Huskies Seniors Lead Pack to HE Semis
by Joseph Edwards/CHN Writer
It was easy enough to write off Northeastern’s season early on. A 1-8-4 start to the season with a three-game and five-game losing streak in the highly competitive Hockey East can do that.
Where most teams would pack it in and start focusing on the next season, coach Greg Cronin never gave up on his squad — even when forced to sit out three weeks with a suspension — and, more importantly, neither did the Huskies’ seniors. It’s paid off with a renewed spirit that has led the team all the way to TD Garden for a Hockey East semifinal matchup with Boston College, a shot at the league postseason crown, and with that, an NCAA playoff spot if they take it all.
“We never really panicked with the group,” Cronin said. “They were young and when you have youth, there is a lot of uncertainty because the confidence level is not as strong with immature guys. I really felt the senior leadership from [Tyler] McNeely, [Wade] MacLeod, [Steve] Silva and [Randy] Guzior, I was able to give those guys some believability with that adversity we faced earlier.”
The senior line of McNeely-MacLeod-Silva have combined for 43 goals and 107 points. Senior defenseman Guzior has chipped in four points in 12 games from the blueline. After the disappointing initial 12-game stretch, sophomore goalie Chris Rawlings ran off a 6-3-3 stretch that included five shutout wins that keyed Northeastern’s surprise Beanpot run.
After warming up with a 4-0 win over Harvard, the Huskies (14-15-8) took on BC in what turned out to be a back-and-forth, high-scoring, on-the-edge-of-your-seat 7-6 affair that featured Northeastern’s game-tying goal with just 1:46 left in regulation, and BC’s heart-breaking winner 6:00 into overtime.
Such an emotional loss was another opportunity to throw in the towel, but once again, the Huskies rose to the challenge - something Cronin credits to his seniors.
“I think [McNeely, Silva, and MacLeod] have done a really good job making sure that room stuck together and breathed some life into them when they could have gone into somewhat of a mental coma. I can’t say enough about that. Honestly, last year if that was more visible, I think the team last year would have had more success, but it was a splintered locker room, and it took a long time to get it to come together.”
That tighness between the increasingly close-knit teammates became even more apparent as the season wound down. Northeastern battled to the sixth seed in Hockey East, earning a first-round matchup at Boston University, where losing the best-of-three would mean an end for the Huskies’ season.
After splitting the first two games, the Huskies stuck together in another see-saw matchup to fend off a later Terriers’ attack and earned themselves the 5-4 win, and yet another date with to-seeded BC, this time at the Garden.
“BU came right at us really hard in the third period,” Cronin recalled. “It was almost like it was our guys were circling the wagons, which is not the way to deal with it. Then a couple guys stood up on the bench and said, ‘Let’s go.’ To me, that was symbolic as a team that was like, hey we are not going to sit back here. It does give you the belief that you can do it again from that event alone.”
Inspired and confident, the Huskies now face off against the Eagles for a fifth time this season. They’ve taken only one of the meetings so far, but that doesn’t mean BC coach Jerry York is going to take things lightly.
“We have had some outstanding games with them,” York said. “We have played them very recently and we know how good a job Greg has done there. They have impressed us. We have watched film and we watched them play. They have become a dynamic force in Hockey East and they are right there in our focus. We know how well we have to prepare for them.”
For Cronin, where it could have been deja vu, it’s instead a chance for redemption. The Huskies’ seniors know it, too, and they’ve made sure it’s contagious in their locker room.
“I think everybody wants to win,” Cronin said. “I think that the lessons we learned last year with again a poor start, and a pretty good middle, and a bad ending, I think those guys were able to take ownership with that and to make sure that message was sent out to the young kids. I think that is what happened this year, where some teams in the past may have shrunk at the face of adversity, even at BU, these guys seems to want to stick their teeth into it.”
Sounds like the bite is catching up with the bark, and just in time to make some noise.