Northeastern's Injuries Mount
Huskies Face Uphill Climb to Follow Up Last Year's Success
by Joe Meloni/CHN Reporter
BOSTON Losing Steve Quailer was bad enough for Northeastern coach Greg Cronin. The Huskies lost Quailer, looking to build his 10-goal, 15-assist freshman season, for the season to a torn ACL in an exhibition game against St. Thomas on Oct. 3.
Since then, the injuries haven’t stopped for the Huskies. Senior Randy Guzior suffered a leg injury in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to Boston College and will not play again this season.
Guzior, who played nearly 100 games as a forward in his first three seasons, moved back to the blue line to fill the already ravaged NU defensive corps first against New Hampshire on Oct. 23. He played the following four games on defense before suffering the injury against BC.
“We were the only team in Hockey East returning five forwards with at least 20 points, and, right out of the gate, we’re down two or three forwards,” Cronin said in a phone interview.
Junior captain Tyler McNeely is also out this weekend, according to Cronin. Aside from serving as the team’s captain, McNeely is one of the Huskies most consistent scoring threats. Freshman Garrett Vermeersch replaced McNeely on Saturday night; Vermeersch missed Friday’s game with an illness.
Sophomore defensemen Drew Muench and J.P. Maley were injured earlier in the season forcing Cronin to move the hard-nosed Guzior to the blue line. Neither Maley nor Muench are likely to play this weekend as the Huskies host Hockey East foe Maine for a pair at Matthews Arena. Maley missed 14 games last season with a hand injury.
It doesn’t stop there, though.
Senior Jim Driscoll, perhaps Cronin’s most reliable defenseman, is also out; Driscoll suffered a hand injury in Friday’s win over Boston University. Driscoll’s season isn’t over, however, he is questionable for this weekend’s pair with the Black Bears. Driscoll finished the 2008-09 season with a plus-14 rating as part of Hockey East’s second-best scoring defense.
Junior defenseman Mike Hewkin is also struggling with injury. After leaving Friday’s game against Boston University, he returned later in the evening before receiving a game misconduct for hitting from behind. He began Saturday’s game in the lineup, assisting on the Huskies lone goal, but left later in the game. Cronin did not elaborate on the injury, but it doesn’t look promising.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself, but he won’t be back for a while,” Cronin said of Hewkin.
When Brad Thiessen forwent his final year of eligibility to sign a professional contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins, Cronin knew he had a major hole to fill on the defensive side of the puck.
Freshman goaltender Chris Rawlings has stepped in well for the departed Hockey East Player of the Year, but the injuries just won’t stop.
Cronin is pleased with the overall development of his rookie class to this point, but the onus on the newcomers is rising as the margin for error is shrinking. The Huskies have eight Hockey East games remaining before the break, and are already 1-3-0 in conference play – tied for last place with Boston University.
“As a coaching staff, we’re trying to get a little deeper in terms of player development by getting the freshmen up to speed,” Cronin said. “You can’t give freshmen veteran experience, and they’re trying to figure out the system. We’re introducing them to cycling concepts and offensive concepts that they’ve never done before at this pace. It doesn’t happen immediately. It’s a work in progress, and we’re going to have to work hard to teach our younger players the offensive parts of our game – how things work in our system.”
Compounding Northeastern’s recent struggles is the team’s inability to stay out of the penalty box.
With 4 minutes, 30 seconds remaining in third period against Boston University, Hewkin’s 5-minute major forced the Huskies to kill a penalty protecting a 1-0 lead. The Huskies held on to seal the victory, but could not do the same on Saturday. NU afforded BC seven power plays, and the Eagles converted on two of them.
“The penalty we took in the second period [a hooking minor on senior forward Greg Costa] was terrible,” Cronin said after Saturday’s loss.
“It was the third game in a row where we took penalty with significant time on the clock while we’re already killing a penalty,” he continued. “To have long chunks of 5-on-3s against three good teams like [Massachusetts-Lowell], BU and BC is just a recipe for failure. The other thing that bothers me is that it’s 50 feet from our net. We’re down to four defensemen on the bench for 55 minutes. I told them before ‘Don’t take penalties.’ Penalty killing just kills defensemen. It tires them out. Their gaps start to sink back, and [the opponent] attacks the zone more deeply. It was stupid. The other one [a holding the stick minor on Kyle Kraemer] was stupid. To hold a guy’s stick 50 feet from your own net, it’s just stupid. We’ve had these problems before, and I thought we’d corrected them.”
The Huskies successfully evaded consequences for their lack of discipline against BU on Friday, but the margin for error is almost nil with no many key players out – and conference play just heating up.