaine has been a longtime pillar of Northeastern’s program — he’s one of just three players on the Huskies’ roster to have played here for the past four years — and while his versatility, experience, and forechecking grit are central to the team’s identity, rising in the biggest moments is perhaps what his Northeastern career will be best remembered for.
“These are moments he’ll remember for the rest of his life,” Keefe said. “Putting him over the boards in overtime to start, you want to put guys that want the puck on their stick in those situations and you can tell Gunnar wanted the puck…you could tell there was no nerves. He just wanted to be a difference-maker.”
And while the Huskies will remember Monday’s thrilling win, there’s still plenty more work to do. Unlike in past years, Northeastern has the entire week off ahead of Monday’s Beanpot final, where they’ll take on BU after topping them at home just last week.
The Huskies had every opportunity to fold on Monday, but following their captain’s lead, they stuck to their details and found a way. And under the brightest lights of their season, those little things finally got their shine.
WRBB Sports will have live radio coverage of Monday’s Beanpot Final at TD Garden. Khalin Kapoor, Matty Wasserman, and Zach Lyons will have the call at 7:30 p.m.