3/25/16: Northeastern 2, North Dakota 6
It’s past midnight on Easter Sunday (or Monday I guess). I’ve been putting off writing this post forever, but it has to be done.
The game Friday obviously didn’t go as we wanted it to. I thought the Huskies actually played pretty well. North Dakota was just on a completely other level. They were amazing. Hats off to them, if not their fans.
The one downside to making the tournament is that for all but one team, a great season will end in a loss. Every team in the tournament had a successful season; otherwise they wouldn’t be there. But for fifteen of them it ends on a sour note. It comes with the territory.
That’s not how we should remember this season. This was the best season of Northeastern hockey I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching, and I’m sure it was for the majority of fans. There’s a hockey trophy in Matthews Arena for the first time in almost thirty years. There’s a banner hanging in TD Garden naming Northeastern as Hockey East champions. We saw the most dramatic turnaround of a team I think I’ve ever witnessed. We saw the goalie of the future come into his own and shut down opponents in the second half. Five Huskies finished with thirty points. The freshmen have completely raised the bar in the celebration game.
So while it’s a bummer that it ended this way, and it’s a bummer that we won’t see the seniors (and potentially others) play in Husky sweaters again, this was an amazing year. 2016 has been by far the best time I’ve had with Northeastern hockey since I started following six years ago. Chins up.
We made it to the dance. Pretty much everybody until last weekend doubted we’d be here, but we’re here as the hottest team in the country with some new hardware.
Alright, so I admittedly don’t know anything about North Dakota. I know that they’re apparently good. I know that they managed to win thirty games this year. I know they’ve been to the last two Frozen Fours. I know they also have a line named after the world’s most boring television network.
Let’s take a look at our old friend the stat sheet. They have a 58.6 close CF%, which is third in the country. The members of the previously referenced CBS line are three of the top fifteen scorers in the country. Goalie Cam Johnson is tied for the third best save percentage in the country at .935. They have the eighth best offense and third best defense, good for the fifth best scoring margin.
So, that was a little depressing. Let’s cheer up with this:
Yeah, remember how awesome Northeastern is? One single loss in 2016. First Hockey East championship since 1988. The Huskies are good.
North Dakota also plays in a worse conference, beating up on worse teams than those we’ve seen in Hockey East all year. They blew a lead in their conference championship on the way to getting dusted by fellow tournament fourth seed Duluth. Their own goalie dropped that they got too comfortable playing bad teams, saying “We thought, ‘Oh, all we have to do is just show up to the rink, and we’re going to win the game.'” The players their goalie is tied with in save percentage? Thatcher Demko and Kevin Boyle, the two most recent victims of Husky offense. They ain’t so bad.
Jim Dahl at College Hockey Ranked ran the KRACH predictions using just 2016 and found Northeastern to be an 86-14 favorite over North Dakota. With those parameters, the Huskies have a 46% to win the championship. I like those odds.
Win and you’re in.
The Huskies are in the championship game of the Hockey East tournament for the first time since some time in the eighties. This team has never looked better. Score aside, they smashed BC last night. Northeastern is rolling.
Lowell has to be gassed. They essentially played two games in a row last night. I know they have Kevin Boyle. He’s awesome. He’s their team. Northeastern played a team last night in a similar situation. They put up five on Demko, and a much better defense than the River Hawks’. A goalie alone can’t stop this offense. They’re too hot. I feel so good about this it.
I know this isn’t the preview this game deserves but I’m too excited to sit here and write it all out. There’s plenty of real life writers talking about the Huskies now. Let’s get after it tonight.
It was against Lowell at the Friendship Four in Belfast over Thanksgiving break that Northeastern started their much improved play from the earlier part of the season. Though the Huskies lost that game in hearbreaking fashion (naturally) it sparked their eventual run in December and January.
Since that weekend, Lowell’s season has seemed to take an opposite turn to Northeastern’s. While they come into this weekend’s game with a 6-1 record in the month of January, it’s actually not as impressive as it seems. They did go 1-1 against Providence, but the other wins came against Arizona State, UMass, and UNH. Before that, after beating the Huskies the River Hawks went on to struggle against Brown in the Belpot championship game, get swept by UConn, and lose to Robert Morris. Their only win in December came against Clarkson.
Lowell is by no means a bad team. They’re currently 11th in the Pairwise and have a pretty good 53.2 close CF%. Their success is heavily influenced by goaltending and special teams. Goalie Kevin Boyle has been fantastic this season. His .938 save percentage is tied for highest in Hockey East. The River Hawks have only given up 1.65 goals per game, good for best in the conference. While their offense is mediocre, they have the third best powerplay in Hockey East. Paired with the second best penalty kill percentage (and lowest powerplay goals given up), they have second best net special teams in the conference.
Although Lowell is pretty good and has been ranked highly all season, they are certainly beatable. The Huskies nearly did while paying their worst hockey of the season. Hopefully Northeastern can get back the momentum they had build coming into this month.
11/27/15: Northeastern 2, Lowell 3 (OT)
11/28/15: Northeastern 7, Colgate 1
While they didn’t win the Belpot this weekend, I’d say the Friendship Four was pretty, pretty good for the Huskies.
Northeastern looked to be the better team for the majority of the first game against Lowell. They even managed to not give up a goal in the first period. While leading for the majority of the game, the Huskies managed to outshoot the Riverhawks. The way that game ended was obviously disappointing (and so Northeastern it hurts). You had to know exactly what was coming before it happened, with the Huskies putting Lowell on the powerplay at a minute left. The game-winning goal also wasn’t anything to write home about, leaving a Riverhawk wide open in the slot. I don’t think taking the fourth ranked team in the country to overtime is anything to be too upset about. Northeastern played really well on a bigger surface (which doesn’t suit their style) and outplayed a top team.
Saturday the Huskies, like many of you this weekend, met up with an old acquaintance to try to score again. And score they did. After a 1-1 first period, Northeastern exploded for five second period goals. The Huskies pretty much had their way with Colgate all day. This was their first win since the week one matchup with the Raiders, and it was a decisive one.
This weekend didn’t go as well as it could have gone. They didn’t make the championship game. They blew three leads throughout the weekend, including one that cost them the first game. The penalty kill is still a disaster. But they skated well with a top five ranked team, and took them to overtime. They got their first win since week one and completely dominated that game. The goaltending is looking better every week. So, no, they didn’t win, but you can feel pretty good about the team coming out of the Friendship Four.
Northeastern extends it’s study abroad program to the hockey team this weekend as they partake in the Friendship Four in Belfast. UMass Lowell will be the first opponent they’ll give the international business to on Friday (I’ll stop).
Lowell isn’t quite the cure for the struggling offense that the Huskies could hope to match up with. The fourth ranked Riverhawks have the second best scoring defense in Hockey East, averaging only 1.31 goals against per game. Goalie Kevin Boyle has been fantastic all season, posting a conference leading .956 save percentage. I wouldn’t count on this being the week where the Northeastern powerplay finally gets going either. Lowell has only given up six powerplay goals all season.
Keep in mind, however, that Northeastern has had great performances during Thanksgiving weekends before. It was just last year that the Huskies knocked off number one Minnesota during Thanksgiving weekend. The year before that, Northeastern won the Shillelagh Tournament all the way out in Indiana. They lost to St. Lawrence the next year but whatever. The year before that? Beat Michigan. I’m not saying that this is definitely a pattern and the Huskies will definitely beat Lowell, but that’s basically what I’m saying.
Let’s be honest here; whoever comes from the other side of the bracket doesn’t stand a chance against Northeastern in the championship game. Come on, the Huskies play in the SEC of hockey. Who’s in the EZAC? How many teams did they have in the championship game? Not worried.
I can’t wait to see our boys lift the first ever Belpot Trophy, turning Belfast and all of Europe into Northeastern fans. Sláinte